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Shhh! You’ll Wake The Parents.

By Lorna Peden Waterman

It's Christmas week. My mom flew in from Philadelphia to do her part in the retention of my oft-disputed sanity. I was far behind in the wrapping, taping, labeling, and, well, sleeping departments. She has helped me to manage the house and the kids. As always, she will need to rest after her vacation.

C Day approaches. She's going home tomorrow. Her bags are packed and it's 2AM. I'm like a hamster that goes on a tear after midnight. The keyboard is my wheel. Forgive me the simile. I blame the fatigue.

She has fallen asleep in front of the TV. I peek in at her. At age sixty-five, my mother's skin is nearly unlined. Her hair is thinning a little, but it was once very thick so it's not obvious if you haven't studied her as I have. It's white and covers her shoulders in waves. It's a snowy backdrop for the reflection of the lights from the nearby Christmas tree.  

This is an interesting crossroads for me. I can, for the first time, remember my mother at my age. I was eleven then. My parents had already been separated for nearly a decade. I was struggling with pre-puberty. Buck toothed, wearing Bobo shoes and Sears size 12 husky pants, I didn't feel the glam. But my mother did. She was beautiful, having been compared to Judy Garland in her youth. Not only was she lovely, but she was intelligent. And feisty.  

Her family consisted of two daughters and two crappy ex-husbands. We lived in a row house on a tiny street in South Philly. I don't how many jobs she juggled at one time, but I do recall her being a secretary, waitress, house cleaner, ice cream truck driver, jewelry salesperson, real estate agent and dental lab technician. Money was very tight.

Hoping to avoid such a life for her girls, education and culture became priority in our home. We were the only family on the street with a set of encyclopedias. As they were released, she would buy a new volume of Funk & Wagnall's from the grocery store.  I devoured them. She also bartered housecleaning services for my art classes. I was kicked out of pastels for insisting on a black apple and only my mother could appreciate my individuality. But the people in clay tolerated me just fine. Clay people are obviously superior.

We went to the Art Museum long before the Rocky statue. At the natural History Museum, I saw the King Tut exhibit and examined the plaster molds made at Pompeii. There was a cast of a mother shielding her child against the ash of Vesuvius that etched itself on my heart. We went to the Smithsonian in D.C., and saw the Rockettes in New York. My mother and my aunt treated me to plays and musicals at Philadelphia theaters. In hindsight, she couldn't take me around the world, so she brought it to our door.

I think she made it look easy. There's a dignity within her that did not burden me with the troubles in her life. At the end of fourth grade, I was accepted into a school for the "academically talented" but it was many miles away in Center City, Philadelphia. My mother wanted that opportunity for me but couldn't drive me every day as she had to work. Calling upon a city councilman, she single handedly procured school buses for my entire elementary school for the fifth and sixth grade. No sooner was I in junior high, when they cancelled the school buses. My mom did that.  

Time and time again, my mother faced down the school office as they tried to lose me in bureaucracy and she demanded that I be treated fairly. It was the 1970's and there were no IEP meetings for me. I was a disabled kid who was forced to take gym. She had me sent to the Library instead. They had five floors and only a staff elevator. She got a letter from a doctor so that I could ride it. They resisted by forcing her to have it renewed every three months, as though neuromuscular atrophy would simply go away. She played their game, but they still seemed to twitch when I walked by.

If her courage against an institution didn't inspire me enough, at age 45, my mother became a student again. In five years, she earned a degree in chiropractic and the title of Doctor. She came home and said "That's DOCTOR Mom, to you, missy!" No, she didn't, but it would have been funny. (It would have been funnier if she had said that while delivering ice cream to me, but she had returned the truck by then).

In 1990 my mother, not my father, gave me away at my wedding. It seemed only fitting.

Of all of her accomplishments, the greatest example that she modeled for me, was that of courage. It was never a shallow courage, like the kind you ride in on to the fight, immediately before you get smacked down and tuck tail and hide. The alternative to succeeding, for my mom, was simply unthinkable. She didn't move. My mom was a force of nature whose strength came from an unbridled desire to see her children have every good thing that she could provide.  

Decades later, I haven't yet become a successful businesswoman. I'm not a doctor although I could be.  In fact, I married quite young and went on to have four children. Where is my mother's investment? What have I done with it?  

The answers sleep upstairs. Time and again I have come up against teachers, principals, doctors, peers, and even my own insecurities while protecting and providing for my kids. I advocate for them, wanting my children to have every good thing that we can provide. I have no fear as I am standing on the shoulders of a giant. My mother is with me.

When my children eventually leave, I know that I can do remarkable things. Age isn't a barrier.  

So please, be quiet. My mom is asleep on my sofa, under the glow of a Christmas tree, and she deserves her rest.  

Lorna Peden Waterman - is a contributing writer for Fabulously40 


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