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Thunder Thighs Forever

February 10, 2017

For more than three decades, I shared a birthday with my mom.

In October 2010, I faced my first birthday without her. Cancer had claimed her body in March 2010.

mom me n d

(but not before she met my Li’l D, the first of her many beautiful grandchildren)

Writing about her sometimes challenged me, especially early in this blog’s days. How could I show all her love, humor, compassion, and ferocity, while still being true to the hardships I endured both growing up and saying goodbye to her?

I got as close as I’ve ever gotten in my 2014 birthday letter to her, my blog’s most popular post by far, “Dear Mom.” In a single paragraph, I was able to sum up my experience of being her daughter better than I had before or have since:

You always begged me not to write about you. You thought I’d write about how you beat my siblings and me, how you yelled at us, how you could barely feed us and only kept us in a home by selling other people’s trash. I do write about these things, because they’re part of you. But they’re a small part, so enormously insignificant compared to your laughter, your love, your lessons in forgiveness, our birthday trips to Farrell’s and Pietro’s. I wish I’d written more about you in your life, so you could have seen how greatly your loving acts overshadowed your lost and tired ones. I wish I could’ve started writing sooner, or that you could’ve lived longer to see your love through my eyes.

I was a little nervous when I wrote about my mom in “Bernie, Because I Was Poor: Poverty, Predation, and Understanding Love.” I posted it on Progressive Army, a site with readers knowing nothing about my mom but what I wrote there. Since they didn’t know my mom, I worried they’d take away from the piece a unidimensional understanding of a woman enormously complex and vivid.

My mom was and remains my foremost superhero. While the word “superhero” is thrown around a lot these days, I mean this fairly literally. One of my favorite things about my mom was her superhero alter-ego, the uniquely malodorous Thunder Thighs.

thunder thighs sg

Thunder Thighs, as illustrated for me by Sina Grace

That didn’t really show in the piece, for it was outside its scope. My hours of considering how best to accurately, lovingly portray my mom as she once was weren’t relevant to the questions I answered there. Of course, they’re always relevant to me:

Because my mom’s life was so full of strife, I struggled to figure out how to do her memory justice. How could I help other people see her not as just a crazy bird lady but as the source of my own love, hope and wonder, not through accident but through emulation? How could I remember her that way, recalling not only her life’s many tragedies but also its victories?

Why do I weigh these questions so heavily? She’s dead, isn’t she? Why does it even matter what I write about her? Why, because: For everything she endured to escort me safely to adulthood, I owe her tremendous respect and consideration that don’t cease because her body did.

Having grown up in poverty and predation, and having lost much of my mom to untreated mental illness before I lost her to cancer, I understand suffering and exploitation in ways I doubt I’ll ever translate well to those who’ve never endured such things for decades.

I don’t want to exploit my mom in death. She was exploited enough in life.

If I can’t write only glowing things about my favorite superhero, then, why write about her at all?

Easy: because then power wins. Power would have comparatively powerful people believe that only lazy, crude, innately inferior people suffer poverty and its relentless, multifaceted assault in the United States. I want people to know that is not fucking true. I witnessed it firsthand, day in and day out, as my mom struggled to stay afloat to keep me and my siblings safe. I saw her judged, mocked, and ridiculed by people who deemed themselves better than her, and whose freely cruelly shared perceptions reflected imperial biases most probably still don’t see.

Many people try to conceal their bruises. I want to shine a spotlight on mine. I want people to know what I suffered, and what my mom suffered, because millions of people suffer quietly today what my mom and I did then.

How can I do this? Isn’t it embarrassing and scary sharing such personal things? First, nope. Thanks in great part to my mom’s tender care, I understand I’m more than the sum of what I suffered at abusive hands under an abusive system. Second, I have something many people who suffer don’t: three siblings who know and support me no matter what (even, occasionally, while calling me a dumbass). 

Am I exploiting my mom when I write about her today? That’s not my intention. I don’t share pieces of her willy nilly, or for personal popularity or more likes, tweets, or useless crap like that.

I share pieces of her for reasons I summed up in a post only tangentially about her. She was unique in her own special humor, fire, passion, and compassion, but so many other uniquely brilliant people suffer needlessly today as she did for decades. With those millions of parents barely hanging on against the onslaught–no, you who are barely hanging on–in mind, I want you to know that I see you. As a survivor and the daughter of a survivor, I see how much you do to make the world safe for your children, and I love you. I celebrate you. I salute you.

I’m becoming engaged in progressive politics and fighting today because I see you, and because I know from experience that you deserve so. fucking. much. better.

In “Weave Them into Silver: conversations about safety,” a post only tangentially about my mom, I explained why I write so candidly about grim bygones:

Don’t tell me what to feel or how to feel it.
I don’t just bleed out on command.
I bleed out when I know my blood
and my strength need to be seen,
together, by one who doesn’t yet
understand the power
she has grown
by surviving, by
standing tall, by
living as if there
is something yet
to live for, because,
oh, lord, there is, there is.

When I write about my mom, it’s because I want you to see her blood and her strength. I want you to know I see your blood, your strength, and your power, too.

I want you to know the mom I wrote about in “Bernie, Because I Was Poor,” but I want you to know her as more than that: my mom, my Thunder Thighs, my forever superhero …

… the kind of superhero you are now, to your own children.

mom n me makeover

Thunder Thighs Forever


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