It was 1966. Dr. Zhivago was raking it in at the box office, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass put 4 albums on Billboards top 10 and troll dolls were so popular that even the first lady, Lady Bird Johnson, claimed to own one. On a rainy afternoon of March of that year, a small woman stood in the middle of a dirt road in front of her house in Newport, Rhode Island, holding an egg in one hand and a pair of pliers in the other. She was almost 23, she was pregnant and she was stuck in the mud.
Anita looked down at the mud that held her boots firmly in place. She pulled her right leg slowly up until the boot began to slide off. Sighing, she stepped down again. It sank up to the ankle. She tried the same thing with her left foot and got the same results. She stepped down again, unwilling to walk barefoot through the cold mud. It began to rain again.
Looking over her shoulder, she saw her mother pass by the kitchen window inside her house. She was making the boys lunch. Anita had two young sons who excelled at mischief and mayhem. Normally, Anita did a pretty good job at keeping up with them, but now, in the last weeks of her pregnancy, it was a little harder. Her mother came to visit as often as she could get away to help her with the boys.
She passed by the kitchen window again. Anita waved the pliers. “Mother!” she called, though she knew her mother wouldn’t hear her through the closed windows. She didn’t. Anita sighed.
She looked ahead of her toward a small house across the street. An older couple, Irene and Al, lived there, the only neighbors she knew so far. They had been very kind to her since she had moved in.
She stared hard at the house willing someone to come out. And someone did! The front door opened. Al stepped out, whistling and jangling his keys, and strolled toward his car. He glanced her way, stopped and stared a moment. Anita smiled and tried to wave with the egg hand. Al started to wave back, shook his head and strode toward her. He stopped a few feet away, squinted at her boots and cleared his throat, covering what sounded suspiciously like a chuckle.
“Mornin,’ Anita,” he said.
“Good morning, Al,” she said smiling brightly. Al looked up at the leaden sky.
“Miserable weather we’re having,” he noted.
“Yes,” she agreed. “It is.” Al stared first at the egg and then the pliers. He raised an eyebrow. “I borrowed an egg from Irene yesterday,” she said. “And your pliers.” Al nodded and rubbed his chin. The corner of his mouth twitched.
“Thought they looked familiar,” he said and studied the mud covering her feet. “Looks like you got yourself in a spot, Anita,” he finally noted.
“It would seem so,” she said and smiled again, this time a little sheepishly.
“Well, alright then, let’s get you out of there.” He stepped behind her, gently hooking his arms under hers, and struggled to drag Anita out of the mud. She curled her feet to keep the boots from slipping off and finally came free with a squelch.
Al walked her back to her house, lecturing her on the way about why young pregnant women, whose husbands are at sea, should probably not go out in the rain to return an egg and a pair of pliers. She smiled and agreed. He left her at her front door with the assurance that if she needed anything, all she had to do was call and he or Irene would be there, and walked back to his own house, shaking his head and muttering to himself about crazy pregnant women all the way.
Mom, me and my brothers on Easter Sunday, 1967.
My mother told me this story the first time a few years ago, and I laughed until my eyes leaked. The mother I remember was just so confident, so supremely competent, I couldn’t imagine her getting herself in such a predicament. Until I realized that at the time she first told me the story, I was already several years older than she was then.
And now, here I am, exactly twice as old as she was then in 1966, the year I was born. I’ve spent the last 12 years as a stay-at-home parent to my partner’s three sons. I feel incredibly fortunate to have as a parenting partner the woman who gave birth to the children and nursed them and stayed at home taking care of them before she handed off to me and went back to work.
She knows exactly what it feels like to spend all day taking care of young children with no breaks and no help so when she’s home from work in the evenings and on weekends, she is completely present and an active, involved mom.
But even with my partner’s help and support, there are times when I have felt overwhelmed or lonely or inadequate. So I called my mother, who unfortunately lived several hundred miles away, but still always made me feel better. Because that’s what good mothers do. They raise their children with all the love and attention they need and then provide emotional support for their daughters (or daughters-in-law or friends or sisters or partners) when they have their own.
So this story is for my mom and for her mother, my Nana, who I still miss and wish had lived to see me become a parent. It’s for my partner, the mother of our children, who also taught me how to be a mom. It’s for my mother-not-in-law who raised 5 amazing daughters and all my partner’s sisters. It’s for and my sister-in-law, mother to my niece and nephew, and all our friends who have raised their children alongside ours and all the talks we’ve had and stories we’ve traded. And it’s for our childless friends who have also loved our kids and supported us emotionally and understood when we turned down invitations for years because of the kids and came to see us when we couldn’t get away.
Happy Mother’s Day.
Four generations of mothers in my family. I’m the little one
sitting on my mom’s lap. And that’s my grandmother and
great-grandmother.(Also my brothers in back
and Willy and Junior in front.)