A Mother’s Love Comes in All Shapes and Sizes
by Corinne de Palma
My mother was a quintessential modern woman, beautiful, educated, a leader in her own way, more than a match for my father, who, with his own intellect and good looks, was admired and respected. She was a virtuoso on the piano, and with her keen fashion sense, she was the epitome of elegance and strength.
My father left home permanently when I was seven years old. But unlike many women in the 60s and 70s, my mother didn’t buckle from the pressure of being left alone with four kids and a huge mortgage to pay. Instead, she was a math teacher and went back to school for a Master’s degree in math. Then she got another one in psychology, and, with no educational support for us kids from my father, she even found a way to pay for our education with three of us in college at the same time. Healthy milkshakes thrown into the blender, impromptu shows on Broadway from discount tickets she had purchased, in her role as mother, she had even added extras to her repertoire. For this, as a daughter, I’m proud of her.
“Joan,” people would ask, “how do you do it all?” “You manage to do everything!” they’d marvel in reference to her role as math teacher, homemaker and single mother of four. “You’re amazing,” they’d say. My throat would tighten, I’ll admit. I’d even feel a slight twinge of jealousy in my stomach sometimes. Well, what about me? I had thought, but I never said anything. How could I? I didn’t understand what I was feeling myself.
After all, it was my mother who stuck around when the going got tough, not my father. It was my mother who taught me never to lie, to take care of my clothes, fold them neatly, and coordinate outfits so well. Blue went with brown; and pink with grey; never buy cheap material; always buy expensive accessories; only shop sales for good clothing at expensive stores or shop at the really good discount clothing stores like Loehmann’s on Fordham Road in the Bronx, or in the designer label sections at low-end department stores like Alexander’s. And there is something to be said for that.
Even now, my ability to walk into a room, to make conversation, command attention without any pretenses, and make people feel comfortable at cocktail parties or business events—it’s my mother who taught me that. She taught me how to navigate in the most cultured of business and social circles. It is my mother who taught me how to be grateful for who I am and to claim a certain dignity for myself. In that, my mother, I can only say, was exemplary. She taught me how to be a real lady, and I’m proud of that.
But now, as a mother of a daughter myself, I look back on my life and I understand my jealous feelings when her friends had marveled at her for doing it all. I know that with all her hard work, she didn’t. She couldn’t. Because no one can.
When I’m not at home from work in time to put my little girl to bed, or even at work in my home office, yet inaccessible to her, something always gets sacrificed along the way. My mother was at home on most nights of the week when I was growing up, but while physically she was present, I don’t always remember her being there.
Yet I love my mother. Love is a strange thing. It has a funny of way of showing itself. Maybe it’s not so much the way things look, like the pretty crystal jar or perfect setting on the dinner table that constitutes love, or even sometimes the way it might feel, but the mistakes we make, the imperfections, the importance of someone who tries to do it all.
Patrice de Palma is published in Entropy. She’s been a reader on the topic of the mother/daughter relationship for Sirius FM. She writes freelance for various Gannett news outlets, and holds an M.F.A. in Non-Fiction Writing from Sarah Lawrence College. She is currently at work on a memoir about a tumultuous period in her youth. A former competitive equestrian rider, she weaves her love of horses into her work.