Me and Mary Jo, circa 1985
She was a blur of suntan nylons, pink lipstick, and curly hair tamed into a D.A. that came courtesy of a JC Penney salon stylist that knew “D.A.” stood for “duck’s @$$.”
In our small house, there was no mistaking when Mary Jo was leaving for work. She click-clacked across our tile in her sling-back pumps; her dozens of keys jingling with a celebratory clatter announcing to the world that all was well, the keys had been located, probably in a side pocket of a 40-pound purse or under the pile of mail on the kitchen counter.
In our tight-knit neighborhood, there was no mistaking when Mary Jo was leaving for work. The echoes of her signature door slam and engine rev, pin-balled between the tract houses. If you were lucky enough to be standing in your yard when she tore out of the driveway, you were on the receiving end of an enthusiastic wave, and had a good view of her careening around the corner in our Chrysler Cordoba…a vehicle so long, my friends thought our family had a limousine.
She was not much older then, than I am now. Like me, she was a mom to two kids constructed of 80% freckles, and 20% defiance; and again like me, married to a great husband/awesome dad who adored her, but wished she could relax, just a little bit.
She made breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, breaking sometimes for Sunday outings to Sizzler or Kentucky Fried Chicken. She ironed every piece of clothing that touched my body. She reminded me often, that she’d won an ironing contest when she was in high school.
I didn’t babysit or mow the lawn. “You don’t need that,” she’d say, “You’ll have to work soon enough.”
She changed Rod Stewart’s sexy lyrics so convincingly, it was years before I realized the words weren’t “If you want my money, and you want my money.”
She let me roller skate in the house.
She fought her speeding ticket in traffic court, and won.
She was concerned, when at 14, I watched a VHS copy of “Heathers” or “Gleaming the Cube” every day after school.
Before there were rules about parents yelling from the sidelines at kids’ sporting events, she yelled from the sidelines…but only because she was my number one fan.
For a while, she told every grocery checker where her kids went to college. These days, she shows those same checkers pictures of her four grandkids, and of the roast my husband cooked on Christmas.
I was 24 when I finally apologized to her for how I acted when I was 18. I was 26, and only weeks into motherhood, when I acknowledged that being a mom was not exactly easy, and it must have been…not exactly easy for her either. I thought of her when I careened out of work to get a kid to baseball practice. And somewhere over the course of my almost 16 years of motherhood so far, there was a precise moment when I realized my children weren’t spending their every waking moment marveling at all that I get done in a day. It was that precise moment when I became Mary Jo’s number one fan.
I always knew her as a working mom. Not a high profile executive. Not a woman bent on dynamiting the glass ceiling… a suburban mom, taking care of business, so her daughter could do whatever she wanted when the time came.
Mary Jo was just a kid when she learned shorthand and bookkeeping. I remember her perched at our kitchen counter working late into the night. Her fingers, strong from years on a manual typewriter, flew over the keys of her Selectric.
She worked for the railroad, a loan company, and an elementary school. Her bosses had mustaches, cowboy boots and long cars, too.
She worked hard and cared hard and she did it all without needing to blog about it or escape into sacred girls’ nights out.
And now, at 81, she’s still a working mom. When she’s tired, I tell her she she should quit her job, and she tells me she’ll quit when she’s good and ready. She’s tougher than I am, and always will be. Chances are your mom’s tougher than you too. They were tough so we wouldn’t have to be.
Motherhood is taking care of business. It’s careening. It’s click-clacking through the house and caring what your kids watch after school. It’s bragging about them to people who don’t care. It’s making sure Taco Tuesdays happen on Tuesdays. It’s wanting to yell from the sidelines, stopping yourself, then yelling just a little bit. It’s deciding only to quit when you’re good and ready. Motherhood is being somebody’s number one fan.
This is just a snapshot of what Mother’s Day means to me…my hard working mom and hard-working mom-in-law Ruthie…two awesome broads who are taking care of business and loving their families fiercely. Mothers Day might be something else to you. A hard day. A sad day. Here’s to everybody out there who’s taking care of someone – showing compassion, working hard, putting on a bandage, listening, loving, praying, feeding, guiding, giving, hugging, bragging, and changing the lyrics when necessary.