My mother passed away last Saturday, which is the kind of thing that doesn’t really lend itself to amusing blog posts. But if you’ve read any of my writings about her, you might know that she’s given me a lot of material to work with.
And since we elected not to have a public ceremony, below is the eulogy I would have given had I had the opportunity.
For those who know, I wrote a book about my childhood in which my mom was not always painted kindly. Calling your mother “General Patton in pedal pushers” would, in most cases, probably result in gunfire and a grand jury…but to her credit, Mom was never anything but 1000% supportive. Even when the spotlight that I shined on her was a little bit harsh.
But, you see, I had a very good reason to be judgmental. You see, when I look at the people my sister and I have become as adults, and I see the lives we find ourselves saddled with, it’s very clear that it was all our mother’s fault.
Here, then, are 5 Reasons Elaine was a Bad Mother:
She worked nonstop – at her career, and at home taking care of us – and took very little time to relax. Watching this growing up, it taught my sister and I the importance of responsibility and hard work, which, let’s face it, are a big, fat bummer. I, for one, am a creative person – I should be all “Oh, I don’t have time to pay the electric bill, I’m busy being inspired!” But mom did not nurture our inner lazy, fat slob, like any good mother would. Instead, she made us into these responsible, reasonably good citizens. Uggh.
She read Time Magazine cover to cover every week, and took us to church every Sunday and Wednesday, and chattered endlessly about the state of the world. This blather about politics and Christian values and how to make society better made us more concerned about contributing something positive to the world than in taking advantage of people for our own gain. And had we learned how to screw other people, we’d probably each have four homes now.
She was extraordinarily generous – Christmas at the Poole house was a cavalcade of gifts that made it look like a Macy’s had exploded in our basement. And whether it was presents for the family, or flowers for someone who was sick, or graduation gifts for umpteen distant relatives and friends’ kids, or cards – all handwritten and full of the kindest expressions of love and concern – it made the rest of us look bad. I have never been as good at all these kinds of generosity as she was – my sister Valerie is much better – and trying to live up to a standard this impossibly high just made me feel like a loser. So, once again, you can see why she was just a terrible mother.
She had an amazing gift for being interested in others. If you encountered her at church or a dinner party or the office, you came away feeling as if you were the most important person in the room. Needless to say, my sister and I watched this – and have tried to mimic it ever since. And you can imagine how dangerous and irresponsible this kind of activity is, since giving friends and family unrealistically high self-esteem just sets them up for a fall, right? I mean, I’m only thinking of others when I say that this type of overly thoughtful and supportive behavior makes Elaine a very bad role model.
I’ve always wondered if maybe our mother didn’t really want kids when she first had us – I think she really wanted to be Gloria Steinem, but without all the protesting and ponchos. Now, I have no idea if this is true, since Valerie and I preferred to speculate wildly rather than ask. But when we were young, it wasn’t really clear whether she wanted us around. There were a lot of tantrums – usually related to her amusingly OCD need for a perfect house. But as Valerie and I became young adults, and she became middle-aged, everything changed. I think we all grew up.
And this is the last reason she was a bad mother. When we were young, she set up an expectation that she wasn’t gonna be the greatest mom a kid could ask for. And then she turned that expectation on its head. Because she became the most supportive, the most loving, the most accepting mother Valerie and I could have ever asked for. And trust me, we gave her a lot of things to have to “accept”.
Don’t get me wrong, up to the end she was still a little OCD. When she was in the hospital, recuperating from heart valve surgery, she fell while trying to CLEAN the floor of her room. IN ICU.
A few months later, I was visiting her in rehab, and she hadn’t walked for months and was very weak. We were sitting outside in this gazebo on a beautiful day, and I said to her, “What’s the first thing you’d like to do once you’re well?” She paused and thought about it for a moment, and then replied, “Just walk around the house. And dust.”
Mom, I know you’re dusting that giant living room in the sky. And I’m sure it sparkles like it never has before. And I can’t wait to pick up a dustrag and a can of Pledge and join you.