Her name was Betty. And she was way ahead of her time.
Betty was a career gal, back in the 1960’s. In Silicon Valley. Before anyone had thought to name it Silicon Valley. Before there was even a whiff of a little thing called the personal computer.
Starting as a secretary, she rose through the ranks until she landed in her own tiny glass-walled office, looking out at the small staff of two who adored her.
By the time the 1970’s arrived, she was taking business trips and flying around the country selling top-secret electronic doodads, devices, and defense systems. She had meetings with high mucky mucks. And found her spot in the most unlikely of places, among the ubiquitous, male-dominated, military-industrial complex of the time.
Betty also juggled work and family. As a single mom, no less, with three sons and one daughter. She persevered through some tough years, stretching her paycheck to support her family and pay off her ex-husband’s debts.
Her children were latchkey kids, long before the phrase had been coined. Well actually, since they never locked the door back then, perhaps they were something else altogether. But one thing is certain: they didn’t feel deprived because their mom wasn’t home when they returned from school.
To be sure, Betty wasn’t perfect. She was a bit of a party girl.
She smoked. Pall Malls. No filter. She rooted around for cigarettes in that bright red pack, tapping each one down on whatever surface was handy. Her smokes deposited tiny specks of tobacco on her bright red lips, which in turn left bright red circles on the butts that gathered in the ashtrays.
She drank. Gin. Beefeater’s was her brand of choice. Preferably mixed in a Tom Collins or Bloody Mary. And she wasn’t averse to a little hair of the dog on the morning after. You might even say she leaned a little too much on the booze to get her through.
She drove. Fast. Her pale blue Mustang could be seen flying down the 101 from her home in San Mateo to her job in Palo Alto. The more pokey road warriors made her crazy, and she sarcastically dismissed them as “middle lane drivers.” Sometimes her white knuckled passengers even held on for dear life. Thank God for the invention of seat belts.
She liked men. A lot. Maybe that’s why she stayed so long with her angry young man/Don Juan of a husband. He was as much a lover as a fighter, with a suave, debonair appeal that wooed the hearts of many women, long after he’d married Betty. But Betty was no slouch either, and had her share of lovers after they split up. She got close to finding the right guy, although sadly, he left her in the end too.
So Betty kept going. And in her inimitable wisdom, proclaimed that anything in moderation was OK. Smoking. Drinking. Driving fast. Sex. Even war.
In case you haven’t guessed, Betty was my mom.
She was a paradox, both tough and tender. And underneath all of her principles and practices, strength and stoicism, guts and gifts, flaws and foibles, criticisms and complaints, she was just trying to do the best she could.
Betty left this world much too soon, at the tender age of 49. It will probably come as no surprise that losing her was a huge blow to my 20-year-old self. Years later I’m still feeling the effects of it. And still remembering. Usually with a smile, but sometimes, with a welling of tears.
Life with Betty was a roller coaster at times. Heck, life in our family was one big amusement park, alternately scary and thrilling, unnerving and exciting. It was the whole shebang.
But as nutty as things could get, there was a surplus of sanity too. A small tract house. The playground across the street. Dinner on the table. Trips to the beach. School. Many hugs. Clean clothes. Camping trips. Loving grandparents. Aunts and uncles and cousins.
And at the end of every day, a good night kiss.
Without a doubt, I know that Betty loved me.
I also know too well that we don’t always get exactly the kind of mothering we need. I’ve heard far too many stories to believe anything else. And that puts my own story into perspective.
As a matter of fact, I know I was one of the lucky ones. In spite of her imperfections, Betty gave me the very best she could give at the time. And it was given with unabashed love. I mean, you only need a quick glance at the photo to see that we were smitten with each other early on.
And so, whatever our relationship is or was with our mothers, I like to think each of them gives us a special gift.
Betty gave me so many gifts. Strength. Resilience. Zest for life. Belief in myself.
Too many gifts, even, to comprehend.
