The first social reality of which I ever became aware was that my mother was the most embarrassing person on the entire planet.
She dressed loudly, spoke louder, and seemed never to have heard of make-up. She taught piano to poor children and senior citizens. She was a rebel with many causes and wouldn’t allow my sister or me to escape any of them. She burned dinner many a night.
When she attempted to sew me a pair of pants the pockets ended up at the ankles. When she lined up next to the perfect, well-coiffed stay-at home moms with whom she shared the P.T.A., I was certain that I had been cheated by having received a mama well below market-standards.
And so I rebelled. I rebelled in the only way open to the daughter of a mother such as mine. I determined that I would be the most preppy, most square, most normal girl in town.
This rebellion lasted for all of two-weeks; for better or for worst, we cannot move against our given natures for long. So instead, I made it my duty to sit by and quietly take note of the things I received from my offbeat mama that I may not have ever received from one of the standard factory model ones.
I wanted to know what I was getting in lieu of perfectly made dinners and a well-appointed parlour. I share that carefully collected list with you now. I am the daughter of an offbeat mama and these are the gifts she gave me:
- Mama gave me feminism. She taught my sister and me that we could be or do anything. That our identities were our own to create and share with the world. She never hinted that she would die if she were not made a grandmother; she never insisted that we “act like ladies”; rather, she encouraged us to be kind, ambitious, and above all daring.
- Mama gave me a family so much bigger than the narrow confines of the nuclear family. I believe this the union of her Greek heritage and her hippy past. While other mothers taught their children that their small unit of mother, father, and children was their “family”, my mother gave me a vast network of aunts, uncles, cousins, and more. Some were related by blood or marriage. Many more were not. It was a message of inclusion and relationships, not of exceptionalism and exclusion. I think the world would be less lonely if everyone knew Mama’s definition of family.
- She gave me faith that was not about easy answers. We went to church every week and every week I saw her struggle with the church, its rules, and hierarchy. She made it clear that she didn’t always agree with the priests and bishops. She never insisted that we believe this or that point of dogma. She did insist that we look for the beauty in the world; that we struggle to answer the big questions; that we ask “why” all the time.
- She gave me independence from tradition, from even her. My mother danced to the beat of her own drummer. She was, for me, a living example of how to live your own life not someone else’s. She never followed fashion or custom only her heart.
- She gave me unconditional love, an unconditional love that did not just extend to me but to everyone she met. My mother never met a stranger and she never judged anyone she knew. She showed me in her every action that there were no limits on her love. This gave me untold freedom to be whoever I was. It also gave me a guide as to how I might move in the world most gently.
There is more, but this is only a blog post. It is also a toast to all the offbeat mamas like mine who embarrass their children because of how loud they dress and talk; those mamas who didn’t come from the Mama Salon. Would that every child has a mother as embarrassing as mine!