Now, before I write another word I want to state that I unequivocally love my mother. She’s been gone four years and I miss her every single day, especially at Christmastime. But I have to say that the woman had some fairly unorthodox parenting methods, especially for the 1960’s and 1970’s when most parents were hopping on the Marlo Thomas Free to Be You and Me/Sesame Street bandwagons and trying all kinds of innovative ways to ensure their children had self-esteem quotients that were off the charts. Not my mother. My mother believed in telling things the way she saw them and she rarely pulled any punches. A perfect example of her straight from the hip style of parenting was her stock response for whenever I did anything and it didn’t turn out quite the way that I wanted it to and went to her perplexed and looking for comfort. Instead of offering June Cleaver-esque advice or Carol Brady type support, Mom would always say, “That’s because you’re an idiot.”
Mind you, she didn’t say this in a mean tone of voice but very matter-of-factly, in the same tone of voice she might have said, “The sky is blue,” or “always cook pork thoroughly.” I never really felt too badly when Mom told me I was an idiot since she told the rest of the family the same thing, including her husband. We were all idiots to her and that made her the only non-idiot in the house and that was exactly how she liked it. Besides, I knew that she didn’t think we were idiots about everything. Just almost everything.
But while it never hurt my feelings to be called an idiot when I was a child, the cumulative effect wasn’t that positive and I spent several years of my adulthood trying to prove that I wasn’t, in fact, really an idiot. Until it occurred to me one fine day that I really and truly am an idiot about the majority of things in life. And in all honesty, I’m just fine with that.
I think we’re all idiotic in one way or another. No one has all the answers or even a small portion of them and once you accept your idiocy about cars or Ingmar Berman movies or quantum physics or cooking or skiing or whatever (and the list truly is endless), life becomes so much easier. I embrace my idiocy because as Harriet said in “Harriet the Spy,” (and I’m paraphrasing here) why feel badly when you don’t know something? You can always learn.
My mother made up for her blunt assessments of her offspring in approximately one zillion other ways. She was kind and generous and loved us beyond reason in her own peculiar way. Shortly before she died she said to me, “One thing you can always say about me—I was never boring.” And she never was. Nutty and neurotic, yes, but never ever boring.
In the song “The Pretender,” Jackson Browne wrote, I’m going to be a happy idiot and struggle for the legal tender… Although I realize that there was a lot of cynicism in those lyrics I think that there’s also a lot of truth. We all have to struggle for the legal tender and we might as well be happy while we’re doing it because otherwise life can be one long, hard, frustrating haul.
So I have come to terms with my mother and her admittedly bizarre terms of endearment. She was right; I am an idiot ninety-five percent of the time. But good Lord, I’m a happy idiot and that makes all the difference in the world.