Friday, December 04, 2009

Ode to Mom

"Who is the birthday girl today? Laurie is the birthday girl, they say!
Laurie is the birthday girl today, happy birthday to you!"

"We had a very lovely time, at your party, your birthday party.

The cake and ice-cream were just fine, at your party, your birthday party.

We hope next year, you'll ask us back -- we'll be here, you can count on that!

So thank you for a lovely time, I'll invite you to a party of mine!"

Both of these songs, preceded by the traditional "Happy Birthday" (which you already know, I'll wager, so I didn't feel the need to transcribe it for you), are sung at every birthday at my mom's house. This is part of the Donovan legacy; my grandparents sang these songs with their kids, and my mom taught them to us. When I've celebrated a birthday with Freddy's family, and these songs are not sung (because they don't know them), I feel something is missing.

Growing up in Chile, my mom always sang these songs with us. Even though they were in English. Now, we went to an English immersion school, so our classmates spoke English as a second language, and most of my dad's family also spoke English, but the songs still would have made some parents feel out-of-place... not my mom. She sang them to us at every birthday.

I bring all of this up today, because today, December 4th, is my mom's 60th birthday. Not that she looks it, mind you, but I swear to you it is.

Back in 1973, when Salvador Allende was elected President in Chile -- the first democratically elected socialist president -- my mom was packing her bags for a Fullbright Scholarship study abroad program. She had three countries she could go to: Chile, Argentina, and a third one I can't recall at the moment. She picked Chile because they had just elected a socialist President. (When she told me this, and my jaw dropped all the way to the floor and rolled down the hall and around the corner, she said something else about how Chile had great psychology programs and lots of great studies had been/were being done there, or some other malarkey, but she's let the real reason out of the bag already).

That's how my mom ended up in Chile, where she met my dad and decided to stay after her one-year study abroad program ended, causing much rage from my grandparents.

I guess that tidbit (that my grandparents flipped out when she said she was staying, but she stayed anyway) should have clued me in, but it didn't. I knew that part of the story growing up, but it still didn't hit me how strong and awesome my mom was and is until just the last few years.

My mom is the oldest of seven. SEVEN. And of those SEVEN, five are boys. Men. And, in my grandparents' poisoned-by-sexist-society-and-strict-gender-roles eyes, "better."

So, it's my mom, then four boys, then one more girl, then another boy. My mom was, essentially, a Mini-Mom. She was a live-in nanny. When I spent Spring Break with my aunt and uncle, the second-born, my aunt (who had dated my uncle since high school) told me Mom was, indeed, the Mini-Mom. When she and my uncle came home from school, it was my mom who asked them if they wanted a snack, and made it for them. (There is less than 2 years between my mom and uncle, in case you were wondering.)

This is why Mom-as-a-revolutionary-socialist was so shocking to me. She was the Goody-Goody-Two-Shoes. She couldn't be a socialist!

But then again, she's a social worker. She works way too hard for way too little money. Sometimes she works for free, because the families need her and she's not going to turn them away because the insurance company is slimeballing its way out of paying, again.

So, really, is it any wonder she raised a bleeding-heart liberal pro-choice Christian? I guess not. Apple, tree, not falling far from, and all that.

Speaking of being a pro-choice Christian (which I always type as "Christina." Egocentric much?), I owe my faith to my mom. She was the one who was there, always, when the Catholic Church, or the self-righteous priest or religion teacher, said something stupid that, essentially, went along with the Pope's teachings but not with Jesus's. She talked to me about it, and answered my questions, and told me God loves me, full stop. Like when the priest gave an entire sermon on how to pray: that you have to pray kneeling by your bed, elbows on the mattress, or God doesn't hear your prayer. Mom told me that was ridiculous, God doesn't care how you pray. "You can be sitting on the toilet and God will hear your prayer," she said. Which of course immediately gave me the visual of the priest, in his black robe, sitting on the potty.

Mom was the one who took me, kicking and screaming, to the youth group meeting at the Lutheran church we'd started attending. I was too shy* to go, but she made me, and three years later I was president of the youth group. So there. (I'm actively over-involved in my current church, as well. All because of Mom making me go to that Sunday afternoon meeting.)

Because of my mom's work with abused children I always considered myself pro-choice. I've known from an early age there are way too many unwanted and unloved children in the world to force women to bring in more. I used to say, back in my high school days, that I would not personally have an abortion, but the procedure should be legal for any woman that wanted it.

In college, when I got pregnant, I found out that, indeed, I would have an abortion. My mom raised me to be strong and assertive enough to make that choice, and thanks to her teachings on what God's love was all about, and the Lutheran church's teachings -- as opposed to the Pope's -- I knew that God left that choice up to me, and that He put certain people and events and circumstances in my life to help me make that choice.

