Appreciate The Mothers In Your Life
They don't need to give birth to you to mother you, but here's some stories about the woman I call Mum.
Mother’s Day is Sunday. I realize some people aren’t close with their mothers, or their mothers are no longer with them, or they are working to become mothers and perhaps things are not going to plan - and so I recognize the content of this essay could potentially be triggering, and I am un-offended if anyone opts to skip this essay.
If you have a maternal figure in your life, whether a mother, female mentor, big sister, aunt, grandmother, or anyone who has kind of fit the motherly mold (even single dads covering both roles!), don’t forget to show them a little love on Sunday. And all the time, but especially Sunday!
Since I moved 3000 miles away from my family, eleven years ago, I’ve only managed to make it back to New Hampshire once or twice for Mothers’ Day proper. I send flowers, cards, and gifts each year and I usually give my Mum a call. For the past 9 years, since I started dating Judd, I’ve actually spent most Mother’s Days with his mother (as she lives much closer), where I know I’ve massively improved the gift giving and card remembering from her dear middle child.
That’s where I’ll be again this year on Mother’s Day. Having lunch with the mother of the man I love, while my brothers celebrate our mother in person. I wish someday Judd’s mother and mine could meet and we could see both of them for the holiday together.
In the meantime, I figured I would dedicate this week’s essay to my mother, introducing her to my audience here (admittedly many of you already know her/about her).
First, this is my mother: Domi O’Brien.
This photo is from Mother’s Day 2019, a rare Mother’s Day when we were on the same coast!
She’s 73 now, and has many stories of growing up in places like Germany and France and Alaska before it was a state - her father was a pilot in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and his job stationed him in new places constantly. Someday I’ll tell you the story of her dyeing her hair pastel blue at a salon in Paris when she was 12.
She started college in 1964, and the stories of that era she can tell are plentiful - like a guidance counselor who didn’t believe her when she said she wanted to go to college to actually pursue education and career, not get a husband (Mum told me she sent copies of her Bachelors and Masters degrees back to that guidance counselor).
She was a draft counselor during Vietnam, an anti-war activist, and then a Libertarian activist, convincing her father to run for Congress as a Libertarian in 1974 (my father volunteered on that campaign). In a bragging right that will only matter to Libertarians: she used to host salons at her home in New Hampshire featuring famous Libertarian writers or speakers of the day, like Roger Lea MacBride and Murray Rothbard.
(Attached photo: The Telegraph in NH, August 12, 1976, referencing my mother, father and grandfather)
She’s a Druid High Priestess, and raised her three children in the faith, though two of us aren’t practicing/believers anymore. She’s a passionate advocate for civil liberties, and all of her children are as well. She’s passionate about history, and reading - she always has a book in her hand and she’s always telling us about what books she just read (we both adore fantasy, urban fantasy and historical fiction especially).
(Attached photo is her reading Calvin & Hobbes with my brothers, 1987ish.)
She’s smart, and thorough, and very stubborn. She’s an anarcho-syndicalist, and had me reading both Ayn Rand and Noam Chomsky by the time I was 13. She believed in raising her children peacefully before the peaceful parenting movement was a big thing, and has been an adamant homeschooling/alternative schooling advocate and practitioner, and all three of us kids started college before age 18.
She’s a legendary badass hostess, which is doubly amazing because she’s one of the most introverted people I’ve ever met.
I’m reasonably confident I’m not her favorite child, but I genuinely don’t mind. My brothers have been better children to her.
I do suspect that I am, however, exactly what she was trying to raise, without knowing what would come of it or how it would ultimately manifest. Some of the details are likely not how she’d have chosen them, yet I turned out this way sometimes as a direct result of values she instilled in me at one point, even if the conclusion wasn’t what she expected.
We have had our conflicts and differences, as any two strong, stubborn, fairly dominant women would. 3000 miles between us helps minimize our conflicts, and lets us appreciate our times together.
She had me a month before her 40th birthday.
Here’s an adorable photo of her at 42, and me at 2.
I have about 5 million stories about her and what she’s taught me about life and the world. I really should sit down with her and record more of her own stories while I still have her in relative health and wellness and of sound mind. I intend to, when next I visit.
But for this post, I intend to share some of ours I’ve already collected over the years. Here’s a few short stories and wise quips, some may sound familiar as I’ve told several of them on Facebook.
When I was a little girl I grew up in a fairly Catholic area, and one day I asked my mother her opinion on abortion being legal.
She told me: "A government that can prevent you from getting an abortion is a government that can force you to get an abortion."
When I was a kid, the neighbor's sons were a little older than me, and had rougher language than I did. I'd heard curse words before, and I was allowed to speak any way I pleased, but I was perhaps 11 or so before I actually said any "bad words" myself, most likely in response to those boys.
