It was over chicken tikka at a neighborhood Indian restaurant that a friend shared she was still grappling with issues from her childhood. “I have a lot of anger toward my mother,” she confided.
I’ve heard this before from other friends and acquaintances and it always struck a soft spot within me, as my mother at age 67 – just two years older than my dear friend – had a massive stroke and was left completely paralyzed on the left side. I was just 34 at the time.
Single mothers in the US have tripled since 1960, causing a seismic shift in family structure. Today there are 12 million single-parent families in the US, more than 80 percent of which are headed by single mothers. In fact, New York is home to one of only five counties in the country where the percentage of households run by single mothers is greater than 30 percent (Bronx).
For a mom who puts on pounds just looking at a donut and lives a boring, solitary life, I’m ever so envious of my spaghetti-thin, 22-year-old babysitter Chloe who clearly hit the genetic lottery.
Chloe’s whole family — mom, dad, bro — were models, so she was destined for the catwalk before she could crawl. Everyone in her family was blessed with that perfect blend of DNA and genes that when all together they resemble a Ralph Lauren ad.
Recently I went to visit the widower of my artist friend Robin who had passed a year ago of lung cancer. After a long-winded conversation about the demands of caretaking, her husband gave me a tight hug and said something that made me cringe. “You’re very strong woman.”
I realize it was meant as a compliment, but it’s said so frequently I actually find it irritating. People hear the gritty details of my life – demanding job, special needs child, crazy baby daddy – and they make the hasty assumption that I have some sort of super powers. Ha! If only they knew.
I had an old-school mama who took a light-handed approach to parenting. With the exception of when my troublesome ways embarrassed the family, there were no one-on-one girly chats. The only real advice I remember her bestowing was never to wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, ladies don’t smoke on the street and be nice.
Her advice to “be nice” was actually less a suggestion and more a personal mantra, as she said it with a Holy Roller’s fervor and it became her signature bark, as in: “Yes, you can go to the party. But, be nice!”
When my daughter Savannah was 13-months old she developed severe idiopathic thrombocytopenic (ITP) and needed an emergency blood transfusion. She – thankfully – survived, but I, no surprise, came down with a bad cold while she was in Pediatric Intensive Care (PICU).
“Why are you sick?” the haughty Indian resident examining my daughter during her morning rounds asked. Her indignation seemed to imply that I somehow violated an unspoken hospital rule that states kids can be in dire straights moms but must remain steely strong.
I learned to knit shortly after my daughter was born and soon became addicted, as it became my coping mechanism for dealing with all her medical issues. Like a mad woman on deadline, I furiously stitched my way through those countless doctor appointments and hospitalizations. At that time, I wasn’t as concern about finishing my the scarf or hat I was knitting inasmuch to trying to alleviate my stress and redirect my thoughts.
Looking back on those early years I can recall several occasions when doctors, noting my fragile emotional state, asked if I wanted “something.” I always refused. What got me through those long, lonely nights sitting in emergency rooms and waiting for tests results wasn’t prescription based, but some good yarn and needles.
In today’s New York Times there’s a great piece by Jane Brody on the health benefits of knitting. As a knitocholic who can’t go anywhere without having at least one knitting project stashed in my bag, I am delighted that knitting finally is getting the recognition it deserves.