On Mother’s Day: My Role Model

I’m about to give up. I pedal away although it feels like I’m about to explode, and my face pounds like a stuffed, broiling tomato; my heart pulses in my fingertips, in my hair follicles. From behind thumping techno music (or is it throw back disco music? I am too otherworldly to tell the difference) the spinning instructor encourages us to envision the hill up ahead, and what’s waiting for us there. On the wall behind her fit, muscular, bouncy body, in the dark, five big, bold words spell out, “What do YOU spin for?”

That day I thought, “I spin for my uncle – who was in hospice – to be comfortable and feel loved.” I envisioned, on the top of the hill, my dad and uncle, embracing, urging me on, celebrating love and togetherness, each holding a cool, summery, gin & tonic. My three boys were there as well, waving Norwegian flags (my imaginary hill was a snow capped mountain in Norway) and then, strangely, so were a diverse crowd of secular and religious Israelis and Palestinians, cheering me up the hill, smiling, jumping up and down, kaffiyehs and prayer shawls flapping, showing me hope and dreams.

But the main reason I don’t give up, that I don’t slump over the handlebars slippery from my sweat, that I don’t yelp “fuck it!” and glide off the stationary bike in resignation and disappointed self loathing, is because of my mom. Through, behind, before and after all the imaginary and encouraging visions I spin up in my head, is the not at all imaginary power of the inspiration of my mother: “Don’t quit, your mamma would never quit!” I think, again, and again, and again. It’s my mantra that keeps me going. And so, I find the last iotas of energy from somewhere deep within me I didn’t even realize existed, and pedal my way up to the top of the hill, to the crest, only to hear myself emit a loud and relieved moan, while sitting down on the hard and uncomfortable bike seat, my butt bones sore, enjoying the minute and half of recovery time. Before the next incline.

Because, as we know, in life, there is always another incline. But there’s one way to get past it, and that’s by tackling it, and in the end, there is always relief.

My mother, a solution-oriented, energetic and positive woman, has a gift of making the best of even the most dire, seemingly unsurmountable situations. She is an emotional survivor. I have my thoughts as to what it has been, especially in her early life, that made her develop this survival mechanism, but these are moments and years she doesn’t speak much of. The war and occupation in her girlhood; the separation and divorce of her parents around the same time; her father’s physical, emotional and financial demise and sudden death, perhaps suicide; her being the one to discover his body…

But maybe more than all the courage and willpower, the optimism and energy, it is the ability, no, the importance, of taking good care of oneself as a woman, as an individual, and as a mother and as a lover, that she has shown me. This means not always being self-sacrificing, this means not always putting ones owns needs last, this means taking the time, making the time, finding the time, to do good not just for others, but also for oneself.

I often wonder, what it might be that I will have bestowed to my three sons, knowingly or unknowingly, and that they may one day summon from the deepest recesses of their consciousness, when they need it? It may be different for men. It may not. In fact, I think my mother has shown me that it shouldn’t be any different for us. For the women and the mothers.

One day, I may have daughters in laws, or granddaughters…I hope they will know my mother, and I will make sure to carry on her motherly legacy to try to be the kind of role model I was blessed to have.

Mother's Day

Mamma Moments: 1970’s

It’s amazing how much you can see from peeking through a keyhole. As a child, I once watched most of Robert Redford and Paul Newman’s The Sting perched on a small stool on the other side of our closed living room door, leaning in with one eye pressed against the tiny decorative brass opening, occasionally bumping my forehead, covered with blond bangs, against the door handle just millimeters above. The small noises coming from me settling in behind the door for my movie night delight, would reveal to my mother – my mamma – that I was not where I was supposed to be on a weeknight at 9pm: in bed and sleeping.

Watching the adult American film like this, with the excitement of perhaps being discovered – knowing I was being disobedient and naughty – was an exhilarating experience, and I never had a clue then that my mother actually knew all along I was there. That she let me sit there and be entrepreneurial and content about my feat; that she would smile to herself. She later told me that when she felt it was really time for me to hit the sack, she’d make some noise and slowly move toward the door so that it would give me time to run back into my room, undiscovered. Then she would leave the door open automatically preventing any further clandestine movie-going by the underaged.

In Norway, when I grew up in the 70s, we had one government run TV channel and Monday night was “adult” movie night. That’s when both classic and contemporary American films would be screened at 9pm, just one film, once a week. These were the days before the DVD machine, gazillion TV channels – even in Norway – and Netflix binge-watching and live streaming. The anticipated Monday night movie was an institution, just as Little House on the Prairie on Sundays or the Muppet Show on Fridays. Cigarette in hand, and perhaps also a drink or a cup of coffee, my mom would close the doors between my bedroom and the kitchen, and also between the kitchen and the living room so as to provide an extra buffer between the music and voices escaping from the screen during Monday night movies. But she told me later that she could hear my breath and the sound of my rigging up the stool on my side of the door, and then my little body fidgeting on the seat. I remember the small tear in the corer of the baby blue vinyl seat cover, and the smell of my mother’s cigarettes. I remember feeling happy. Even if I only had gotten to watch part of the movie – probably a very small part – it still felt like an accomplishment. I recall falling asleep content to the remote and muffled sounds of the action on the TV, with vivid images in my mind.

The ability to let her young daughters find their own way with enough freedom to give a sense of autonomy, has always been one of my mom’s strengths, and it was an empowering way to grow up. I thought I could do everything.

Sting