Obligatory Mother’s Day post

Posted by Kathleen Fasanella on May 13, 2007 at 2:22 pm / Personal, Slavery or Bravery / Trackback

I shy from sending mom’s day messages to my friends or celebrating it to any extent. For now I’ll say it could be because there was nothing remarkable about my mother. Everybody else’s mom seems to be a compassionate loving sacrificial hybrid of heroic proportions.

As a mother, mine did all the things that moms are supposed to do. Before school, she’d wash and brush my hair, bought me a toothbrush and made me brush my teeth, give me clean clothes to put on, tie my shoes. Sometimes she got me pretty things for my hair, new barrettes or headbands. She couldn’t always get me nice clothes but she did what she could. Otherwise, everything was pressed, clean and neatly mended. She always made sure I had everything I needed for school, pencils, a notebook and milk money which included a quick hard fast hug before class started. Like I said, the sort of stuff moms are supposed to do.

Her name was Mrs. Armstrong and she wasn’t my mother. She was my second grade teacher. Although she wasn’t really my mom, she was the only mother I ever knew. I liked to imagine that she was, that I’d go home with her everyday after school. I loved her to distraction. She had me come to school early everyday to get ready before school started. I cried the last day of school because I knew I’d never see her again.


My real mom split when I was five. There were five of us, my youngest brother was three months old. I grew up quickly then. Other than the day she left, my earliest memory is standing on a chair stirring oatmeal on the stove. I remember sitting on books to sew, repairing clothing. My dad still has that machine. I remember changing diapers, bathing babies and making school lunches. It was all I could do to get the other kids off to school. When Mrs Armstrong first started taking care of me, I was embarrassed since I obviously couldn’t have been doing such a good job with my brothers and sisters, I thought I was doing a good job. I used what she did with me, as a crib sheet for what to do with my siblings. I’m guessing she knew my story, not that I ever would have admitted it because moms only leave bad kids. That’s what you think when you’re a kid. Of course my real mother left because of my dad. Sober as they come, my dad didn’t need to drink to be a bone breaker. The rest of us left too, before we’d grown. None of us finished high school. You may imagine Father’s Day sparks even more ambivalent feelings.

So in the end, I don’t celebrate mother’s day because it’s the day I reserve to celebrate my teachers, to remember the men and women who parented me, cared about me, showed me with varying degrees of love and firmness, a way to make a place for myself in this world. There was no one else to teach me how to be a person. You learn this from your parents. If you have no parents or poor ones, you learn by hook and crook, ineptly, in fits and starts. I’m still trying to catch up. And it shows. I can only continue to prevail upon your infinite patience as I grow before your eyes.

This is not to say I haven’t had problems with teachers, far from it. My first grade teacher hated me. I was so traumatized on my first day of school, I don’t remember anything else (including her name) about that first year. I was paddled and sent home within the first half hour of class. My crime was proclaiming (loudly) that I was not going to read those baby books. Stacked on each desk were three red, green and blue “Dick and Jane” books. I remember the teacher saying we were going to learn to read those “this year”. Although my intellectual career spanned all of fifteen minutes – and in thirteen of which, I did in fact, read those “baby books”-, I was insulted and having none of it.

It should be no surprise to you that I was a snot even then. The truth was, I’d never seen a children’s book. I read through them while the teacher was talking, unable to tear my eyes from the colors and pictures. I was enthralled, entranced. These were nothing like the books I read at home, there were pictures in these! The only pictures in the books at home were of naked women (reading material was limited to what my dad read, namely science fiction and Playboy magazine). My reading material was a topic of discussion in the principal’s office and I got paddled, don’t know if it was for refusing to read the baby books or for reading dirty magazines or for reading the even dirtier science fiction authors (Heinlein). My dad had to come and get me and the principal had a discussion with him that I wasn’t privy to other than that he was not to teach me how to read. I thought that odd. I don’t remember a time I couldn’t read. My dad has a picture of me, in diapers, reading the newspaper. Anyway, when we got home, I got paddled again. I remember my dad came home late that night. He came back with a whole set of what I know now was this series put out by the Great Books, unabridged juvenile classics. I got my first taste of Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, Arabian Knights and the like. I’d sleep with them under my pillow. Soon after, he bought all of the OZ books. I must have read all sixteen of them over a hundred times. He also bought a set of the Great Books which I didn’t like as much but most of which I managed to wade through by the time I was 16. Which warps you more, Machiavelli or Playboy? I’m tempted to say the former but I’m none the worse for having read both.

