I had the funniest conversation with my brother a few nights ago. In essence, our Facebook exchange was prompted by his frustration with his peers who, for unknown reason, believe they can dictate his behaviour and make use of the ‘principle of guilt’ to ensure his compliance. My brother, similarly to all our family members, is a focused and driven individual. Any attempt to harness him results in rebellion, emotional outbreak and incurable resentment. He has a deeply inbuilt set of rules and morals, but the moment you try and take control over his creative and free soul, you lost him. These rules are more like guidelines. You present them to him and let him choose, if he wants to adopt them.
We are all the same, both in this and other matters. I slowly made my way through his frustrations, read the conversation he had before he messaged me and remembered that one just can’t harness a wild horse and not expect it to kill them in the process. I recently became officially familiar with the concept of how the feeling of guilt can be manipulated to force compliance with individuals that refuse to cooperate. It’s not that I was not aware of this principle, it was widely used at home as part of upbringing and I have experienced it increasingly later on in my life as an adult from other people, but truly, they only person one would struggle to break is the one who feels no guilt.
And so I proceeded to discuss this with him and to make sure that he will hold his ground and not give in, not become frustrated and eventually overwhelmed as that could possibly lead to loss of morale and he needs it now before his A-Levels. I told him that
“There is only one type of a person that everyone is afraid of. Do you know who that is?”
His answer, straight like a bullet in a matter of seconds was:
Even now I can’t contain the smile. I know exactly what he meant, though I diverted our conversation onto the path I needed then to ensure that he got the message and will never, ever, ever give in to the mediocrity.
This brings me to realisation that in less than a week we will be celebrating the international Mother’s Day. This is not, however, true in Poland – they celebrate on 26th May. For years I refused to accept the date of 18th March, insisting that our Mum would become confused with why she needed to consider a different date for celebration since the date had been already established many years ago. I completely agree. The problem was… I am very, very bad with dates. I can’t remember to remember what we are celebrating on the day when it comes. If you asked me what happened on such and such day in history, I would be able to give you an answer in a matter of seconds, along with the broader picture (thanks to my wonderful history teacher in high school). Nevertheless, when it comes to that day, I get completely caught up in the daily routine and I just, simply, forget. I am not a terrible daughter; on the contrary, I think that, in general, I came out quite alright. Thus, this year I decided to write this Ode to our Mother, which will hopefully cover all the years I forgot about the Mother’s Day, I was late with wishes, or early for that matter.
Shooting back to what my brother said, that Mum is the one person in the entire world that everyone is afraid of… I do agree. I really don’t know why. I mean, I obviously know that I am biased here – she’s our Mother, I love her. I can’t see her the way others see her, but I certainly understand why people shake in their boots at the sight of her.
I remember every time our Mum came to my school (I was a very, hmm, active teenager) all my peers would literally (I’m serious) seethe just by looking at her. Our Mum has a very characteristic manner of walking, always wears heels, which sound I always remember as a rhythmic tick-tock, tick-tock. It almost feels like your final hour is coming. Then the way she opens the door; almost in an impatient, sometimes angry way. The door wouldn’t dare not to open, I can tell you that. Our Mum has a very serious facial expression, she rarely laughs in public unless she has a reason, but she doesn’t think there is much to laugh about with other people. Since the first time I remember her face I can pin point to two ‘angry’ lines, as we call them, just above the line of her nose between eye brows. These lines have been ever-present – and they still are. Our Mum doesn’t take ‘no’ for an answer, she always makes one feel that they have just said the stupidest thing in the world and she wonders how it is possible that they are still alive with no brain. She finds her way though all difficulties and often tells people to, excuse my French (of Kitchen Latin, if you are Polish), go and screw themselves. Everything in her life that she built, she built by herself with Dad’s support (whom she considers her only friend), but still – she did it herself. She has little tolerance for bullshit, or, as she would say, ‘banialuki’. Our Mum doesn’t need to say that she’s displeased or dissatisfied. She just looks at people and in an instant they start running like headless chickens looking for their lost heads. Yes, the very presence of our Mum at my school terrorised all my peers. Whenever she commissions people to do something for her they would rarely dare to do less than their best. I often heard people saying that they wouldn’t dare to fail, because they were just simply afraid of her. Our Mum creates distance. She’s an introvert with a stunning ability to freeze you with just few words, seeing right through you, letting you know that you have nowhere to hide. Our Mum can tell your character, just by looking at your picture. Countless times she told me to stay away from certain people only because she didn’t like the look of them (yes, she was right). Our Mum never attempted to be liked in her entire life. Even our Dad’s friends resented her the moment they started dating. Our Dad, bless him, went for the fire, not less. So yes, if someone asked me the question I asked my brother, my answer would be no different: Mama.
Yet, I laugh as myself remembering these things, because I find them amusing at most. I saw this scary Mum in front of people fighting for us like a lioness and the crumbled faces of individuals that were so unfortunate to become the object of her mostly justified anger over her children. We experienced all this at home too, don’t get me wrong, there is no way we would miss it, but correspondingly we know our Mum. Yes, it is what you, the outsiders, see. But we see the inside too. Our Mum never breaks from her shell for other people and the majority of people that meet her are too afraid to approach her close enough to see her for who she is, not just the protective part of her.
For example, I remember that our Mum would come to my bedroom mostly on the days when I could sleep in, slide under the covers and shower me with kisses, intentionally speaking with a very high-pitched voice, which she knew I resented and wake me up. Then she would tell me how much she loved me. Then she would parade off to my sibling’s bedroom and do the same to them, with one exception, one of them always managed to get away and run for shelter to my room.