I sense both Pain and Acceptance, in this wonderful writing. More the latter rather than the former. I commend you on this very realistic post that tells the true story, of both the dark and light sides. All to often we invent fairy tales, to hide the bodies so to speak.
I know about this first hand, because you can pretty well substitute my mother in for yours. There are some subtle differences, she smoked Peter Jackson and drank Scotch. She was a banker and a party girl, even with Five kids.
We have to remember that our parents were human, just like ourselves. They did what they could, given the circumstances of their lives. It is very important to look at both the negative and Positive sides equally, while accepting the human nature. You have conveyed this in your writing, so I lift my hat to you.
So I join you in this toast, and raise my cup to echo yours.
Thank you for sharing my sensitive friend, your reflections are heart felt and appreciated.
Thank you, Eso. Sounds like our mothers would have had a good time together. And yes, there is a little pain but mostly joy. Do you ever watch the TV show Mad Men? It captures that era and that constrained wildness that my mom lived so well. And ironically, the couple’s name on the show is Don and Betty, just like my parents. Kind of eerie, don’t you think?
Yes I have watched that show, I agree that the “realism” is well researched and delivered. It is like going down memory lane for me, likewise for you, no doubt. Watching an episode can release both pleasant and unpleasant memories, given what we know now.
Their generation was fresh from the madness of war, with all the world laid at their feet. There was a new social structure, that began to speed up because of the technological advances, that war brings. Like in any mass machinery, some parts do get damaged in the operation. The family can be one of those parts. One way to look at it, they were doing the only possible thing they could do, given the plausible situation. I decided to break the emulation bond, after I woke up. Unfortunately, some of my siblings, just followed the pattern.
Great post. I appreciate both your candor and tenderness about and toward your mother. It’s easy to use our parents as excuses, or whipping posts, for our own foibles, but it becomes much more difficult to do this when we put ourselves in their shoes.
If we believe that we were sometimes treated less than kindly or less than fairly by our mothers and fathers, better to look to ourselves to see whether we act in similar ways to others, and forgive of parents for what, in the end, is simply their humanity. It takes too much energy to carry around the weight of rancor. Easier said than done, of course, but your post is a good reminder.
Welcome, Clara. What a beautiful way to say it – forgiving them for their humanity. We all need to be forgiven for our humanity at times in our lives, I think. Thanks so much for stopping by, and your wonderful comment.
I just got my big pile of homemade cards today.
Aw, you’re so sweet Angela. Thank you!
What a wonderful tribute–beautifully evoked.
I love the Bettys of world. They have fun and they love in careless abundance.
Oh yes, careless abundance! The perfect paradox. Thank you for that, Kaushik.
Realizing our parents are human and accepting that side of them is difficult for some. I remember realizing my dad was human. Now his imperfections are something that make him who he is. I learn more about my mom with age and experience. I grew up believing I wasn’t the daughter she wanted as we don’t share much and are very different people. The older I get, the more I appreciate the differences though they also can drive me crazy!
Our parents give us opportunities that we often can’t see – they are part of our journey just as we are part of theirs.
This was a beautiful toast to your mom.
That’s such a huge leap to make isn’t it? When we realize that just because we’re different from our parents, it doesn’t mean they didn’t get what they wanted. I used to try to be like my mom, like what she liked, and she told me one day that it was OK not to be like her. In fact, that the world would be a boring place if we all were the same. I’m so grateful for her wise words. And thanks so much for your kind words.
Oh my I’ve so enjoyed reading about Betty. What a woman;) It was a visual experience and I even felt like I was riding in the back seat of her car!
This is the most beautiful story I’ve read about a mother this year. Inspite of Betty’s flaws the fun, joy and forgivenss come rockin through my screen. You and your siblings were blessed. Thanks so much for sharing this.
I believe even mothers don’t owe anyone perfection. We are all on our journey doing our best. We’re human.
You are so right, Tess! We were blessed, and when I get together each month for lunch with my brother, we often talk about how much fun we had. I wouldn’t trade it for anything more “normal.” It was the best. Thanks, Tess.
