Call me Itty, Call me Ingrid, Call me Crazy
When I was 11 years old my mother and I were on the way to Synagogue. My mother was wearing a long black wool vest, a white shirt and a tie. It was 1998. “Don’t I look like Diane Keaton?” she asked me. I just nodded my head up and down. Her question was clearly rhetorical. I couldn’t break her heart. I wish instead my mother would have asked me how I felt because my answer would be, ‘You’re not Diane Keaton. Take the tie off, make a different choice.’ We walked into the Synagogue together and just as I had predicted, every woman and their daughter turned around and watched us walk up the stairs and find our seats. “Itty! What are you wearing?” Could they all tell I wanted to melt into the ground? Because their plan was working, their stares were burning me from the inside out.
But her unapologetic love for Diane Keaton wasn’t the only reason she stood out. My mother had a slew of O.C.D. tendencies that were considered quirky when I was growing up. She would fold her t-shirts and stack them on top of each other with great pride. There were many times I wandered into her room to find her standing there tapping her t-shirts into perfection. She thought the tapping of t-shirts was productive, I thought the tapping of t-shirts was abusive. She would put a container away in her closet and then touch it at least 5 times to make sure it didn’t go anywhere. She was constantly lining things up and then counting them. She was also constantly cleaning. When I was younger, cleaning products were part of the pillars that brought us up. I was number 6 out of 7 children so by the time I came around, nothing mattered. I’m pretty sure I was bottle fed Windex as a baby. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you cleaner.
I think it’s important to say that my mother’s style and obsessive cleanliness didn’t take away from her ability to create close friendship and connections. Every person she encountered, ever in her life, became her friend. Everyone was treated as equals. The guy at the laundromat, the guy working at the fruit market, the receptionist at the doctors office, the high school kid working at blockbuster, the seamstress, the lady doing her nails, a pigeon, the stewardess, the lady cleaning the house, the outcast, the misunderstood, the popular, the unpopular. When she would pick us up after school, the carpool line turned into this short stopping nightmare. She stopped at every car, window rolled down with her hand stretched out, to talk to every person there. It didn’t matter that her kids were in the back seat with their heads rolled back from exhaustion and nausea. As her children we were also treated like equals. This gave us confusion when we were looking for parental advice or guidance. When giving advice my mother would either ask, “What do you feel?” or “What does your gut say?”
What do I feel? I feel like you ask me how I’m feeling too often. Discipline me.
What does my gut say? Who the hell is a gut. Where can I find it?
When I was 14 years old my mother was diagnosed with Fibromyalgia. Fibromyalgia is a disorder characterized by widespread muscular pain accompanied by fatigue, sleep, memory and mood issues. That basically means, some days my mother is feeling ok and some days my mother can’t get out of bed due to pain and fatigue. On her bad days my mother would refer to herself as Ingrid – her english name, after the actress Ingrid Bergman, thank you Mrs. Fellig. Every time I call and she’s tired and not feeling well she tells me “I don’t know what’s wrong with me” and I always answer “you have Fibromyalgia Ingrid.” She didn’t relate to the person who was in bed with pain. She wanted to be the person out of bed with her friends and feeding her children bottles of Windex. I think this diagnosis has been the hardest reality for my mother to accept. I think it’s because she feels that it took away from her being able to do more or be more for us when we were younger. It did take away from her physically being there but it didn’t take away from her being there for us in every other way, at any moment of any day and for that I am grateful.
When I was struggling through my first marriage my mother was one of the only people I turned to for advice and support. I can’t say her advice took away the pain and struggle but her support was priceless. I was young and I was insecure for not being able to figure out how to be married well like my friends. In a period where I felt lonely and small, my mother was there to pull me up and show me strength.
My mother lives with tremendous passion. Everything in her life is amazing all the time. She surpasses the saying, ‘Seeing the world through rose colored glasses.’ My mother sees the world through rainbow colored glasses with unicorns and dolphins diving in and out. My mother’s sense of wonder is the same as that of a 4 year old’.
“Doesn’t this tree look magnificent?”
“Aren’t you happy we have a 9 hour drive so we can talk for 9 hours straight?”
“Doesn’t the air smell amazing?”
“Did you see how yellow the sun is today?”
“Have you ever seen a sidewalk like this?”
“This is amazing – when I drink water, I’m not thirsty.”
“Look at those clouds. Aren’t they amazing?”
“This coffee is delicious. I feel so energized!”
I know I will never be able to match my mother’s pure enthusiasm for life but it’s inspiring to watch.
My intention for writing this is to say that my mother is not perfect. I think I’ve made it clear she’s far from perfect. Combined with all those imperfections, my mother’s love and compassion is what really stands out to me as I look back at my upbringing with her.
I’m here so my 33 year old self can tell my 11 year old self,
“I understand the embarrassment you felt but now I see the truth. What I can see now is my mother’s ability to stand out in a crowd and how comfortable she is to truly show herself. What I can see now is how creative and courageous my mother is. She took something she was inspired by and brought it to life. If only I had known how cool my mother was, back then I just thought she was experimenting with cross dressing.
I’m here so my 33 year old self can say my mother’s no guidance was guidance in itself. The way she always went back to asking me how I feel has taught me to lead my life with my heart and trust my intuition. Perfection doesn’t exist. I’m so happy I am able to experience imperfection through my mother.
I can tell you that through the beautiful moments and deepest hardships, my mother always loves intensely, laughs with tears, speaks with wisdom, cooks minimally – if ever, lives with passion, counts her objects, dresses in menswear, listens with no judgement and stays true to who she is. My mother is unusual in every way and it’s been in those unusual ways that I have learned to be true and honest and kind.
To my mother, this message is for you, from my heart to yours, please continue to live your life with the same level of intensity and insanity.
I love you always, Happy Mother’s Day