Before I got off on a tear, I was saying that mother’s day is teacher’s day for me. Other than two who nearly destroyed me, I loved my teachers. Bar none, they were the greatest influence in my life, they saved me. None of them were paid to love me, care for me or nurture me and I will be eternally grateful for their contributions to my character. Of course, they all said I would grow up and become someone important, that I would make my mark on the world but teachers always say that (not that I knew that, I believed them). I can only hope I have not disappointed them but I will never know for sure. Mother’s day is a sad day for me. There’s no one I can check in with to mark my progress, no one person who knew me when. No one to pat me on the head, to tell me what a good girl I’ve been or to shape up. Or worse, always waiting for your mother to come back, only she never does. I guess growing up means knowing she never will. Does one ever stop looking for the long lost on the horizon? I would like to say I have but I still don’t know if that is true.

Mother’s day can be a weighty day indeed. I know many have conflictive thoughts today, some of us with baggage over and above the alloted carry on. Enjoy your loves today. The rest of us want you to enjoy the day, loving well and spreading that along. Eventually it reaches us too, particularly if you’re the mother of a teacher. Hug a teacher today if you have the chance.

24 Responses to “Obligatory Mother’s Day post”

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Andrea
May 13th, 2007
5:13 PM

Today is the day I really celebrate my son. He made me a mother. How cool. I hugged him and said thank you.

Happy mother’s day.

Laura
May 13th, 2007
6:02 PM

I hear you Kathleen, for me not just teachers but the other people that believed in me along the way. Neighbors that made sure I had what I needed, checked on me & my brother. My mother was gone when I was 7, my brother 2, leaving us with a very un-sober father that was also mentally ill. It was a roller coaster. As far as Mother’s Day now, I think not so much of the Mother gone, but of the wonderful children that have given me the chance to be the kind of Mother I so wanted when I was little. Hugs to you!

trish
May 13th, 2007
7:16 PM

“…with baggage over and above the alloted carry on.” – Kathleen Fasanella, you are a poet.

Thanks for being you. The hard knocks of life have made you the soul you are today. I am so grateful that you have come into my life. I feel such a strong bond to you and hope that life will allow me to experience that bond for years to come.

Looking for mother must have made you go within yourself for the fix. Now, you are a mother and I feel sure a fine, fine one.

So by changing the world, you make Mother’s Day a blessing. Happy Mother’s Day to you.

Glad you are home safely. I turn in grades by 4pm tomorrow… then I will have a little time. What are you doing that is local to us?

We have some exciting things going on in the doll world. Jose D. Saenz was chosen as one of 12 out of 250 designers worldwide who competed to participate in projectDollway.

This is big and very exciting. As more info comes, I will post links.

Have a good day.

Joan
May 13th, 2007
8:15 PM

Your Mother’s Day post touched me. My mom was a provider not a nurturer. That can only take a relationship so far. She has no soul, heart, or true love. She suffers from a personality disorder (destructive narcissistic personality disorder) and those around her suffer as well. It’s very sad. My dad, a large strapping man, cowers at her command.

My mom actually went to counseling with my older sister to help her, not herself. The counselor pointed out my mom’s problems and guided her toward improvement. My mom told me she ‘could’ change her behavior, but it’s hard and she doesn’t want to work that hard so she chose not to. Simply sad.

Due to my mom’s behavior, and my intolerance of that behavior, I have no family. When I took a stand against my mom, I lost my siblings, all of whom are afraid of my mom, and afraid to betray her. It’s so sad and ridiculous. Mom put them in the position of choosing between us – absolutely childish.

So, here I am, 42 in three weeks, which means my siblings ‘should’ be at an adult place in their journey of life, and the people who used to be my family are stunningly stupid and choose the evil over the happy. It boggles my mind.

Which brings us back to Mother’s Day. My little doggie is my baby, so I celebrate being her mom. I wish my friends, who are mothers, a happy Mother’s Day. My girlfriends seem to be parenting me as I grow through life, so I should with them a happy day today.

I’ve never been big on Hallmark holidays, and Mother’s Day is right up there on that list. Forced celebrations for non-holidays. I feel a bout of circular logic coming with this train of thought.

I loved your post today. Thank you for sharing your story. I think you’re great.

Lisa Bloodgood
May 13th, 2007
9:46 PM

Well, my mom was and is there, and she’s cool even though she wasn’t the greatest (nor the worst) mother. My stepdad was there, even though he was abusive. It was my dad who wasn’t there at all, and still isn’t. So Father’s Day is only cool for my husband’s side of the family. I have a really cool mother-in-law, too. And I am blessed to be the stepmother of two wonderful children, a 10-y-o girl and a 7-y-o boy. Kathleen, I’m really glad your teachers were there for you, especially the 2nd grade one. Happy Mother’s Day to you, cuz you are a mom, too. :-)

Lisa NYC
May 14th, 2007
4:19 AM

Kathleen…

you’ve become our teacher…which I could bet would make your former teachers quite proud.

Thank you for being YOU.