Our Mum always made sure that we had what we needed, and often what we wanted. We were always able to see the division, Dad was to be approached if we wanted to take additional lessons in something, Mum was to be approached if we needed another dress, a visit to the beauty therapist, another book etc… Our Mum always stuffs shelves in the fridge with food. The kitchen counters are covered with fresh bread, spices, cakes and other things, which I honestly can’t remember now. She makes homemade preserves, mostly from the fruit and vegetables from our garden. She dries veggies too, “that’s for the chicken soup” she says. The only time you see our Mum not moving, is when she sits down on the sofa in the living room, exhausted, in front of the telly, which she doesn’t even watch because she’s asleep. Woe to you, however, if you attempt to change the channel, she wakes up in an instant insisting that she was watching it. Our Mum likes fire, so we have a fireplace. Our Mum thinks about everyone’s needs before we can verbalise them. Our Mum is the Master Feeder of the House. Try saying that you don’t want to eat something, that you are not hungry. She will take it as a personal insult. You can’t serve yourself food, our Mum does it. Just in case, don’t tell her that you want just a little, because she will fill the whole plate to the rim just to make sure you are properly fed. My mum doesn’t trust anyone to do their job properly – this is why we don’t have cleaners at home. Even after we clean, she walks into every room and checks if things were done properly. Our home doesn’t overflow with unnecessary things. It’s always tidy, woe to you if you made a mess. The house runs with the precision of a Swiss clock. I must give credit to my Dad here. He may be surprised to know, but though Mum holds us in place, it is he who makes us run to our books.
Picture this: Mum comes home from work, puts on pots on the electric stove and then sits down for a bit in front of the telly. The kids, my siblings, are either doing something on their computers or watching telly, or reading, or fighting… until everyone hears the sound of the gate opening and the car driving in. We even know the sound the engine makes. Everyone jumps up. The kids run for their books studying so hard that you see their brains of fire. Our Mum quickly sneaks into the kitchen assessing the cooking time and making sure that everything is ready so Dad doesn’t say the regular line “What have you been doing the whole day?”
This is actually a reasonably silly question, if I may interject, after all they both work long hours and Mum does run her company with several hundred employees so she did have something to do. But that’s not the issue here; the issue is that our Mum has to go shopping after work – ALWAYS. Therefore as you can imagine when our Dad asks her what she did for the whole day, the question really is how much time she spent doing shopping. My sister keeps her side, because she always manages to get something out of our Mum’s spending habits. My brother has little patience for it, but he’s the only boy in our family so he gets things before he catches breath to ask for them and, as years passed, Mum and I became secret accomplices. We come up with the most outrageous ideas and see if we can implement them. Just a quick example, my parents have had an ongoing argument over the amount of money Mum spends on the garden. I do agree with Dad here, but I can’t help and not support Mum. Once I was coming back from school and I rang Mum to ask if she could pick me up.
“You will have to sit with the flowers” – she answered.
“O-kay” – I really didn’t know what she meant.
Until I saw the car. Oyvavoy. There were flowers in the car booth; you could clearly see that through the back window. There were flowers sitting on the back seat and more flowers sitting at the front. All you could see, essentially, was our Mum’s face and dangling white blossoms.
“Don’t tell your father” – she said in her regular manner of conspiracy.
“Don’t you think he will notice?”
“We will hide them behind the car” – she concluded.
So we did. I don’t think our Dad indeed noticed these flowers, until our Mum employed the team of gardeners to plant them. Dad came home, saw the upheaval in the garden, the gardeners twisting and turning like bees in the beehive and a suspicious number of white flowers blossoming which he hadn’t seen before. I can’t even remember if they argued about it, to be perfectly honest.
Our Mum, also, is the Master Physician and Psychologist of our family. She’s perfectly able to accurately diagnose me over the phone without seeing me. She is excellent in psychoanalysis, but one has to be prepared for what is coming. She wouldn’t just listen to cries on the phone. No way, Jose. She’s empathetic, don’t get me wrong, but also has little patience for someone feeling sorry for themselves. If we present her with the problem we are facing, the problem had to be analysed first prior to talking to her and potential solutions had to be drafted, why? Because only then she will offer a constructive advice other than
“Haven’t I taught you anything? Don’t let anyone walk over you! It’s silly to cry over it, stop it right now. Pull yourself together. Don’t have anything to do with these people!”
And this can go on and on with sudden flashbacks of previous mistakes we dared to make, carefully stored in our Mum’s memory. This is the harsh side of our Mum. There is, thank G-d, the other side, which comes up only if she really senses that things have outgrown us. Then she charges in with a super-charged lawn mower and she helps us see the exit. She’s absolutely amazing. The moment, the danger is over, she resumes her regular composure and lectures us on why we shouldn’t have given in and that this is not the way we were brought up. She did, successfully, turn us into problem solvers. We rarely approach her until we have tried everything that is humanly possible to solve the issue.
She isn’t a gentle soul, in the regular manner of speaking. Rather she expresses fervor in everything she does. When she despises someone, that person feels it to the point that they can’t look at her. When she loves someone, you feel that you can submit your whole life to her, your possessions, everything and this will be the best investment you have ever made. When she helps, she overthrows your entire world and creates a new reality. Our Mum is a Master Magician. She changes our reality.
Yes, our Mum is not easy, she’s a ‘saint’ and so the only person that ever makes any mistake is you. She’s demanding and carries the air of authority. You wouldn’t want to displease her. But, she is a saint. I understand it now that I work with children. Having this, every day without fail and keep one’s sanity… requires being a saint. Over years, experiences and whatever happened to us, I can say that I love her not with the unconditional love of a child, but with an unconditional love of an adult, who understands how much she means for me. She is, really, my best friend. This one’s to you, Mum; to you, to life, to us.