Over the weekend I would like to take the time to celebrate mothers, including single mothers and pseudo-mothers (i.e., women who have not been my mother but have mothered me in very important ways). I'd like to kick off my little series with a post about my mother and the amazing strength that she has demonstrated her entire life, overcoming obstacles that many of us can't even imagine.
My mother is a survivor and the biggest bad ass that I've ever known. She survived a horrible and abusive childhood, a debilitating car accident which resulted in a broken back, a divorce with two small children, and many other obstacles.
She was born to a woman who had eight girls and two boys. One of the boys died when he was jumping on the bed; he jumped out of the window and literally fell to death at my grandmother's feet. For many years, my grandmother tried to have another boy, which resulted in her having more girls than she was able to care for until she finally had another boy. My mother and her sisters say of the day that the final boy was born that "a prince was born".
When my mother was growing up, my grandmother emotionally and mentally deteriorated. All of my cousins and I know that she suffered from mental illness, but no one (including my mother) will acknowledge it. My grandmother ran away from a husband and got shot in the arm as she was escaping with her children. She married another man who ended up being a child molester. She finally married a decent man, who she settled down and raised "the boy" with.
My grandmother, her husband, and "the boy" lived in one house and my mother and her sisters were forced to live in a house next door. The house had no electricity and no plumbing. My mother and her sisters went the bathroom in coffee cans, and they rigged up a long extension cord from my grandmother's house and slept with a blow dryer under the covers in order to keep them warm. My grandmother would literally put a lock on the refrigerator door to keep the girls out of the fridge, and she would make elaborate dinners for her husband and "the boy". My mother would eat cupcakes that her sister brought home from one of her jobs.
My mother refuses to discuss anything about her childhood. The few details that I have managed to piece together, I have learned from my aunts and two of my mother's childhood friends:
- My grandmother would let men come around and molest the girls. When I recently asked my mother about this, she said that she was never molested because she was too mean and all the men were scared of her because she would "beat them off of her". One of my mother's childhood friends says that my mother is full of shit. Something makes me suspect that my mother might be telling the truth though.
- My mother and her younger brother went to the same school and when it was raining my grandmother would pick up "the boy" and make my mother walk in the rain for three miles. My grandmother would wave at her.
- My grandmother was apparently the mother straight out of the movie "Carrie". They say that my grandmother called my mother a whore the moment that she started walking. My mother's friends like to tell about the time that my mother started her period-my grandmother beat her with a wet mop and told her that she was a whore and could now get pregnant from the boys.
When my mother went to school she found no solace from her abusive home. She was bullied by her teachers and slapped with a ruler and had her braids pulled for speaking Spanish. My mother recalls that one of her teachers told her that she shouldn't go to college because Mexicans weren't very smart. Her high school counselor recommended that she work in the fields picking vegetables before she got pregnant, although she had the highest grades in her class. I could go on and on, but I think you get the picture. Nonetheless, my mother told me that she never felt bad about her language or culture, despite what many of her teachers frequently told her.
My mother ran away from home when she was sixteen and got married to my father when she was eighteen. My father had an affair while my mother was pregnant with her second child, and my father left her for another woman when I was three and my little sister was two weeks old. My father complied with picking us up when he had to, but he would often refuse to pay his child support. My mother was uneducated and had a working class job; my father had a graduate degree and eventually became a stock broker. My father would often quit his job when my mother would take him to court to make him pay his child support.
When I was growing up, my mother literally wore holes in her shoes so that we would have food to eat. She hid her car in the garage at my aunt's house when she was unable to pay the car payment. She would work very long hours with multiple jobs in order to send us to dancing lessons, baseball practice, tennis lessons and many other luxuries. She always said that she wanted her daughters to have what she never had.
When I was eight years old, I came home from school one day and my mother never came home. My father came to pick me up and told me that my mother was in the hospital because she broke her back. She was driving home from work in the rain, her car hydroplaned and she rolled off of a hill. My mother had no seatbelts in the car at the time. As the car rolled over and over, my mother told me later that all she could think about was who was going to take care of her children.
My mother stayed in the hospital for months, and the doctors told us that if she would have broken two more vertebrates then she probably would have been paralyzed or would have died. When my mother finally came home, she couldn't work and she had to lay on a special type of mattress. Initially she couldn't take care of us, and my sister and I would have to get ourselves ready for school and cook and clean. After a couple of months she was able to walk, but she couldn't carry or hold anything. I have vivid memories of my sister and I carrying the milk cartons home from the store because they were too heavy for her to carry.
My mother suffered through intense pain for the rest of her life and frequent surgeries. To this day she has to get in a contraption that hangs on her door and stretches out her neck and back. There have been times when her back freezes and she literally can't get out of the bed for a week.
Through all this, my mother managed to raise two intelligent and successful daughters with minimal help from a man. She gets up every day in pain and puts a smile on her face to work all day long. She has suffered many other setbacks, but for the sake of time I won't get into them.
Every time that my mother pisses me off with her bullshit, I'm going to remind myself how amazing she is and how much she has influenced me into being a strong, independent, take-no-nonsense type of woman. Hear me roar.
The gift that I will be giving her is a large painting by Frida Kahlo named "The Broken Column". I've blogged about Frida Kahlo in the past, and one of the main components of my lifelong love affair with Frida is in large part due to her story of strength and survival when breaking her back, much like my mother's story of perseverance.
Happy Mother's Day to all the single mothers and/or mothers who have beat the odds!!
¡Feliz día de la madre!
This is the Frida Kahlo "The Broken Column" painting that I'm giving to my mom: