Ten Years Goneby Sharon Rosen Leib August 24, 2017
My mother carried varying levels of manic chaos wherever she went. Think constant phone calls, loads of inexplicable paperwork related to her tour business and overall perpetual motion. This made it challenging for her nearest and dearest to cope with her. Yet she also possessed a strong Jewish mother trove of remarkable qualities – wit, intelligence, sharp observations about human nature, zest for life and a unique brand of cockeyed love for her three children. Like all of us she was a mixed bag – although with a few more nuts thrown into the trail mix. Her family developed varying stratagems for dealing with her mishegoss.
My late father adopted a form of Zen detachment before this practice became fashionable. He also zoned out watching television after returning home from long days in his dental office. He taught us to be patient, tolerant and strong in the eye of the hurricane.
After Dad died, we no longer had him to talk Mom down from her most irrational behaviors. It was sink or swim time. I attempted to follow my dad’s example with varying degrees of success. Sometimes I blew my lid. I struggled to model respect and not shout at her in front of my girls. Thank goodness I married a skilled humorist. My husband knew how to poke fun at Mom and inspire her to laugh along.
We just observed the 10th anniversary of Mom’s death by visiting the ancestral motherland on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. This magical outcropping on the south Los Angeles County coastline looks like a bigger version of La Jolla with more dramatic, rugged geography and killer views of the Pacific Ocean, the Los Angeles basin and Catalina Island. Growing up there, I took the natural beauty, affluence and excellent public education system for granted. I lacked the maturity to appreciate the sacrifices my parents made to afford us the opportunity to call Palos Verdes home.
My father, the son of middle-class Eastern European immigrants, put in long hours building his dental practice. But he always made time for his three kids – coaching soccer, taking us on ski trips and fighting his exhaustion from wielding a dental drill all day long to help us with homework.
My mother, who grew up in Beverly Hills and became a teacher, put her own interests on hold to raise us. When I was in elementary school, she harnessed her boundless energy to co-found an after school enrichment program modeled on one her friends created in Beverly Hills. She recruited her foreign-born Palos Verdes friends to educate us about their native cultures – a Japanese friend taught us how to use Asian calligraphy brushes to create renderings of bamboo, a South African friend taught us about African goddesses and a South American friend taught us Spanish conversation. Mom enriched the lives of many Peninsula kids – mostly her own three.
As I showed my daughters around the homeland, more than the tremendous sorrow and grief I experienced in years past, I felt gratitude. We visited the Point Vicente Interpretive Center atop a particularly scenic bluff adjacent to the historic lighthouse. My mother volunteered as a docent and counted gray whales there during the annual migration.
A year before dying of cancer, my mother dedicated a Pacific gray whale-shaped bronze plaque embedded in the Center’s courtyard to her grandchildren. As my daughters crouched beside it to read their names, I lifted my arms up to the vast blue ocean horizon and said, “This is how Papa and Mima wanted us to remember them.”