1. to care for or protect
2. a gal I miss
I think my mom got the shaft. Actually, I think most moms get the shaft, most of the time! Mothering is hard and often thankless work. The past 2 years of my life have been acutely focused on retracing my dad’s journey, connecting with my dad and exploring the parts of my personality that I share with…my dad. And sometimes I feel a healthy dose of Irish Catholic guilt that that journey has overshadowed my dear Ol’ Ma. So on this Mother’s Day, I want to spend some time with Mary Anne.
Mary Anne Mulvihill. A strong willed, funny, sarcastic, empathetic, feisty, curly haired gal from the Big Smoke. Her mom, Margaret, was a class act, a traditional 1950’s housewife, who looked like a cross between Jackie O and a young Queen Elizabeth. She wore a day dress and apron, but changed into her ‘fancies’ before my grandfather walked through the door. She made casseroles and baked cookies, but could rock a fur stole and long gloves at her husband’s business dinners. My grandfather, Paul, was a self-made businessman. He started one of the first radio advertising companies in Canada. It was all very Mad Men, but with more heart and less affairs. He was generous, falsely gruff on the outside with a soft mushy inside. Both were religious and held very strong traditional “do unto others” values. And they passed all of those on to my mother. And she, in turn, to me.
Ma wasn’t the best student in school – not because she wasn’t smart, but because she was a bit of a shit disturber! She almost got kicked out of nursing school for painting the toenails on the statue of St. Michael. And her piano teacher as a child wrote that she “literally has never heard a child play so poorly in her life- I think she did it on purpose”. And she was probably right! Mom had a light-hearted edge, which she never shaved down for anyone.
My parents met on a blind date. My mom was in nursing school at St. Mike’s in Toronto and my dad was in his first year at the University of Toronto. His roommate turned out to be my mom’s cousin, John Mulvihill. My mom wasn’t too sure of my dad at first because he showed up in an old, torn plaid jacket that had been his grandfather’s, (which I still have), and when she asked him to buy her cigarettes from the vending machine, he refused saying that “smoking was disgusting”. Saying that to Mary Anne is basically daring her to become a chain smoker! But someone who could match her wit and strength, now THAT was intriguing. But since my dad was perhaps the least suave dude out there, he had no idea that he was supposed to call her within a reasonable period of time. He almost blew it! Eventually, weeks later, they had a second date, and sealed the deal with a kiss in the atrium of Fisher House on the University of Toronto campus. During their courtship, there were ups and downs and when my dad finally realized he’d be making a huge mistake if he let her go, he got up the courage to ask her to marry him. She said yes….BUT, she had another date that night. Which she didn’t cancel. Because come on, that would be rude and she would’ve missed out on a ride in a private plane! That was my mom. No rule book, no telling her what to do, just Mary Anne.
When my folks moved to Peterborough, my mom struggled with small town 1970’s culture shock. She was suddenly just “Marty’s wife”, and was relegated to the kitchen during dinner parties to talk to the other women about womanly things…like, I dunno, sock darning and day care and ovaries. She was suffocating. She wanted to be a full time mom, but couldn’t stand losing her identity. So she went back to work part time. She taught nursing at Sir Sandford Fleming College, she worked as a visiting nurse, for the Lung Association, basically anything that interested her, made her feel like a real live person and would still allow her to be present as a mother. As a real live grown up myself, I admire the hell out of her. Not just because she was an exceptional mom to my sisters and I, but because she was an exceptional woman for herself.
There’s so much pressure on moms. There always has been, but I feel that it’s worse now than it ever has been before. Pressure to “get it right”, to be all things to everyone. To have your children in every sport and club, help them get straight A’s, make their lunches into something Pinterest worthy, meanwhile you should work out and hold down a job and meditate and get eyelash extensions and plan an epic birthday party while conference calling your boss and pretending to not drink wine out of a sippy cup. And sure, if that’s what you want to do, then have at ‘er. But as a daughter, I don’t miss any of that about my mom. I just miss HER. I miss her essence. I don’t miss what she DID for me, I miss who she was. So my only advice is, don’t try so hard. Because you are enough. Just by your sheer existence, you are enough. They won’t remember the cupcakes, they’ll remember you. YOU are the most Pinteresting thing in their world. Don’t worry about screwing up, because we all do, we’re human. My mom said “Of course I’ll screw up as a mom, but my goal is to screw you up just enough to make you funny”.
When my dad died, my mom worried that people might not want to be friends with her anymore. She feared that because my dad had such a charming charisma, maybe people wouldn’t find her as interesting without him. That broke my heart. But it didn’t take her long to realize that she was wildly compelling in her own right. And that she was never in his shadow, in fact she was a light to so very many people. Including myself.
I miss stupid things about my mom. I miss hitting her hand away from her mouth as she chronically bit the skin around her thumbnails. I miss how she’d keep scotch mints in the console of her car. I miss having to duck under the 20 foot telephone cord to our landline in the kitchen when she’d be talking on the phone for hours. I miss how she’d curl her tongue over her top lip when she was concentrating on something. I miss how she’d say ‘hello’ as she was entering the house through the garage door, but she always started talking before the door was actually open, so you’d only hear the “…loooo”.I miss being annoyed with her. Man, I’d give anything to have a fight with my mom again! To ignore my call display because I knew I could call her back later. I’d love to have her over-involve herself in my life. I used to resent it when she’d tell me what to do, now I’d love it. Sometimes, because I’d really like to know what she thinks, and sometimes just so I could tell her to butt out. Because then it would be real again. It would real life, that I could momentarily take for granted. God, it would be nice to take it for granted again. Just for a second.
My mom never stopped growing and challenging herself. Even after my dad died, she ‘widowed’ well. She grieved, for a long time. But she didn’t stay the same. She allowed the grief, and the experience of loss to change her. To soften her. To make her more understanding. She traveled again, she took a new job, she redid the house, she joined a band….but quit because her first music teacher was right, “she literally had never heard a child play so poorly in her life”. And she became my friend. It took us a long time to get it right, but we successfully made the transition from ‘nagging mom and eye-rolling daughter’ to ‘hey, you’re a cool woman…want to be friends’? And I’m so very grateful for that.
Murphy’s Law is very much about my relationship with my dad. But it couldn’t have happened without my mom. Like my Da, I’m a wistful dreamer, a believer in possibility….and a chronic procrastinator. Dad and I often got stuck living in our Never Never Lands. But my mom was the queen of GSD’ing. Getting Shit Done. Mary Anne and Marty made a great team. Much of the things my sisters and I accomplished in our lives, was a direct result of my Mom’s tenacity and her ability to GSD. I believe my folks had a hand in me finding dad’s journal – Dad wanted me to rekindle the whimsy in life, Mom wanted me to actually GO and get it back. I feel badly that she’s been overshadowed, but I think she understands. And I trust enough in our bond that she knows my adoration for her is unparalleled. I still can’t believe she’s gone. I feel like I’ve just lost her for a moment. Like I set something important down, like my purse, and I just can’t remember where I left it, but if I keep looking, I’ll find it again. I wish it were that easy.
So today, I honour Mary Anne Murphy. The woman. Who also happened to be my mother. My God I was lucky. My dad taught me how to dream, but the gal I am, that’s from my Mom. She taught me to “Woman”. Yep, ‘cuz the way Mary Anne did it, it was a verb!
Happy Mother’s Day.