You see, my mom does her work quietly. (She doesn't post it on a blog, for the world to see, like *ahem* some people I know...)

But when the claws need to come out, they do.

When we first moved to the US (from Chile), we showed up in the middle of the school semester, even though we had just finished a full school year in Chile.** I had just finished 8th grade, and my mom wanted me to go into high school. The high school counselor wanted me to do 8th grade again (because, really, how could a girl who'd been going to school "south of the border," in what had to be a third-world country because it wasn't the US or western Europe, ever be able to compete with our super-duper USian students???)

Mom was not going to have any of it. She quietly, calmly sat in the counselor's office, explaining to him that I was capable of doing high-school-level work, and that I should be put in 9th grade (even though it we were two weeks away from fall semester exams). She didn't leave until he agreed.

By second semester (i.e., three weeks later) I was in honors English. So take that, stuffy ignorant counselor man!!!

I got a special treat a few weeks ago, when Mom had to have a chat with her littlest brother, who had been harassing my sisters and me via Facebook. I wish you had seen her pwn his sorry self. In the dynamic in which they grew up, she is female and therefore less than. He is male and therefore superior. Yet she proved him wrong, on so many levels, during that phone conversation. Because you don't mess with her cubs, and because she rocks. (I wish I could elaborate, but not only is this blog post eternal as is, but I should take the high road and not divulge details of the jerkitude of said uncle. Plus, the point is my mom rocks.)

My mom's mom is a product of her time. There are strict rules for what women should and shouldn't do, how they should behave, and how they should treat their husbands. (Even though my grandma was a bit of a rebel -- she went to college even though her mother wanted her to come home, since she'd already met my grandfather and therefore already had a husband. So the rebellion and outspokenness does come from somewhere...)

I can imagine how my mom was raised, what expectations were put on her as she grew up. Especially as the oldest, and a girl to boot, when there were six other children in the house. As I was growing up I did more than my fair share of whining and complaining and saying mean things against, and to, my mom... pretty much every single one of which I regret now. Not just because I'm a grown up (arguably) and know better, but also because I have gotten to know my grandmother and have an idea of what my mom experienced as she was growing up. Looking back, knowing all I know now (why is it always that way?) I cannot believe my mom was as "free" with me as she was, considering where she had come from. (And please note I'm not trying to bash my grandma, she was a product of her generation and her parents' generation and upbringing as well.)

So this is a tiny insight for you, Blogosphere, in to the Mom of Criss***. I could write a series all week long about her, but I don't want to bore you. (And there's some stuff she might not appreciate me putting on the blogosphere...)

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you and admire you more than I've ever let you know. Thanks for making me who I am, and putting up with me during the teen and college years. I know that was not easy, to phrase it as an understatement.

(Also, sorry none of us can make you a cake as cool as all the cakes you've made for us. Like this one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or any of the bazillion others you've made for us over the years... Strawberry Shortcake cakes, and Hello Kitty cakes, and Darth Vader cakes, and Belle cakes, and...)

I have found more cakes!
Belle's dress
Racketball racket for my step-dad
Combo birthday-anniversary cake for my grandparents
50th birthday
Pony and Ariel
Cats (because, really, how could we not?)
You can also check out all the wonderful Mom-love she put into her confections here, on Marcy's special birthday cake Flickr set.

*Yes, I know. Believe it -- High School Criss looked nothing like Post-Divorce Criss.

**Seasons are opposite on the other hemisphere, so our school years went from March to December. We had Christmas over summer vacation.

***Um, and others. Lots of others, actually. And Grandmother of three more. She's a busy woman.


  1. What a wonderful tribute to your mother! Of course, like any good tribute, it made me think about my mother. I lost her to breast cancer three months before her 60th birthday. That was almost 7 years ago, and I'm still discovering awesome things about her that blow me away.

    Thanks for sharing your mom's awesomeness.

  2. Oh my gosh, I am so honored and humbled and cried my way through this. Philip found Marcy's and your blog and showed me at music practice the next day (I took a computer holiday on my birthday) and people were asking me if I was OK since the tears just kept rolling. It's pretty mind-blowingly wonderful to hear you have managed to be for your kids so much of what you've wanted to be. You have been awesome children to raise, it is such a privilege to be your Mom. I have been so blessed and lucky. Being 60 becomes just a piece of cake! (Looking at the ones I've done over the years there's some that look pretty cool and others I'm glad somebody ate anyway, but the constant was always a lot of love and the hope you'd feel it.

  3. Criss, this is really beautiful. Thanks for sharing.