I caused her a lot of worry, beginning with whooping cough as an infant just as the vaccine was becoming available, but it was my difficult-to-control behavior that really tested her mettle.
Mom said I spent as much time in the church vestibule, which was the place for crying and unruly children, as I did in church. I must have been an embarrassment for her, for she had been a teacher in the church’s parochial school until she married Dad and the kids started coming.
Dad sang in the choir and wasn’t available to help her except to administer the spankings Mom promised when we got home.
I was a typical second child, rebellious, prone to temper outbursts and competitive. When I reached school age I liked academics, but my parents’ visits with my teachers at report card reviews were always long.
Most of my teachers until my latter portion of high school said, “Michael is bright and gets his work done, but he doesn’t always pay attention. He lacks self-control, gets distracted easily and is strong-willed.”
After high school I studied to become a Catholic priest but disappointed my parents, when after three years of seminary I transferred to the University of Colorado to finish my undergraduate degree. Mom was so upset she cried for weeks and didn’t come to my college graduation.
She started to warm up as I pursued a Ph.D. in psychology and met Marilyn. She said to me, “Everybody loves Marilyn,” as Mom truly did, while also implying I should behave like Marilyn.
Mom didn’t fully understand the challenges of graduate school and becoming a professor at the University of Virginia. She told others she was proud of me, but not me.
She devoted herself to community work, helping to initiate residential and employment programs for persons with disabilities like my youngest brother with Down syndrome, and facilitating local Community Chest and church fund drives.
It mainly fell on me to look after Mom when Dad died in 1980 just a year after we moved to Iowa to farm and to undertake my psychological services for farmers and Marilyn’s nursing educator roles.
Slowly I began to grasp why Mom telephoned me at all hours of the day or night, first from the home she and Dad built when they moved into town from the family farm and later from her residential retirement community. She didn’t tell others she felt she was dying and needed to be seen by doctors who could identify the serious maladies she was convinced she had.
Psychotropic medication helped, but still Mom continued to struggle with anxieties. It took me years to understand what originated Mom’s perturbations until she told me her mother almost died after childbirth.
Grandma delivered her firstborn child, my mother, at home while her husband served in the U.S. Army in Europe during WWI. She had complications after giving birth and was ill for several months until her uncle, a physician in Omaha, took the train to the little farm town of Defiance, Iowa to perform a dilation and curettage procedure.
My mother did not have her own mother or father to fully nurture her as an infant during the critical parent-infant attachment phase so necessary to acquiring a sense of security. Plus, their farm had reverted back to the lender while Grandpa was overseas.
Eventually, advances in knowledge about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and my psychology training helped me figure out that I probably had a modest degree of ADHD that continued into adulthood. I didn’t need much sleep, 4-6 hours were sufficient. I couldn’t sit through long meetings.
Recently, scientists figured out that ADHD and anxiety proneness are genetically linked. Farmers are especially prone to both, and there are upsides and downsides to both.
Cancer in 2002 changed my body chemistry. Both my temperament and hair color lightened.
Perhaps the school of hard knocks also changed me, but Mom was a significant influence. She designated me to execute her will and make business and healthcare decisions long before she declined.
Mom asked for help with nearly everything. At times I grew tired.
In the process I learned patience. It didn’t come easily but I became increasingly more understanding and appreciative of Mom.
I learned to use humor and to say “No” when appropriate to protect her from exploitation, her fears, and to curtail unnecessary demands.
In mid-May 2010 I had to speak at a conference in North Dakota, so I visited Mom at the local hospital where she had been admitted because she was growing weak. Mom said she wouldn’t live much longer.
As I left her hospital room to travel, Mom’s last teaching words were “You need to lose weight, don’t you think?”
She died at 91 years of age. Let’s appreciate our mothers always, besides on this May 11 Mother’s Day.
Readers may contact Dr. Rosmann at www.agbehavioralhealth.com.