With friendship,
Lisa

Annie
May 14th, 2007
6:22 AM

What a Post! I thought I knew you, but now I know more of you. You reminded me of my life which I will not detail, but as my students would say “I feel you”.

I am the oldest child of 18 siblings, 14 living. My husband says that I was a mother long before I got married and had children of my own(2 daughters, 3 grandchildren). I was a teacher for almost 40 years.

But what is remarkable is that Mother’s Day brings joy and sadness to me because My mother did the best she could do with what she had and I have tried to do for my daughters and grand children what I would have wanted for myself. I missed a lot of nurturing trying to be the “big sister”, but I make up for it by giving back to my daughters and grandchildren and students. This blitz is a keeper and reminder for me. Thank you for sharing with us. I will post this one in your book along with the other additions.

Christelle Lachapelle
May 14th, 2007
6:23 AM

Kathleen,
I haven’t stopped thinking about your post since I read it yesterday. It reminds me that we never know how much baggage others are are carrying. When I read your blog I am always impressed by how smart and funny you are, and how much you give to those of who read it. It makes me sad to think of any child growing up without a Mom. But, I’m sure you are an awesome Mom, baggage and all.

Nanette
May 14th, 2007
6:32 AM

My daughter starts student teaching this fall and graduates in December. I will show her your story and hope that she can touch lives during her career as a teacher.

barbara
May 14th, 2007
9:23 AM

Kathleen,

Thanks so much for sharing your story!

My own mom was young when she got pregnant and then married. Consequently she has yet to figure out “what she wants to do when she grows up.” This meant that she was not really available to me and my brothers as a mom. She is constantly running after the next thing that will make her happy. I am grateful that she gave me life but I feel as if the parenting roles are reversed.

As for my own style, our youngest dd – 16 – often says that I am “mom to all.” After reading your post I am even gladder (is that a word?) that I am. Who knows when the hug, smile, food, or word of encouragement is the only one that the kid will hear?!

Thanks also for commending your teachers. Our dd- 20 is in university studying to be an elementary ed teacher knowing full well that it is not a high paying profession. She is very much a nurturer and “fixer.” I will give her a hug from you and encourage her to pass it on to her future students. See there … you are a mom, you gave birth to another line of caring.

Nadine
May 14th, 2007
10:00 AM

Thanks Kathleen for sharing such intimate thoughts. I grew up with a very erratic mother that never allowed that mother/daughter bond to take hold. Being the oldest of 4 girls, I was the consistent mother to my younger sisters. So whenever mother’s day arrives I get a lot of anxiety because I don’t really have those grateful feelings or want to honor a mother who wasn’t supportive and made my life very difficult. Usually, I get the phone call from “mom” complaining that she’s sitting by the phone waiting for me to give her a call. Oh, that jewish guilt!

My sisters have a lot of issues with mom too but unfortunately when they aren’t talking to her they aren’t talking to me either since I’m mom #2. I get painted with the same brush quite often.

Yesterday, I was thinking that it is easy to be in conflict and have an opposite reaction to every situation we are dished out. What is really noble and difficult is to take the higher road. It would be a novel for me to list the mental and physical abuse my mom inflicted on me and my sisters. But, then today she’s just a retired person who enjoys gardening and wants people to like her. She doesn’t resemble a monster. She’s that fun old lady that other people enjoy meeting and think she has a lot of pizazz and love of life.

So sometimes it comforts me to think that I really don’t know what the master plan was that allowed me to be born into the family I was born into. Perhaps I owed a debt or perhaps a debt is now owed to me in the next go round. What I do know is that all experiences whether good or evil make us who we are because they give us the opportunity to make choices about how we will deal with them. It is always my choice on how I feel about anything.

Today, I feel I want to really thank you because you reminded me that forgiveness is the greatest gift any mother can receive on mother’s day. It doesn’t have anything to do with Mom – its the greatest gift you can give yourself because when you forgive another person you have decided not to carry that heavy load around anymore.

I say this without any reference to any religion. I just feel it is a universal truth.

So maybe this Mother’s Day all of us who grew up under less than fairy tale circumstances can give the gift of forgiveness to our mothers who were limited or uninformed or just plain out of it. Rejoice that we are doing what we want to do or being the mothers we want to be.

That’s all I wanted to say – thanks again and sorry for the long post.

gale joiner
May 14th, 2007
11:05 AM

Dear Kathleen, Thank you so much for all you have taught us. We have been able to discern your fine character through your writing and can see how you mother those who cross your path. You have done a remarkable job of mothering yourself to become you. These jobs of mothering others and Kathleen are born of love.

My husband recently left 31 years of teaching in public schools. He retired for five years, then went back. His statement was “there are students that have no one to care for them but me”.

