Daughter of an offbeat mama

September 24 2009 | Guest post by Katie Billotte
Would that every child has a mother as embarrassing as mine!
Would that every child has a mother as embarrassing as mine!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!

  1. Great Post! My mama was the same way. She is EVERYONE's mom. She certainly raised my sister and I with a unique and unconventional approach. A lot of my friends are jealous of my awesome mom and the close relationship we have, I only hope that someday I can be as awesome for my children.

  2. My mom was also totally offbeat … in middle school I wanted to DIE when I'd get teased about her hairy armpits or the weird hippie food in my lunches. In high school I was always jealous of the other kids with moms who weren't always running off in the middle of the night to deliver people's babies, people whose moms had time to help with making costumes for plays or making cookies. I rebelled HARD, trying to be as normal as I could possibly be.

    It wasn't until later in high school and college, when my friends started saying stuff like "Your mom drives a VW bus? That's coooool." Or "Your mom plays the djembe? That's coooool." that I finally realized my mom wasn't embarrassing — SHE WAS AWESOME! Proof that sometimes peer pressure works in weirdly positive ways: it wasn't until my peers started appreciating my parents that I was finally able to. ๐Ÿ™‚ Sad but true!

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  3. My mother is your typical run-of-the-mill Long Island JAP with one exception: she's gay. So, when we moved to our upstate suburban whitebread town, and people found out, that made us WIERD, and yeah, "offbeat" but like Ariel, once I got to college, all of a sudden it was "oh, your mom's gay? that's cooooool!"
    Anyway, your list/ode to your mama made my eyes well up. Excellent post.

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  4. "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."<—- My mother was the same way…. I think of her as the kind of woman who believes in Joss Whedon families, despite not knowing who Whedon is lol! Family to her are those people we love, whether we are related by blood or not, whether we are the same race/culture as them, religion, whatever else. It is something that has stuck with me, and even though we didn't have this perfect nuclear family, I think I am a better person because of the variety of "family" I have.

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  5. This made me cry! Thank you for sharing – it is beautifully written and no doubt your mother appreciates it very much. I identified with a lot of the things you said, and I am glad that I received the gifts I did from my mom. Some of my friends are still envious of me, and I am 27 now! ๐Ÿ™‚ So she must have done something right…

  6. That is wonderful. ๐Ÿ™‚ Mine has always been sort of 'quietly offbeat'; she looks quite normal–not fashionable, and not dumpy-mama-like either, but just like herself. She dresses plainly, assumes she's pretty (and is, but not in a model way), and is a bit quiet so you never see her coming. She was a stay at home mom, made our lunches and stuff for pta bake sales, but you never got the idea it was because she thought she should, but rather because she liked it. She plays with balloon swords and makes up funny stories about marshmallow snowmen and is the quietly strong sort of feminist who isn't afraid of the word 'feminist' and just assumes everyone ought to agree with her. It's hard to explain, but she's awesome. ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. What a great post!! I'm just like your mother ๐Ÿ™‚ My mom is very straight and narrow — always perfectly immaculate and bitching at me because I don't wear makeup, forget to brush my hair, dress "differently" and just generally stand out. My mom always told me that she and I were born to the wrong generation — I should have been born in the 1950 like she whereas she should have been born in the early 70s like me. That makes me laugh ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. I was raised by a hippie artist mom in the heart of downtown Montreal, Canada. She didn't teach me a thing about housework, because she said I was so smart that if I worked hard and focused on my career I could afford to pay people to do it for me. On the other hand, she taught me how to save money, and I could never be thankful enough for that, as I've always earned around 11$ an hour and mostly worked part-time, and yet I see people who earn double my wages and always seem to be broke. I could never be thankful enough for that.

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  9. lol hippie food in my lunch.. sigh.. I was eatting blue corn corn chips in the early eighties.. try explaining that to a bunch of other third graders!! ๐Ÿ™‚ I commiserate!

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  10. lol hippie food in my lunch.. sigh.. I was eatting blue corn corn chips in the early eighties.. try explaining that to a bunch of other third graders!! ๐Ÿ™‚ I commiserate!

  11. Thanks for the post… I'm a quietly off-beat mom. I too stayed home because I wanted to. I made the budget work and we never went to Disney World and we won't have a Wii. We ate dinner whenever, grew our own food, had chickens in the city, were bee keepers, have friends of all shapes, sizes, religions, colors, and cultures. I made sure they are bilingual – even though I am not. (I keep working on that…) We are always late and and the house is always in a mess.

    But alas, they are now teenagers and they have finally noticed that I am so weird!! lol Oh well, I have figured out one thing – if I could change, (especially the being late part) I would for my daughters, but I can't and I am proud that my daughters think for themselves, ask why, and are kind to everyone.

    Again, thanks for the post. Gives me hope that they won't shun me for the rest of their lives. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  12. Hmmm. Born in 1959 to old 'rents. My mom was — gasp — 37 when I was born. She was also the only mom who worked outside the home, at. a. profession. And she taught me to be a cheapskate. Yeah! I look back at my friends' moms, who I of course were envious of, and realize now that when I was in 3rd grade they were 30-year-old bubbleheads with roomsful of cosmetix. LOL!

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