Mother's Day & Tanning - Original Post Date May, 2012

A few weeks ago, I served as the mistress of ceremonies at a scholarship breakfast. Now in its second year, the scholarship breakfast is named in honor of “Bettye” a woman who has dedicated her life to scholarship and service, all while serving as a public school teacher, wife and mother.  Bettye’s list of accomplishments is long, impressive and awe inspiring, and at the age of seventy-five, she is still reinventing herself by taking piano lessons to accompany the Phi Beta Kappa and Magna Cum Laude honors that she earned over fifty years ago. As the twelve scholarship recipients were introduced, each a rose and a testimonial explaining what they found most admirable about Miss Bettye. Her abbreviated list of accomplishments covered two pages, so the responses were original and varied. Later in the program, she humbly added yet another plume to her feather filled fabulous cap.

It was shared that the scholarship committee only had enough money in the budget to offer 10 one thousand dollar scholarships, yet 12 deserving high school seniors had been identified. The committee approached the executive board and managed to secure another one thousand dollars that they decided to halve in order to create 2 five hundred dollar scholarships so that all twelve candidates could receive money for college. When it was time for Bettye to make her remarks, this remarkable woman announced that she would be writing two personal checks for five hundred dollars each so that the two recipients slated to receive five hundred dollar awards could also receive one thousand dollar awards. The room erupted in applause at yet this latest display of her humility and generosity. In my opening emcee comments, I described Bettye as, by far, the most fabulous woman in a sea of fabulous women.  This act of generosity confirmed that she was clearly at the far end of the fabulous spectrum.

This week in the media, we learned about a woman legally known as Patricia Krenticl, but nicknamed “Tanning Mom” by the media. The forty-four year old mother is accused of taking her five year old daughter to a tanning salon. After complaining of a painful sunburn and visiting the school nurse, the daughter told the school authorities that she received the sunburn while visiting a tanning salon with her mother. Many are saying that the mother has a condition known as tanorexia where she doesn’t realize how tan she is when she looks at herself in the mirror. I’d never heard of tanorexia before, but it seems plausible to me; in the same way that an anorexic looks in the mirror and thinks that she is fat, when to the rest of the world, she is frail and gaunt. If you haven’t seen photos of Tanning Mom, google her. To me, she looks like Magdella from the movie “Something About Mary” starring Cameron Diaz. Magdella was always tanning, and her skin resembled the orange hue of the Oompa Loompas from “Willie Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” I saw a brief snippet of an interview that Tanning Mom did, and in the interview, her speech is slurred and her eyes appear glossed over as though she was over served a few too many martinis while lying under the UV lights. Tanning mom appears to teeter toward the other end of the fabulous mother spectrum, farther away from the generous Bettye’s end of the spectrum.

Next on the spectrum is the mother of the monster accused of murdering a mother of three and her older daughter and kidnapping her two younger daughters. His bizarre antics sparked an FBI led national manhunt that ended with him burying a bullet in his brain rather than surrendering to the authorities. Miraculously, he didn’t physically harm the two younger daughters, which is the only silver lining in a very dark cloud, but the emotional toil that this ordeal will take on the girls’ lives is indescribable. The monster’s mother admits that she watched as her son dug a hole in her backyard, never once questioning what he was doing. It was later learned that he was burying two bodies. His mother’s act of indifference earned her a conspiracy charge where she faces significant jail time. Sadly, the world will never know the complete motive behind the monster’s bizarre behavior. It will be buried in the pauper’s grave with the deceased double wide dweller’s remains.

Three very different mothers, each equipped with completely different sets of values. And somewhere in the middle of this speckled spectrum of motherhood is your mother and mine.

My friends on facebook have already started to post Mother’s Day testimonials. Many are sad posts as they mourn the loss of their mother. Reading these posts  makes me sad too, because I know the pain and grief of losing a parent. It’s a loss that remains with you forever.

Sadly, one of my dear friends will bury his mother tomorrow, just one day before mother’s day. I had the privilege of knowing his mother personally because his mother and I are both active members in the same sorority. Barbara was a woman of faith passionately committed to the service ideals of our sorority, and I know that this mother’s day will prove especially difficult to my friend and his sister who is also my friend and a member of our greek letter organization.

The theme of the scholarship breakfast that I emceed was “give the people in your life flowers while they are still alive.” In other words, honor and love the people in your life while you can. Reading my friends’ sad facebook posts and thinking about my friends who will bury and celebrate their mother’s life tomorrow motivated me to give my mother roses while she is still alive.

