Sunday, May 13, 2018

Perfectly Flawed-The Mother (and Moment) that Made Me

Welcome to the First Post in honor of my Mother on the All-New Pinky Penmark Blogs

Happy Mother's Day, Mom.

We hope you all enjoy reading "Perfectly Flawed" and that you remember every day that you are capable of making peoples' lives better with even the seemingly most innocuous choices that you make.

Pinky Note: I do not believe that my Mom has any idea that a singular action of hers, an action I am sure she still describes as embarrassing and semi-humiliating, had an impact on me so great that it would utterly and entirely change my life, my character and my desire to leave the world a better place than when I arrived.  The following post is the story and facts in brief of my mother's life but more than that, it's a story that depicts how profoundly one human being can influence another human being's chosen path. It illustrates how random it can be, and the importance of living by our character at all times because you never know how close another may be paying attention, and how our simplest actions can profoundly change lives. 

And Now, Here's "Perfectly Flawed"

Today, billions of people across more than 40 countries will be celebrating the lives of the women who brought them into the world. Today, I am unable to be with my Mother, but the miles between us can never diminish the effect that a life with this woman has had upon me.

Mom started out in a seemingly ordinary style born in 1942 in Eastern Central Ohio to a plumber and a housewife. At the time the country and the families of eastern central Ohio were desperately seeking to overcome the lasting effects of the Great Depression. The only references to those early days you would ever hear my grandparents or parents make, however, would be framed merely by expressing that their only desire was to make sure that their children had the things they never had, and the opportunities they never had.  The struggle was real, but the details were never dwelled upon except in how they planned to make sure their children never had those same struggles.

By the spring of 1959, my mother had graduated from high school (where, of course, she was a cheerleader), navigated a childhood of being the only daughter amongst three brothers, and her and my father were setting their sights on the future. They married in July 1960. My brother was born the following year, and I came along in 1965.

Now, the fun begins.

(Please note that this is the only public reference you will ever hear to the actual year of my birth and my real age.  And, now, erase it from your memory for should you decide to repeat it, Pinky will be forced to excommunicate you from her Kingdom).

The following SmileBox will take you through the fun of all of our early years and will make a brief mention of that moment in our lives that would embarrass my mother but would have a lasting effect on every day of the rest of my life. And, that was the day my mother chose to take the “chicken stairs” down the giant slide at Kings Island amusement park in Lebanon, Ohio sometime in the mid-1970s. My brother, father, and I would go racing down the slide and leave my mother behind to go down the slide that she was afraid of all by herself.              

The Actual Giant Slide in the 1970s at King's Island

'Scary is in the eye of the beholder'

Until 48 hours ago, although I knew that I was blessed, when reflecting on my childhood and family life growing up, I never completely understood  that what seemed rather ordinary, middle-class and suburban to me was actually everything that many people would give so much to have had.

I was previewing the SmileBox to a friend,  and I looked over at him as he watched and I could see that he was visibly, barely able to make it through the viewing of it. When it ended, he had tears in his eyes and said, “Your family did so much together. I wish I had something like that growing up.” I hadn’t forgotten that my friend was orphaned at a young age, deemed a ward of the state and grew up in foster care, but I had not until then thoughtfully considered the millions of people whose childhood may have been less than ordinary, and how extraordinary that actually made my childhood.

For much of my childhood, I felt on the inside very less than ordinary because I knew that one day my secret would be exposed to the masses and when I would fast-forward to such a moment in my life there was no conclusion that I could fathom that ended in anything but gloom. Sure I put on a good smile for the world as any good, protestant, suburban boy is taught to do.  Any issues or problems we may have should be left behind the front door for when we exit the house the world should see a shining, exemplary, problem free suburban boy enjoying life.

And then one day on a trip to King’s Island that my family had made many times before, my Mother chose the “chicken stairs” on the Giant Slide and everything that went along with that decision.  She asked a ride attendant if there was a way down from the slide without actually going down the slide, and it was the attendant who first used the phrase “chicken stairs”. Mom was shown to the staircase where she would walk down the stairs with hundreds if not thousands of people looking up and seeing her descend one by one down the stairs because she was too afraid to go down the slide.

My father, brother and I immediately took notice of what my Mom was doing, and my father looked at us both and with true conviction and a little fear said to us, “Boys, don’t you ever mention this.  Don’t say a word to your mother about this when she gets here.”

Us being boys the words of my father sunk in for as long as they could and inevitably the teasing began and the memory and laughter would cycle through our lives for the next couple years at my Mother’s expense. I, of course, would partake in the teasing, but I kept coming back to completely different thoughts about the event, and within a couple of years I was using the event in my mind as inspiration to tackle a series of things in my life that would determine if I stood up for myself and my beliefs and if I would choose the more difficult path because it was the right thing to do.

I came to see that moment when my Mom descended those stairs as being bad ass. She wasn’t hanging her head when she came down those stairs. She held her head high even though I know she was feeling humiliated, and she spanned the crowd and made eye contact with many of the people that were watching her as she came down the steps. By the time, I was in high school and I would reflect back about this moment, I would see my Mom come down those stairs, and I swear she was dressed as Wonder Woman.

Within a couple years, I was going to be the first person in my family to graduate from college, and the thought of going away to college was stifling. I knew I had to do it, but I wasn’t out of the closet so I was uncomfortable in most situations and around most people that I should have been comfortable around.  The thought of all those strangers in a strange place around me while I am desperately clinging on to my secret made me sick to my stomach.

And then I thought about Kings Island and Wonder Woman, and I would learn to don my bad ass Mighty Isis outfit (because I was a bigger fan of hers than Wonder Woman) and I could summon the strength to do things I never thought imaginable. I would choose a path of difficulty because it was best for others instead of an easy path that might be best for me.

My Mighty Isis sitting on my shoulder gave me the strength to come out of the closet my first year in college and to hell with what people thought about it. Suddenly, I was vocally standing up for LGBT rights and eventually chose the path of LGBT activism. I began championing the cause of all minorities because we know that discrimination of one group will lead to the eventual discrimination of all minority groups.  But, even more than that it was the right damn thing to do, and the Mighty Isis would protect me and encourage me through every difficult decision that I would make the rest of my life.

There would be no Pinky, if not for Wonder Woman and the Mighty Isis. I have chosen a path of community involvement, activism and volunteerism throughout my adult life because of Wonder Woman, my Mother. She showed me, without even realizing it, that many times how you may be feeling on the inside about something is inconsequential.   Suck up your fear, put on your Wonder Woman costume, do the right thing and go out into the world proudly and determinedly.  And, as a result, I have become determined to do my part in leaving this world a better place for those that follow me without being stifled with fear when making the big decisions.

With a Wonder Woman costume on, any decision becomes an easy decision and every challenge can be faced head-on. Without my Mother, my Wonder Woman, I could have never accomplished the things I have, and I have a lot left to do. The world still needs some changing, and I will be there sporting my Mighty Isis outfit, fighting the good fight.

Thank you, Mom. It’s all because of you. Happy Mother’s day. I love you.

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