My Mom never talked to me about sex. She grew up in the 60’s, so the obvious paradox is that she had to know a ‘lil somethin’-somethin’ about it. Plus, me. And my sister.
Yet on that topic you could hear a pin drop in our house. Come to think of it, that’s about all you could hear. I guess maybe the 60’s wiped her out and that was that. Who knows – as I mentioned, we haven’t discussed it and probably never will, sans the occasional off-color humor.
Operationally, it was very Ozzie & Harriet in our home. No complaints, mind you, it just was the “typical” family structure insofar as typical family structures looked back then. What was modeled to my Mom is what she knew and what she did: kept a ridiculously clean house, had dinner on the table by 5:30, sat across from my Dad with perfect hair and make-up and asked him about his day as my sister and I sat quietly eating our meat, starch, vegetable and obligatory roll and butter. Once we asked to be excused, they had “their time” and we were relegated to our rooms.
It was nice. And it was all we knew.
And it was also…the 1970’s & 80’s.
Today, I barely take a shower if/when I cook, let alone do my hair or rim my lids with black liquid liner. The thought of that simultaneously makes me cringe and reduces me to hysteria. Am I capable of doing those things? Sure. Do I bother doing those things after doing all the other stuff I do in the course of a day? Please.
No one goes hungry, conversation occurs, kids are both seen AND heard, and Fortnite continues to ruin our lives.
Last weekend I visited my now retired parents in South Carolina for Mother’s Day. Once you move away from your parents and find your own rhythm of life, it’s interesting to go back and hang with them. You see them in a whole new light. Though, by about Friday evening, it was actually hard to see the bright and sunny Carolina light through the tears that had begun every time I watched my Mom.
Certain memories flooded my mind as I looked at her. She would be doing nothing more than scurrying around the kitchen – but she did it in such a way that it might as well have been 1978 at 400 Adelaide Street in Minerva, Ohio. It felt the same. Her actions were the same, albeit now with older and more arthritic hands and much less make-up (it’s HOT there, y’all. Sweat reigns supreme.)
Over the weekend, we talked, ate, laughed and played pickleball like it was our J-O-B. Which, clearly is another paradox given their happily retired state of existence. For years – years! – I wondered from where my competitive nature came. And now I know. There is no more wondering. My mother, a southpaw, is dangerous on the court with a graphite paddle in her hand. No one is safe. She’ll smile at you and then destroy you.
Nevertheless, before you even get back inside their house – she will have already reverted back to her selfless and congenial nature, asking “What can I get you?” all sweet-like, as if minutes before she hadn’t just stripped you of your athletic dignity.
That visit solidified not only that genes are in fact, a thing, but that certain topics were just too difficult in my Mom’s lifetime for her to talk about, i.e. sex and religion. (I’m sure she would have discussed politics had I asked, but we lived in a very conservative village and her southpaw was emblematic).
And so, as most kids do, I learned about the things my mama never warned me about through trial and error…the School of Hard Knocks…you know, the Top Ten(-ish) list of doozies that make for good stories all these years later, but still give me a pit of guilt in the bottom of my stomach. [Side note:] It’s always a “Top Ten” list, you judgy judgers – I am a writer and thus, have an embellishment license.
My parents moved to the South after living their entire lives – 65+ years – in Ohio. They are Midwesterners at heart. They both love and value all kinds of people as most Midwesterners do. They are hospitable, gracious, funny…real. What you see is what you get. They are the kind of people who grew up having nothing and embody what LeBron always says, “Nothing given, everything earned.”
They are quite simply, genuine and loving human beings.
So imagine the look of disbelief on my Mom’s face when one of her dear new pickleball friends whispered, “I’m gay. Please don’t say anything because we don’t out each other down here. It’s not accepted.”
My Mom – the one who never discussed “religion” with me – responded to her friend without any pause in their conversation by saying, “I don’t give two you know whats – I could not care less. You can be black, white, yellow, straight, gay, upside down, or polka-dotted! It makes no difference to me, nor does it change how I see you.”
When my Mom told me of that conversation, I just smiled and listened. But…as I watched my Mom when this woman came over for an impromptu visit about two hours later, there was nothing more that needed to be said. There was nothing my mother of forty-five years needed to tell me out loud about her “religion” or her belief system. I had no more questions. They had all been consolidated and answered in that one moment.
All the unanswered questions I never asked my Mom were completely, unabashedly answered without any words needing to be uttered. She showed me real-time what she thinks about Scripture, about Jesus, and about “the church.” She showed me what I have come to know through my own religious deconstruction: it’s about sharing love and appreciating humanity as God (undefinable) does- not about religion. Religion has the propensity to ruin relationships. Can it strengthen them? Sure. As long as it is an all-encompassing ideology and not a divisive one.
Pickleball is only one example of something my Mom never knew before. It, like all things, evolved from other things. Her life is now more than what she used to know. And so are ours. We can no longer say “that’s all we know.” I mean, seriously, do we not know more than we used to about human beings, human interactions, human kind?
As some of you know, there are many, many, MANY churches who hold Scripture above people. That’s the nicest, most concise way I can say it. If you don’t adhere to what Scripture says (as in, what humans in that particular church interpret it as saying), then you are a blatant sinner who not only might not be welcomed in that church any longer, but may be treated as an outcast forevermore.
I’m not sure that’s at all what Jesus modeled. Or taught. Or wants.
Right before we were heading off to bed that evening, I looked at my Mom, teary-eyed, with a smile of understanding. You get to that point, I think, in any long-term relationship and especially a parental one. It’s a kind of sweet that not even South Carolina sweet tea can touch.
Once again, without me needing to ask any questions, she simply said:
“THAT is my church. THAT is Jesus.”
Amen, Mama. Amen.
“Love one another, as I have loved you.” – John 13:34.
Love people genuinely and without judgment. All people – not just the ones you like, understand, or who can do something for you.
You never know who’s watching.