Needlepoint Mary: A Thank You To My "Band-Aids + Cough Medicine" Mother
After discussing at length my “unlikely mothers” who were people on my path of life who showed me the compassion and unconditional love of a mother-figure, I wanted to take a moment to thank my “band-aids and cough medicine” mom. Which is to say, I want to thank the mom in my life who provided me with the ever day miracle of just loving me, even and especially when I was hard to love. She was the mom who taught me what love was, and by every psychological developmental model of learning, is the reason why I can reflect love out into the world–having learned how to do it from a genuine source of love.
I would say that more than one time in my life, her ability to love me, saved me–literally and spiritually. In working in the field of trauma I see many people who, by the developmental standards, where at a disadvantage early in life because the person, their parent(s), who were to be their example of love provided them, instead of stability and care, like my own, a mixture of neglect or abuse that made their basic understanding of love and loving difficult from the start. I was blessed with a mother who reflected everything I needed to me so that when I dealt with trauma, in my early adult life, I had a spiritual and emotional life preserver to hang onto when I could’t stay afloat. Many people don’t get this and I am so sad for that, and so grateful for my mother.
The following micro-story is my version of a long “Mother’s Day” card to my mom…
My childhood was lucky. I have known many people in my life whose growing up was a parade of horrors, losses, neglect, and alienation. Their lives became gritty long before their brain could understand any other way to love than the imprints of relationships, like fingerprints of dysfunction and pain, left their mark in their psyche.
While my life would later know levels of personal torment, my childhood didn’t lack in any way, providing me all the suburban kitsch, and as fluffy a developmental security blanket as I could want or ever need.
My mom made beds, did laundry, gave me notes with my nutritionally balanced school lunches, and made yogurt ice pops and bran muffins from scratch. She played with my hair, softly, and like a kitten I would purr myself to sleep in the cocoon of her love for me.
We read books on cold winter nights in front of the fireplace, and I would harass the household with a multitude of one to three act plays spanning from the birth of Jesus to my rendition of “Beauty and the Beast”. My mother always clapped and lauded my literary “masterpieces” or, on the occasion when it called for it, broke up fights or ameliorated tears when I began to harangue my “actors” aka my younger siblings who would never learn their lines–always mumbling something about “not being able to read yet” or some other nonsense.
I played spy in the backyard during the summers, cloaked in my father’s trench coat and woolen hat, and she would politely ignore me leading me to believe, for many years, that I was the most covert spy . I trampled through flower beds to move from one “secure location” to the next, holding my breath as I clung to the bark of tall but narrow trees, with my coat billowing out like sails in the wind.
When I was an angry teen, hating her for everything she was and wasn’t, hating God, and hating the embarrassing needlepoint Mary sitting, always visible, across from the front door in the living room, my mother prayed for patience and (sometimes) prayed for the capacity to love me when I was truly unlovable.
At age sixteen I grabbed all my spiritual iconography, in an act of defiance (towards her and God) and tossed it all out of the second floor window of our house, along with the only luxury she had ever owned (a bottle of Chanel #5). I wanted to make clear my angsty adolescent individuating from everything found in that safe space of home and mother. She collected all the items and stored them away for the someday I would want them again.
When I came home at age twenty-three, after three years living over 1000 miles away in the Rockies, and after dealing with sexual traumas and an emotionally volatile romantic relationship, she hugged me tight and helped me carry all my baggage to the bedroom I slept in when I was a little girl.
When I was ready, a few years later, she handed me back all my religious tokens, which had been tucked away in the back of her bedroom closet in a shoebox. And she showed me the journal of my life she had written from her perspective and told me about the years spent praying that might heart would reopen, like a flower, to her, to God, and to life.
When I was married, on a New Year’s Eve almost four years ago, she stood by my side, tearful in the candlelight of my living room in urban New Jersey, “giving me away” with a psalm and a prayer from my home-made ceremony.
And today, she is the one I call in the best and the worst–the voice I listen to, the one that knows me better than anyone. And as I prepare for my first trip back home in almost two years I smile, picturing the needlepoint Mary, the kitch of stability in the doorway of the place I will always remember as “home”. It is the place that contains the lineage of a life, of love, and God, and my “band-aids and cough medicine” mom.