Happy Birthday, Dear Mom

11 Oct

Yesterday was World Mental Health Day. No, not a day when everyone on earth spends the day trying to act calm, stable and happy, but a day devoted to encouraging people to discuss mental health issues. This year’s topic was depression. Not to belittle the global crisis of depression, but I guess all the other mental disorders got to take a break.

Most of you know that I am bipolar and may wonder why I didn’t write about what it’s like to be bipolar on World Mental Health Day. According to the National Alliance for Mental Illness, I’ve got all week. Mental Health Awareness Week in the United States runs from October 7th through the 13th. I am American and I’m writing this on the 11th, so I figure I’m covered. Even if I’m not, National Mental Health Month is in May. Of course, a mental health month puts a lot of pressure on us; I’m not sure I can keep my mania and depression from popping up for an entire month even with meds.

I didn’t write about mental health—mine or anyone else’s—because yesterday was my mother’s birthday. When she was alive, I hosted a beef-centered dinner at my house. I did this because I loved my mother, but also because I spent years listening to her complain that no one ever did anything for her birthday and she was not going to plan her own party. And she loved beef.

Yesterday, we had fried chicken for dinner. That is not as contrary as it sounds. My mother was from the South and, while she made really good fried chicken herself, she also loved Popeye’s. My kids don’t really like beef—I think my daughter may become a vegetarian soon—but they like Popeye’s.  So, fried chicken for dinner.

I think my mother would have approved, but there were many things in my life that she didn’t really like a whole lot.

My hair? Not curly enough. Never mind that it is stick straight, fine as frog fur and most likely inherited from her. When my hair was permed, my mother loved it.

My housekeeping? Notice “housekeeping” and “Ha!” both start with an H. But when Mom was scheduled to visit, I became a dervish, scrubbing counters with hot water, vacuuming lampshades, polishing bathroom fixtures, arranging flowers. A friend once pointed out that it wasn’t like Queen Elizabeth was going to pop in to use my powder room. If only, I thought, if only!

My mouth? Far too many F-bombs came out of it to please my Mom. Actually, any F-bomb was unacceptable. According to her, I swear like a longshoreman. I doubt she ever met one; I’m not convinced she even knew what they did but she was convinced that I talked like one.

My mother didn’t swear . . .much. I think I heard her use the S-word twice. The most memorable instance was during a sewing session when she repeatedly tried to do a tricky seam. Finally, she got it right only to realize she’d sewed the thing to the shirt she was wearing.

There were things my mother approved of, though.

My intelligence, for one. When Geraldine Ferraro ran with Walter Mondale, my grandmother was appalled. How, in her mind, could a woman be tolerated one heartbeat away from the presidency? My mother was incensed. “I think a woman would be a wonderful president. Janice would be a wonderful president!” I might be, but there are far too many skeletons in my closet. Hell, my skeletons are out on the front lawn doing the Macarena.

My cooking. My mother loved the beef-centered dishes I made, but she loved the Williamsburg Orange cake I made every year even more. She liked my snacks, too. When my sister and I still lived at home, we’d watch late night movies with Mom, everything from Frankenstein to It Happened One Night. During some commercial break, I’d want a snack. I’d offer one to my mother on my way to the kitchen. “No, thank you” was invariably her response. On my return, she’d take a look at my snack and say, “Oh, that looks good!” an unspoken yet undeniable request for said snack.

My spirit. I’m honest—blunt, some would say—and pretty funny. If something strikes me as humorous, I’ll say it even if it’s highly inappropriate. My mother loved this about me. She loved it so much that she worried the meds I needed to stay alive would dampen it. They never did.

My mother died a slow, painful, ugly death of COPD. But while her disease chipped away at her freedom and health, she adapted and kept going. When breathing became difficult at night, she used an oxygen concentrator while she slept. When climbing the stairs at her home became difficult, she got a stair lift. When she couldn’t walk around the mall, she got oxygen in a bottle and a wheeled cart to drag it around behind her. When even that became difficult, she learned how to surf the ‘Net to visit her favorite stores.

My mother even found a reason to like Depends. Getting to the bathroom from the couch before you’ve got to go is something you likely take for granted. But when you can’t breathe, there’s no guarantee you’ll get there in time. “These Depends are great!” my mother told me. “I never have to worry if I’ll get to the potty in time.”

We joked that Mom was the Energizer Bunny; she kept going and going. Even in the end, she didn’t give up. It was left to us to turn off the machines keeping her alive.

I don’t need a particular day to make me aware of mental health issues; I live with them everyday. So, while yesterday may have been a mental health day for the rest of the world, I spent it with memories of my mom.

