Happy Birthday, Mom.
The Vivian turns 79 today, and I’m fairly certain she’ll party like it’s 1959.
To this day, my social life is nowhere near as active as hers, and I doubt it ever will be (but I’m working on it). As long as I can remember, she bowled twice a week with one of her leagues, played bridge once or twice a month with her club, and was usually out with my father on weekend nights at balls, dinners or plays.
I used to love hanging out in the bedroom while she finished dressing, her perfume lingering hours after she’d gone. Unlike me, Mom had no reason to be ashamed of her body. It wasn’t perfect, just age-appropriate. I’ve only seen her naked by accident – me walking in without knocking, or something (and by the way, Mom: I’m still upset Cynthia got all the boobies DNA and I got nada). Most of the time, I’d come in only when Mom was presentable, and that means in her briefs and brassiere.
Mom was a gym teacher while I was a kid – can you imagine the embarrassment of seeing your bony little girl balloon to nearly 200 pounds when you’re wearing shorts and Keds to work every day? – and after commuting to Xavier in the evenings in the 1970s, earned a counseling degree, hung up her whistle and spent the rest of her career counseling troubled kids at “alternative” schools. (Yes, you’ve detected yet another ironic twist, since my own world was Dysfunction Junction at the same time.)
For a time, Mom started putting on a little weight. I can’t say I really noticed – maybe because it was so gradual, most likely because it didn’t matter in the least, especially after the 1996 death of my father – the very source of my strength, pride and resolve – just six months after his cancer diagnosis, just one month after his 65th birthday, when he was supposed to retire.
It was the worst time of my life, multiplied by my mother’s grief. And yet, I still hold her up as one of the strongest women I know. “We Sloan women are strong,” I like tell my daughter, so she’ll never forget her middle name isn’t just cool, but purposeful.
Now that I'm 49, my mother and I finally have some things in common: meds. We both have to take a thyroid pill daily, and one for water retention. (Thanks, Mom!) She takes several others – for reflux, arthritis pain, osteoporosis and blood pressure, I think – and I’m trying to pay close attention so I know what to work to avoid. Most of what she’s now dealing with I can avoid through diet and exercise.
And I will.
Mom: Enjoy your day. Per usual, I’m late with both a card and gift. Even though you say I’ve already sent you stuff, that you don’t want or need anything, remember I’m a Sloan woman, too, and I’m not falling for that.
It is not until you become a mother that your judgment slowly turns to compassion and understanding. ~ Erma Bombeck
Leslie J. Ansley is an award-winning journalist and entrepreneur who blogs daily for TheRoot. She lives in Raleigh, NC.