I was sitting in the backseat of my mother's car on the way to the mall or some errand, maybe 11 years old or so, I had a friend with me, and we were whispering about bad words and which ones we knew.
My mother overheard it, I suspect, and out of the blue she readjusted the rearview mirror to see us better, and said, without conversational prompting:
"I've really never understood the expression "Fuck you!""
My friend and I went wide eyed and looked at her.
"I mean, think about it. To fuck is to have sex, right? And sex is something people like or want, right? FUCKING is a good thing? So why would you want to wish a good thing on somebody? I'll tell you, if you really want to upset someone or say something negative or demeaning, you should say UNFUCK YOU. That would make much more sense!"
My friend and I looked at each other and waited to see if more of a rant was brewing.
Then Mum just turned up the car radio and hummed to herself the rest of the way to the mall.
When I was about 9, I encountered margarine for the first time.
"Mum, what's the difference between margarine and butter?"
"Well, they say one will give you cancer, one will give you heart disease."
"But Mum, which is which?"
"Not sure it matters. Butter tastes better, Avens, and we all die someday."
When I was ~8 years old, my friend got her ears pierced, so I asked Mum to bring me to get mine pierced - we went to a store in the mall, the piercing booth was right in the window.
I was excited, until right beforehand, when suddenly I was overwhelmed with fear. I cried and said I didn't want it. They'd already rubbed my ear with the alcohol wipe and put the marker dot, and opened up the sterile package of earrings (I vaguely remember the deal was maybe $20 for a pair of earrings - free piercing).
I begged them to not do it, I was too scared.
A nice young adult (maybe in her early twenties - as a kid I wasn’t good at discerning adult ages) woman told me I don't need to be scared and offered to go first - so she got a second earring hole pierced to show me it wasn't so bad.
But I still wasn't ready. I said no.
I felt like everyone was staring at me and judging me for being a big baby. But I couldn't do it.
Mum was mildly exasperated because of the cost at the time, as she still had to pay for the earrings since they'd been opened. But I watched her bottle that up, and she said "if you're not ready, I would never force you. It's your body. Your ears. Are you sure?"
She gave me lots of room to change my mind one way or the other. She wouldn't pressure me. I knew money wasn't something to waste. I felt bad. But I wasn't ready.
When we got home, my friend told her mother what happened. Her mother said "I wouldn't have wasted that money, I would've held you down while they pierced your ears!"
I remember feeling profoundly disturbed that she would say that. And profoundly grateful that my mother wouldn't.
When I was 12, I finally decided to get my ears pierced. We went to a different place, less public, where nobody was walking by and watching.
I was scared, but I was ready.
I also fainted briefly.
But I got my ears pierced. And though I was nervous, I felt empowered by the fact that my mother would have stood with me if I'd backed out.
I've always been profoundly grateful to my mother for that.
She instilled an incredible sense within me that my body was my own, and that no matter how much money someone had spent or how much social pressure I was getting --- my body is mine, and I am the only one who gets to decide what happens to it - if I'm not comfortable, there is nothing wrong with walking away.
Mum told me that if a boy or man ever touched me inappropriately, my best defense was to kick them in the balls because it's sensitive and will usually cause them to at least stumble and give me time to get away.
I was not shy about using this defense for any kind of physical bullying, pinching, poking, or otherwise. As a result, the offenders usually only offended once, and my reputation in the neighborhood grew.
It was probably a harsh punishment for being poked in the back while being called names, but I've lived a life of less undesired touch as a result and I'm not mad about it.
When I was four years old, my family went to my father’s office Christmas party, where the Santa Claus was beckoning children to sit on his lap and tell him what they wanted for Christmas. I was a bit shy and not inclined to talk to Santa. At some point Santa started making his way around the party, spotted me, and attempted to pick me up, presumably to wish me a Merry Christmas (I was probably the only child at the party he hadn’t met). No consent asked, just grabbed me without warning or permission. So I screamed, struggled, kicked him in the shin, and ran away. When my mother found out what happened, and Santa implied I should apologize for kicking him, Mum said “you picked her up without her consent! She did the right thing. She doesn’t owe you an apology, you owe her one.”
And that’s the story of my mother making SANTA CLAUS apologize to me.
So there’s a few of my Mum stories for this Mother’s Day. There are many more to come (I have one planned specifically for Thanksgiving this year). Remember to appreciate the mothers of your life, if you have them.
Lastly I leave you with one piece of wisdom she frequently says, the origin of which I’m not actually sure:
“Courtesy is owed. Respect is earned. Love is given.”