My giver of life is still very much alive, singing in her church choir, and serving as the daily date door checker in her senior building, and for that I am very grateful. She still calls me to remind me when our shared favorite movies are on television so that I can tune in, a cute gesture that I still appreciate. A mother of four, my mother divorced after fifteen years of marriage, and our dad remained very much a part of our lives, yet like most households, it was my mother that ruled our roost with a manicured fist.

Growing up, the rules of our house were long and varied, and even though they were enforced by a woman who at 5’2” and barely 110 pounds, was clearly the runt of our litter, she was very much the Alpha female in the pack that was our family. Her rules were obeyed because her wrath was feared. The mother of four children, and with very little disposable income, my mother was forced to get creative with our entertaining, so our summer vacation excursions included weekly trips to the public library and visits to the city’s museums on free days. She successfully taught each of her children to read before we entered kindergarten and later witnessed each of her children graduate from college without ever once having to visit a penal institution and hand hug one of her offspring from behind a glass partition.

Motherhood is a delicate dance that many people “think” they are doing properly, but in fact they may be mucking up big time, creating a brood of new couch time patients for still yet untrained psychotherapists. Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy is quoted with saying that “if you don’t raise your children properly, nothing else you do in life will matter.” It’s really that simple, and motherhood isn’t for everyone. Some people are good at it, and some people aren’t. Just like some people are good singers and dancers and some people aren’t. Some of us shouldn’t try to “Do the Dougie” in public, and motherhood shouldn’t be attempted by everyone just because they have functioning fallopian tubes and ovaries. I still marvel at how you need a registration card or a license to check out books from the library, to vote, to drive a car or to buy a beer, but there is no permission slip required to become a parent. The ability to procreate isn’t protected, and shouldn’t be, so don’t flood my blog with civil liberties messages. But every time I see or read a horror story involving a misfit masquerading as a mother, I want to issue parenting licenses and rant that there should be a "stupid" test for men and women before they are allowed to generate offspring. If you fail the "stupid" test, you are not allowed to procreate until you pass the test. So let it be written, so let it be done.

Most of us live life on a spectrum. You don’t have to be the smartest person in school, just smart enough to get through school. You don’t have to be the best mother on the block, but you don’t want to be the worst mother on the block either, the one who allows a five year old to tan in a tanning booth or the mother who ignores her son’s midnight digging in her backyard.

Unlike Bettye, not every mother has a Phi Beta Kappa key and the ability to pull out her checkbook and write a check that has the potential to change a student’s life. Clearly the UV rays provided relaxation and comfort to Tanning Mom, and perhaps she wanted her daughter to share in her euphoria. It’s possible. The mother of the murdering monster may have thought that her son was planting a surprise rose bush for her as he dug in her backyard at midnight, so she chose not to question his bizarre behavior. Again, sounds stupid to you or me, but it’s possible.

Mothers often must make judgment calls that to the rest of the world appear questionable, stupid or downright idiotic. That’s where the stupid test would come in handy.  In most cases, mothers generally believe that they are doing the right thing and acting in their child’s best interest, even if that interest appears absurd following a reasonable person standard.

In Chemistry & Chaos, book three in the Black Diamond Series, the unique mother-daughter relationships experienced by the main characters is explored in greater detail. These relationships are further developed and climaxed in the remaining three books in the series as the characters mature and begin to accept and understand that, like them, their mothers are complex women who are living their lives one day at a time and doing the best that they can.

Mother’s Day is often a tricky time of the year for many people because they use it as a time to celebrate or criticize their mother for what she did or didn’t do. People compare their mother against other mothers on the motherhood spectrum. As such, mother-daughter angst is often the most talked about psychotherapist topic. It takes maturity and wisdom (and sometimes therapy) to understand and accept that whatever your mother did or didn’t do, she did the best that she could with what she had to work with at the time. Just like the ability to forgive is more for you than the person who may have wronged you, the sooner that you accept that your mother did the best that she could, the freer you will feel. So, wherever you find yourself on the motherhood spectrum, celebrating or criticizing, let it go and find a reason to give your mother her roses while you still can. If you don’t want to give her roses, give the gift of reading and download one of the books from the Black Diamond series to her Kindle, Nook or IPad!

I don’t know you, and I don’t know your mother, but I know that your mother would say that she did the best that she could, and that’s reason enough to celebrate your giver of life this Mother’s Day. And if you are a giver of life, try to live your life so that you are closer to the Bettye end of the spectrum, even if the only keys in your purse are the ones that you named Phi, Beta and Kappa.  Happy Mother’s Day!