It is so awesome you recognize the gifts she gave you and also that she gave you the best she knew and had at the time. A great tribute to a parent. We get the best and worst of both of our parents. Beautiful.
So true, Erin. Thanks for always hitting it right on the nose. The years have sure given me quite a different perspective about both my parents, and I see all of them in me now. Quite a trip, isn’t it?
Patty, Betty sounds like the kind of gal whose stories would keep me coming back for more. I’m moved by this love letter to your mother and have high hopes that my own son will honor my memory with the same kind of love you’ve shown here.
Incidentally, a dear friend whose kids are almost all at college sent me an article by Anna Quindlen today called On Being a Mom. Here’s a line that speaks to me: “Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it is an endless essay. No one knows anything.”
Being a mother, I’m finding out, is a lifelong lesson in humility, patience, courage, endurance, resilience and many more. It’s serious business and the hits keep coming. But the unconditional love that flows freely from mother to child, no matter how clumsily expressed or how questionably executed, is an endless reserve. I suspect all mothers know that we will always love our child more than our child loves us. I’m so okay with that.
Yeah, I think you would have liked Betty, Belinda. And thank you for your words about that endless reserve of love; so beautifully said. I never thought about how mothers love their children more than they are loved back. But as much as I loved my mom, I think you’re right. Her love was indeed boundless.
Wow, I LOVE that photo! Oh my goodness, you were adorable Patty.
“Tough and tender” – I think that’s a great combination. Maybe that’s what I’d like to be as a mother (if I become a mother).
Why thank you, Eva! I love that photo too. I don’t know how old I was, pretty young, but I actually remember a lot about that day. A swim party at Jim and Vi Brown’s house. I’m pretty vague on who they were, but I know they had a great pool and were friends of my parents.
Your writing flows like a bubbling brook — perfectly around the twists and turns. I love Betty already, I wish I could have met her but feel like I already have by reading your words.
I also must say, the photo says it all. Simply sublime.
I loved this post, Patty. Keep up the great work!
Well, Lori, that’s just about the best thing I could hear. That you feel like you know Betty. Thank you for that!
Oh Patty. I feel mothers are like a myth until we have grown enough to see beyond that myth and see a human being like ourselves. Until then we have to ride it out. First as a confused daughter making sense of that myth who is our mother and then in turn for some of us as a mother ourselves patiently waiting until OUR daughter can see beyond the myth.
Interesting to see this cycle over and over.
It is wonderful to go beyond the myth and love the woman and what a gift you have given your mom and yourself. Hugs Wilma
Yes, myth is a good word, Wilma. Bigger than life, in Betty’s case. But it is wonderful, as you say, to understand from a place of depth. To catch the importance of both the big story and the flesh and blood woman underneath. Thanks for pointing that out! And hugs to you, my friend.
Great, touching post, Patty. My mom is suffering from dementia and anxiety. When I look at her, I often wonder what legacy she’s leaving behind. I need to see beyond the pain; like you do. I now believe that we all get the mothering we need in the sense that it sets us off on our life journey; it helps us learn our life lessons. Your mother loved you. My mother loves me. In the end, it’s all that matters. Mistakes and regrets pale in the face of love. Because love brings forgiveness and the ability to raise that glass with unconditional affection.And it gives us the power to pass it along to the next generation.
Love to you,
Beautifully expressed, Maryse. “Mistakes and regrets pale in the face of love.” Yes! Because how many of us can get through life without regrets or mistakes? I’ve met no one so far. Thanks, and love to you my friend.
Love your honesty in this letter about your mother and by association all mothers. It’s a complicated relationship for sure. I totally relate to the line about getting or not getting the kind of mothering we need. I had some crazy mothering and extraordinary mothering simultaneously, yet like you I’m thankful for it. (I will say the scariest book I ever read was “my mother myself.” It completely woke me up to the mother-daughter dynamic.)
I attribute my sense of humor, offbeat way of looking at life and resiliency to the mothering I got. Not sure I’d be the writer I am today if I’d had a more “normal” mothering experience. But then again, what’s normal? Maybe everything is abnormal?
