Mother's Day is near (or over, depending on when you read this, and if it's over and you forgot, shame on you, pal), so let me tell you about my mom.
The image of mom in my mind is of her sitting in her favourite chair, cigarette in one hand, drink on the table beside her, reading an Agatha Christie novel. If she wasn't in her favourite chair, she was in bed because of her deteriorating back, reading and smoking. Yep, smoking in bed. Meanwhile, we did our own laundry and made our own breakfasts. My first allowance was 10 cents.
Sounds like something from Dickens, doesn't it? Call it Oliver Tougas; "Please, sir, may I have some more Froot Loops?"
But it's not. It was a happy, well-adjusted household of 11 children, who grew up to be 11 (reasonably) well-adjusted adults. That's a small miracle, and my mother was the miracle worker.
When there are 11 kids under one roof, you do things differently. From an early age, we had some responsibility for our own care.
Mom came up with a breakfast schedule that put the onus for waking up the household and making breakfast for everyone on very young shoulders. Friday was the easiest (canned fruit, toast and cereal, and getting the enormous urn of coffee perking), and done by the youngest. As you matured, you got tougher assignments, culminating in the challenging eggs on toast. By far the worst chore was waking up your older brothers, who, like all young men/boys, did not take kindly to waking up at 7 a.m., and they were not afraid to express their displeasure. (Jerks. There, I finally got my revenge.)
Maybe this sounds miserable to today's coddled generation, even slightly cruel. But it wasn't. To this day, I make a great eggs on toast.
And that wasn't all we had to do. You did your own laundry from an early age and packed your own lunch for school. We did the dishes in a rotation, and nothing ruined Christmas like having to do the Christmas dishes. My youngest brother was ridiculously self-reliant at an early age. The family joke is that he ironed his own diapers.
I don't want to give the impression that I was raised in a pack of feral children. In fact, some of my siblings may read this and wonder if we were raised in the same family.
When you're from a family of 11, there is an in-house generation gap, not just between parents and children, but between siblings — my oldest brother more than 20 years older than my youngest brother. When you're 30 years old, you have nothing in common with your 10-year-old brother, except genes. We're all post-50 now (some waaaay post-50), so the once Grand Canyon sized gap is now pretty much filled in.
Some of us remember a slim and much more active mom. In old family photos when there were “only” six or seven of us, mom is a different person. You can see glimmers of her beauty pageant days. (Before her wife-and-mother years, my mom, who was from North Carolina, was Miss Charlotte in the 1938 Miss America Pageant.) Those of us who came later (I'm number eight, a relative latecomer), knew a mom who was showing the wear-and-tear of birthing so many babies. (In case you're wondering, mom was entirely on board with the big family thing — she told me she wanted 12.)
I think mom, whether deliberately or by default, raised children to be self-sufficient adults, which is pretty wise. After all, you're an adult a lot longer than you're a kid.
It makes me sad that I never thought to talk about raising kids with mom. She died just four months after our first son was born, so all that knowledge was lost to me, and her grandkids never got to know her.
I know it's not politically correct to say this these days, but I think my mom was born to be a mother. It's what she was meant to be, and she did it splendidly.
I think I'll make some eggs on toast on Mother's Day this year, just for old time's sake.