Sunday, May 8, 2011

For Sharon Kay Diehl on Mother's Day

She was a single mother before it was cool, skimping and sacrificing and providing and parenting, alone.

She was Mary Tyler Moore, tossing her knit hat into the air and catching it while someone sang about her making it after all. Her friends were Joni and Marilyn, not Phyllis and Rhoda, but she was making a new life just like Mary, only with two young children depending on her.

She drove an eggshell blue Pinto and worked as a teacher, then a paralegal, moving my little sister and me to Birmingham and making sure we experienced summer camp and had bicycles and plenty of clothes and opportunities to have fun at Camp Dearborn and Cedar Point. She arranged for us to travel from Michigan to Arizona by car with her parents so we could see the Grand Canyon, experience the country, know our Grandma and Grandpa better and have the best “What I Did During Summer Vacation” stories of any kid in school.

One time, when we were small, she took my sister and me to a carnival in the parking lot of a shopping mall and when we screamed for the guy to let us off the Ferris Wheel because we were scared out of our minds, she told him not to stop, just to slow down, because she didn’t want us to grow up afraid to try new things.

She called in sick at work to chaperone our field trips and always cooked us tasty dinners and paid for my guitar lessons and funded my sister’s and my participation in the junior high ski club – which wasn’t cheap, even back then – and took us to a family restaurant on Coolidge and Maple Road at the Troy/Birmingham border for the “birds and the bees” talk when it was time. She defended me when my uncle dissed me and she went through a slew of babysitters of all types and ages trying to make sure we were in good hands from the time school let out at 3:00 until she returned home from work at 5:30.

She forgave us for getting in trouble and fighting with each other and not doing well in class and she sent me to summer school so I’d pass algebra and she knew when to be tough and when to be soft and tender. She taught me to care about other people and to try to make the world a better place rather than concentrating on making money and driving fancy cars. She even sent me to live with my real father in Rochester for a few weeks one summer to show me she wouldn’t tolerate bad behavior, but when she found out my bed was in his dusty basement she demanded I return home so my allergies wouldn’t get worse.

She shared her love of music and let me play her records after school and I learned to love Rod Stewart and Janis Joplin and Barry Manilow and Earth, Wind & Fire and Laura Nyro and Patti LaBelle and Jesus Christ Superstar and Johnny Mathis and Barbra Streisand and one year, for my birthday, we went to the movies and saw “Funny Lady,” just the two of us. And she took us to more live concerts at Pine Knob Music Theatre in Clarkston than I can count or remember; I saw Bob Seger and George Benson and the Doobie Brothers and Wayne Newton and the Carpenters and Fleetwood Mac and Chicago and many, many others in person because of my mom.

And when she fell in love again, she made sure it was with a good, charming, unique, amazing, real man with integrity and intelligence and compassion who would accept us as his own and give us the paternal love and education that was lacking in our young lives. She didn’t just find a partner for herself; she made us whole again, too.

I smile when I think of all the things she did for me and I wince when I think of all the things I did wrong, all the times I made the wrong choices and made her worry and sigh and forced her to dig deep into that reservoir that mothers have to find new energy and tolerance and patience and acceptance. The unconditional acceptance you get from your mother is like no other.

I used to talk with her every day, even in my 20s. But then marriage and relocations and kids and friends and other things of lesser importance distracted and interfered and intervened until I find myself now, at 49, missing her like crazy and regretting how far apart we are, figuratively and literally, and trying to ignore the nagging awareness that she’s not getting any younger and I should be doing whatever I can to connect with her while I still can. There’s a huge difference between not calling her and not being able to call her. I’m not ready to not be able to call her. My heart hurts right now at the thought.

“Thank you” isn’t enough. Hallmark cards and flowers aren’t enough. Trying to live a good life and be a good man aren’t enough. Raising my kids to be like her isn’t enough. I need a statue. Yeah, a monument somewhere, maybe a concrete monolith surrounded by lush green grass, with small, colorful birds and butterflies flitting about and a babbling brook nearby and a plaque describing how special she is and how much she is loved and how grateful I am. Because I am so hugely grateful for my mom.

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