It's Mother's Day, the day my mother always dismissed as a scam by Hallmark in order to sell cards. She must be rolling her eyes at me for thinking of her today. Her grave is at Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx, but my hunch, my faith, is that she's no more there than Duke Ellington is. He left music, she left me, and my sisters, and now my daughters and son and grand daughters and grandson, and if I may, I will include the dogs, since my mother always had a dog, or two. And books, and church, and a garden. The piano in our living room was a gift from her, as she wanted be sure her grandchildren took lessons.
I imagine she is not rolling her eyes at her grand daughter who is now teaching children to play the piano. Another one is about to be a school principal like she was, and another is a teacher, which she was too, as was my mother's sister and my grandmother- her mother-- and another one of her grand daughters advocates for many children's welfare with Big Brothers, Big Sisters. The grandson she said looked like a Swedish rock star when he was a baby with all that blond hair I didn't trim very well, still does. And he speaks Spanish, like she did.
And me? I think, how did this happen, that all these children have grown and now have children of their own that looked like they did when my mother was the grandmother rather than me?
There is a lot more to mothering than DNA, as what my mother left behind has nothing to do with genes. It's a way of caring for your tribe, the people you love-- with time-- both quantity and quality, and a certain sureness about what matters. Being there is huge, and being a tad bossy and desperate to instruct the little people around you in the ways of the world is important as well. Be kind, a good mother says, and follow the Golden Rule. Clean up your messes. Share. Say please and thank you. Listen to your teacher. Apologize. Forgive. Laugh.(Especially at yourself.) Paint. Sing.
There is not, as far as I know, a gene for what my mother left behind, there is not a dog loving gene, or a library-user gene, or a 'do your homework and go to college' gene. I don't think there is a 'be sure to get plenty of fresh air and exercise' gene, not to mention if you are having a bad day, a 'go to bed early and you'll feel better tomorrow' gene.
I am convinced, the longer I live among all these people I love that (happily) are in my family, that there is, as Thornton Wilder wrote, something eternal about human beings, and especially mothers, and that has to do relationships and traditions, and the way, in our family we mothers are as my children used to say about me, "the boss of this place" we call home- for a good many years-- which may be why mine know that books are the best birthday presents and peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat and an apple is a fine lunch and they need to get outside and play everyday. A mother could do worse than that, couldn't she?