26 Responses to “Happy Birthday, Dear Mom”

  1. scribblechic October 11, 2012 at 1:28 pm #

    Calendar campaigns to raise awareness are secondary to holidays of the heart. Beautiful!

    • jmlindy422 October 11, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

      Thanks. She drove me crazy, but I miss her alot.

  2. Madame Weebles October 11, 2012 at 2:11 pm #

    I really liked this heartfelt, honest tribute to your mom, Janice. What is it with mothers and their daughters’ hair? My hair is very curly, and it was never straight enough to please my mother. Never mind that I inherited the curly hair from her. My dad has COPD and I know it’s brutal to watch someone suffer with it. Your mom sounds like she was a pip. I’m going to that Wililamsburg Orange Cake and think of you and your mom when I do.

    • jmlindy422 October 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

      It’s a good cake! I always made it from the Betty Crocker recipe, but research has shown that it is actually an old, old cake from the South. Appropriate, no?

      • Madame Weebles October 11, 2012 at 3:46 pm #


  3. SocietyRed October 11, 2012 at 2:16 pm #

    Sweet tribute to your Mom…

  4. kelloggs77 October 11, 2012 at 2:29 pm #

    Sounds like our moms share more than just October birthdays (a day apart)…a fighting spirit. Happy Birthday to your mom and enjoy the gift of her memory.

    • jmlindy422 October 11, 2012 at 3:20 pm #

      Thanks! Hoping yours is still around to drive you crazy. That’s their job, isn’t it?

      • kelloggs77 October 15, 2012 at 8:22 pm #

        Thankfully, she is. She had a nasty accident this year that scared us, but she made it through. I’m glad you have good memories of your mom to celebrate with on her birthday.

  5. philosophermouseofthehedge October 11, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Great post. (Oh, share the fine, thin, totally straight hair that was never good enough for mom so let’s perm it to death…ignore those burns on the back of the neck….)
    Fried chicken is a fine tribute! (Can hear the crunch from here). She sewed and didn’t swear…sounds so familiar. But yours had a sense of humor!
    Lovely tribute.

    • jmlindy422 October 11, 2012 at 3:21 pm #

      Thanks. Oh, I do so remember the burns on the neck. And the smell! My god, the smell!

  6. Stefan Meier October 11, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    I miss her

    • jmlindy422 October 11, 2012 at 9:12 pm #

      Me, too, buddy. Me, too.

    • bobbi October 11, 2012 at 10:37 pm #

      I miss her too. thanks for the memories

      • jmlindy422 October 12, 2012 at 8:09 am #

        You’re welcome!

  7. Mary Rayis October 15, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    Beautiful remembrance of your mom, Janice. I lost my first mom when I was 13 months old. My second one recently turned 81. Though she, too, drives me nuts sometimes, I’m grateful she’s around to do so.

    • jmlindy422 October 15, 2012 at 2:28 pm #

      If I knew about your first mom, I didn’t remember. It’s good to have your mom around to pull you down when you’re too big for your britches and to pull you up when you’re down.

      • Mary Rayis October 15, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

        Well said, J. As always.

  8. sukanya October 15, 2012 at 3:25 pm #

    Heartfelt tribute to your mom. I am not a baker but your orange cake sounds delish!

    • jmlindy422 October 15, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

      It’s a pretty good cake. Thanks for the note.

  9. todadwithlove October 16, 2012 at 7:36 pm #

    Love this post. I am SO emotionally dependent on my mother, the mere thought of losing her eventually often sends me into a panic, and sometimes, tears. I am touched by this wonderful requiem to your mom on this special day. Thank you for sharing.

    • jmlindy422 October 22, 2012 at 11:33 am #

      Sorry to be so late getting back to you. Those first days after losing mom were pretty intense. You learn how to get on, though. I’m so lucky to have a wonderful sister.

      • todadwithlove October 22, 2012 at 4:49 pm #

        That’s okay, Janice. Hope you’ve been well.

  10. lsurrett2 October 29, 2012 at 3:34 pm #

    Such a tender-hearted post. Mother-daughter relationships are difficult here in the South. My mom could have majored in guilt–slathering it on like butter–and criticism. Dislikes: my hair (!), my clothes, my weight, my children, my husband, my housekeeping (!). But for all that, her compliments are genuine and never what I expect.

    • jmlindy422 October 29, 2012 at 3:58 pm #

      That’s the thing about Southern mothers. They’ll criticize you within an inch of your life, but you never have a more stalwart defender.

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