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Wednesday
May222013

My Mother's America - Understanding the Generation Gap

We are different. My mother and I. It's funny, because I spent my whole life trying to be like her. Only to find out at forty-two that no two people could be more different. So in a way, I failed my goal of being like my mother. 

They call it the generation gap.  If I had grown up faster, maybe there wouldn't be a gap.  That I fall through. Every time politics or religion enter the conversation. 
I've started turning down the television when Mom enters the room. Which she does often now, as I recover from spine surgery, again. It's getting old. This surgery thing. But she's always there. To give. 
She enters the room. I'm locked in bed. Legs raised. Bed tray nestled over my incision site. They entered from the front this time. I feel like Silence of the Lambs. Without the mask. Or the silence. Trapped.
Mom sits on the arm of the Archie Bunker chair reserved in my room for kind-hearted visitors. She sits on its arm. Rocking its frame with gentle control by the leverage of her toes. As she has done for me my entire life. I sense the rhythm of its springs aching for someone to ask her to sit comfortably. I feel the chair scowl at me, wincing. But Mom will never really sit in that rocker. And it knows it. At most she crouches with intention on the tip of its lap. 
My mother is a force. The air doesn't shift when she enters the room. It expands. To make space for all that comes with her. Her religion. Her politics.  Her love. It's the love that makes it all okay. Because it's the one thing we have in common.
Television divides us.  Honey Boo Boo is an example of welfare waste and food stamp abuse.  
The History Channel is a cesspool of religion and war; Real Housewives of Miami reminds one of Tampa which brings to mind the socialite emails with General Allen that revealed Patreus's affair with a woman who knew too much; Ellen is still gay. Television reminds my mother of the condition of her country. 
And it makes her sad. She's become raw. In art, what is most raw, has the most beauty. My mother's heart is a canvas so filled with life's brushstrokes, her tears scatter when they fall. Because she loves her country so much. As much as her children. 
What has happened to my mother's America? I see her fractured. Her eyes searching for the God in it all. Because He used to be there. In her country. In her politics. One nation, under God. She sees the American flag and she weeps for what it reminds her of. The good things she remembers. But isn't that what mourning is? When you reflect on the past and ache to remember all of the good that was, because recalling the bad would make the loss less meaningful. And isn't that what we live for? Meaning? And why is it me that recalls the moments I never lived? When women didn't vote, or count. When alleys weren't just for cats. And black and white wasn't just a photograph? I see how far we've come and I wasn't even there. America has always been a work in progress. That is what's so incredible about it.  It has constantly evolved into something different. It's never been stuck. Until now. Which is why I need to let down my guard. For a moment. To close the gap. To understand that change occurs by two opposing forces. And that this could be a positive thing. For something that's stuck. 
She rocks the chair looking at me like she sees her country. Broken. A shell of what she remembers used to be so filled with optimism. My mother's generation is in mourning. Because from their perspective, their country, their loved one, is dying. When from my perspective trapped under my tray table, it is simply broken but still so alive and enduring hardships that will pass.
 
My brother and I were raised to believe that America is the greatest country in the world.  Vietnam protests were a blur to my young eyes. Being born after one's parents leaves a lingering sense that we cheated on a test. I am on Earth but missed out on so much of the conversation.  Watergate was in my diaper.  I remember beehives and large olive green flowers on sundresses and sandals that were white.  As Vietnam ended and veterans were battered on their way home, I walked with my brother to Safeway and bought an ice cream cone for fifteen cents after a two dollar movie. Children were protected from the real world. No internet, limited television. And news was boring. I left the room when the news came on and Walter Cronkite spoke through rabbit ears. 
I didn't know. 
But my mom knew. She knew there were things children shouldn't know. I watch her now in the silence of the lambs and I finally understand for a moment why my mother weeps. She weeps because we now watch the same news but hear different things. Because we don't have rabbit ears.
My mother's America that was one nation under God, isn't anymore. It's my fault. I didn't grow up fast enough to avoid the gap. My God is personal to me now, and for so many of my generation disillusioned with episodes of The History Channel. Where we learned that war and religion were the same. This is why my mother weeps. Because she sees the writing on the wall. It's not her country anymore. It's not even God's. It's a platform for a sword fight with the carcasses of Dumbo and the mule from Shrek. And this is the world she is leaving me. 
I see her searching my toes for a sign that they will soon rock the chair she controls at the foot of my bed. I surround myself with my iPad and magazines, engaging in the only topics I have the energy for, love and gossip. It's painfully obvious her desire to discuss what's really on her mind. As my CNN app bubbles an alert that Israel is bombing the Gaza Strip.
I wonder what happened to my mother's America. 
I love my country. My mother loves hers. Why don't we see the same grand dame? My mother sees a grey lady who used to stand in regal glory.  I see a woman with golden years ahead.  I dream of mother and I meeting on middle ground, watching America on Extreme Makeover and somehow we both cup our hands over our mouths at the great reveal and cry because she is so beautiful.  Our country needs a reveal. Of all that is still good inside. Of everything mom misses but is still there. 
Hurricanes reveal. They pull back the curtain and remind us of how incredible our country is even when it's battered.
There will be a day when the beauty in everything is revealed. When it's too late to make it better down here. I imagine my mother and I sitting in our Archie Bunker chairs. Looking down on everyone trying so hard to look busy. Me nestled in the lap of mine, legs crossed and arms stretched. Mom nestled on the arm of hers. As she makes it rock back and forth with her toes. And I'll look at her and her eyes will be clear and light. Her brushstrokes softened by the tears she no longer sheds. And she will be beautiful. Because all will be, revealed. 

 

 

 

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