God bless you and Happy Mother’s Day. Galey

Karen C
May 14th, 2007
11:38 AM

I’m so glad you had someone there for you. For me, it was my next-door neighbor, Grandma Worth. I was the oldest girl and reminded my mother so much of my father, that I was not given a lot of attention or love. Grandma Worth would have me come over and we would have a tea party and read the Calico Cat, among other books.

My mother stayed with my father for 50 years, hating almost every moment of it and waiting for him to die. Instead, she died first. It’s been 5 years since her death, and I’ve only really missed her maybe twice. Sad, huh? But my Mother’s Day was great. I spent it with my daughter and my grandsons and had a blast. And that’s what’s important to me.

Eileen
May 14th, 2007
2:38 PM

What an awesome and caring teacher Mrs. Armstrong was…wherever she is now, I’m sure she’d be honored by how you celebrate “Mother’s Day.”

Thanks for the great post.

Ayanna
May 14th, 2007
3:03 PM

Not the obligatory mother’s day story I thought it would be when I saw your title. Thank you for sharing your life with us.
My mother and I have totally opposite personalities and I tend to tolerate her most times. After reading your story, I couldn’t imagine not having her around…even if she is nagging and worrying the heck out of me!!!

Jean
May 14th, 2007
4:18 PM

I am hanging your story in the teachers’ room at our school as both a reminder of who we are to students and who we should be.

So many times we believe that what we do does not affect anyone and that it wouldn’t make a difference who was teaching our students.

Your story brought me to tears. I would consider my teaching life very successful if one student I have taught would have a similar memory.

Thank you for affirming for me why teaching and teachers do matter.

Deborah
May 15th, 2007
12:38 PM

Thank you for sharing such an amzing story and touching raw memories.You are an insperation.

Angie
May 15th, 2007
1:35 PM

Thank You Kathleen!

You may not have understood your value when you were a child, but the value you’ve given to my life is unmeasureable and we’ve never met.

Your blog made me feel like I could succeed with my business and your book filled in the rest.

I’m still growing my business and it’s still just a baby, but I credit it’s growth, to you.

Susan Cassini
May 16th, 2007
11:40 AM

I find it extremely difficult to buy those obligatory Mother’s Day cards every year. Those sugary sweet cards that wax poetically about nurturing, loving and wonderful mothers just don’t reflect how I feel about her. My mother, too is an alcoholic w/ borderline personality disorder. I ‘divorced’ her long ago, but since I live right next door to her, I have to deal w/her. I think of her as a senile and nosey neighbor and with a sense of humor I am able to cope. I buy a humorous card that says little in how I really feel. I try to find something good about her, like how she is a fantastic gardener; someone who grows such beautiful flowers must have a soul. She must have been tramatized and arrested in her development.
What a contrast with the cards and love I get from my own children! We have a loving bond and they send me those syrupy cards.
I have decided that I can’t ‘fix’ my mother, I can only live my life as a good and loving person.

n i c k y
May 18th, 2007
6:04 AM

I was looked after by an elderly neighbour. I deeply regret not having a normal family life, and truly think that I am less able to function socially because of it. I am awkward in public and hardly know what to say to make small talk, or the right thing to say for the right occasion. I believe most of this is learnt in the family. The kindly neighbour who fed and clothed me was a happy recluse, and I feel that’s what I’m most comfortable as too.

Tina
May 20th, 2007
7:35 PM

Thank you for this. I was raised in foster care–in a wonderful home, thankfully–yet I still feel uncomfortable at Mother’s Day. It was always difficult to buy a suitable Mother’s Day card for my alcoholic mother who had so neglected my brother and me.

Emily
May 25th, 2007
10:21 AM

What a beautiful post! I am a soon-to-be high school math teacher (I finish my master’s in teaching in 5 weeks) who has no reason to be reading this blog. I don’t even know how I intitially came across it, but I find it extremely interesting, despite the fact that I can’t sew and have absolutely no connections to the apparel industry. But I keep coming back and reading, and I just had to comment on your entry. I just sent part of your post to this year’s class of the Duke MAT program because it was so touching. As teachers, we always hope that we are making a positive impact on our student’s lives, but usually we don’t know for sure. It means so much to me to hear how important the teachers in your life are to you, and I encourage everyone who might read this post to share such experiences with any important teachers in their lives. It is so easy to get burned out as a teacher, but knowing that we matter in our students lives keeps the flame strong!

Ellis
May 25th, 2007
10:35 PM

Thank you for sharing your story. Thank you for giving so much of yourself and for having the guts to tell it like it really is! :)

jinjer markley
June 6th, 2007
4:00 PM

Kathleen,

Mother’s day is also a day to celebrate yourself. Of course, I don’t know much, but from the glimpses you’ve written for us, you are a loving, compassionate, wise and generous mother despite any circumstancs. Congratulations on being the mother you never had.

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