Mom and Dad loved each other like two people are supposed to. They were best (and only) friends. Lifelong lovers, which kind of pains me to say, but I believe it’s relevant. My parents were rock solid partners in everything they did, from raising children, to scientific research, to political activism.
This is not to say that they did everything together, Dad restored old houses, and Mom went to League of Women Voters meetings (Dad called it the Weag of Lemon Voters). But in the fundamentals, they were side by side and almost always holding hands.
There were times when I wished for the gushy Mom, the one who bragged about your accomplishments and thought you could do no wrong. Mine was more of the Barbara Bush variety (“how did the rest of the team do?), if she came to my games. Bragging was completely out of the question. And being bragged about was only slightly less bad. Neither happened, in my memory, ever.
But just because she didn’t fawn and gush, I know my Mom didn’t neglect me. My parents shared principles included pursuing whatever one was curious about and not worrying about what others thought about it. So, when I got interested in magic, my Mom constructed an elaborate mirror trick for me in the dining room. I loved raccoon’s, and my Dad found me two orphans from the Philadelphia zoo, built a giant chicken cage in my bedroom and let me raise them.
Most of all, my parents’ love provided a limitless expanse of the hardest rock on which to build my childhood security. I never questioned whether they were getting along; never had to worry I might be the source of any crises. There was no drama between them, and what an insane and enviable gift that was!
I saw my parents bicker rarely, fight never. Not once — even when navigating career changes, money struggles, or a job loss. They stuck together through good times and bad, as cliche as that sounds. It never occurred to me how rare and hard that trick might be until I got married and became a mother myself.
Like my mother, I didn’t play favorites with my children, but make no mistake: I loved them more than I loved their father. Motherly love came over me in such a powerful way that I didn’t notice this at first. (But I’m sure he did.) Ultimately our marriage failed, hurting our children deeply. (This was not the only reason, of course.)
I think I wanted to shower love on my children in ways that I missed as a child. I attended every game, every art show and every conference. I gushed over their creations. I didn’t brag or let them brag, but I went to town on “building self-esteem.”
Like many of us, I thought I was taking the best of my mother’s example, and adding more. Like my Mom, I didn’t speak down to my kids. I recognized their individual selves and supported their interests, even when one son decided wearing gloves in June was “his thing.” We had mad holiday traditions. I read them endless books. I passed on my love of music.
But I missed the most important thing my Mom gave me, and I didn’t realize it until I was 50, divorced, and in a new relationship. My mother loved my Dad and she loved us, but we were children and he was her husband. She knew we would go off to do other things. And, when we did, they would be together alone, “Mom and Dad,” and that was how it should be. They kept their love paramount and it allowed them to share happiness for 65 years, most of them alone together.
Although my Mom died in May, my parents’ love and stability remains an inspiration to this day, for me and my brothers. I don’t think any of us can claim to approach the pure love and, success of their union. But my brothers have come close and while I failed my first time around, I’m determined to get it right now, remembering the greatest role model I could have had. That is a far more lasting gift than claiming dibs on being Mom’s “favorite.”