Much thanks! Giulietta
Oh, that makes me laugh, Giulietta! I think the boundary between normal and abnormal is pretty shaky. And you’re right on when you say we get the crazy AND the extraordinary simultaneously. Thanks for that.
I’d rather throw the glass AT my mother. She would richly deserve it.
I did very much enjoy your words about your own mother, though. it made me feel as if I knew Betty, a little bit. 🙂
Not surprising, Shay, given what you’ve said about your fam. So thanks for stopping into Betty’s world for a bit!
Hi Patty! I hope when my children look back on their mother long after I’m gone, that they can see some gifts that I gave them. It’s wonderful you can find the good, the blessings, the lessons – some people tend to whine and complain their childhoods were lousy. You know, parents come in all shapes and sizes, (emotionally) and I do know that everyone tries their best. I know my mom tried. I am nothing like her but I do see all the things she taught me, some things without intentionally making a lesson of it. Aren’t those the most precious? Lovely writing on your reflections!
Yes, that is most precious. Sometimes in workshops I do an activity where I ask people to draw the floor plan of the house they grew up in. And then ask them to explore what they took away from that house. In spite of difficult relationships, sometimes because of them, they’ve often taken away the lesson of independence and learning how to care for themselves. Thanks much, suZen, and hugs to you.
This was a wonderful tribute to your Mom Betty! Sounds like a wonderful woman!
Thank you Mark! She was quite a gal.
Patty — I loved this post about your mom. It shows to me that you saw and accepted the unique about her. She was her own self and yet, it IS obvious that she showed you and your brothers much love.
Need to say, my favorite lines in this post were, “Betty gave me exactly the kind of mothering I needed, simply because it was the very best she could give at the time. And it was given with unabashed love.”
I love the words, “unabashed love.” Thanks:~)
Oh, thank you for loving that line, Sara. It’s one I actually went back and added because I knew what I’d written didn’t quite capture what I was trying to say. And as I rolled around with “unabashed love” I knew it fit my mom to a tee. So the fact that you picked that up means a lot to me!
Hi Patty — thanks for this. It sounds like you’ve done a lot of work around your relationship with your mom and this has brought you to be able to accept her as the imperfect but well-meaning human being she was. I know from my own experience that this takes a lot of courage and persistence and I congratulate you for it.
Thanks, Chris. That’s a lovely validation to receive.
Your best post ever. By a country mile. Loved it – thank you for sharing.
Aw, thank you, Phil. Your comment is much appreciated.
Wow, Patty, what a remarkable story. I was in tears by the end of it. So poignant and beautifully told.
We have a lot of similarities in our upbringing.
Thank you for sharing such a beautiful story – and perspective. I like the idea of reaching for the gifts our Moms bring to us, in all their imperfections.
Thank you for your kind words, Lauren. Yes, I thought maybe there were some similarities there too, after I read your post. My mom didn’t sing in a night club, but she loved to sing. And it sounds like you know all about reaching for those gifts from your own mom.
Patty, I was moved by this. It reminds me that often as children we don’t see our parents as the people they are.
I thought my dad was angry and remote as a child. I didn’t like him very much. Today it’s a different story. I see him for the sincere, introspective man that he is… and he’s so wracked with regret for all the things that could have been.
Needless to say, I love him and I love my mum for always trying to bring me up as best as they could. We are all of us a mixture of our hopes and failings, and I’ve come to learn that that can be a beautiful thing.
Thanks for sharing your story, Patty. 🙂
Oh, my, Tony, yes, my dad has a lot of regret too. But the adult love you express for your parents is so beautiful that I imagine it goes a long way towards soothing that regret. Thanks for stopping by, and thank you for telling me this moved you.
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Patty, This is such a moving tribute to your very-human mother. I hear the sadness, too, of the loss of many years of knowing her from her death at such a young age. Thank you for introducing yourself to me and sharing yourself and your Mother with me.