My Mother’s Daughter

 

It's not nagging; it's love!

Early in the morning, on the day my mother left this earth, she called me. It was not to tell me the secret of life, or ooze with gushy words over my greatness at being her daughter; it was to remind me to go to the financial aid office to make sure my paperwork for my student loan had been processed for the next semester. While she certainly remembered to end the conversation with an “I love you,” her call was a purposeful prompt for me to get things done. This wasn’t because she found me too incompetent to take care of my own shizz, because thanks to her, I’d been handling my own shizz for quite some time. Her final reminder was an example of who she was; a woman who endlessly worried about her children. I am SO my mother’s daughter.

On a daily basis you can hear me say such phrases as: “Did you eat lunch; what did you have?” “You have that paper due on the 11th; are you making note cards?” “Be careful at that blind turn on your way to school!” Do I think my daughters wouldn’t eat lunch, turn assignments in on time, or crash their cars without my input? Certainly not! I know, from my own experience, that after my mother’s death, I turned in papers in a timely manner, unplugged the coffee maker before leaving the house, and that I always remembered to not buy cheap bras, “because they’ll make your boobs sag!” Oh, but I missed her unnecessary input, and I still hear her voice at the crux of any decision I make.

Yes, I’m a serious nag, and during my daughter’s teen years, my advice and questioning was often met with eye rolls. Now my ceaseless guidance, in most cases, evokes a smile, because they know. They know that my badgering is one of the ways that I stay enmeshed in their lives. It’s one of the silly ways that I say “I love you,” and show that I care so deeply about them that I want even the most miniscule details of their lives to go smoothly. Even in my mother’s last hours, she was tangled up in the routines of my life. She was giving me orders that voiced her love and expectations of me. I am SO much my mother’s daughter.

Thanks, Mom!

Do you nag your children unnecessarily? Was, or is, your mom a nag?

 

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Day 2: 31 Days of Blogging Honesty

 

 

 

 

 

Question #2:  The most expensive item I have ever stolen is…

I wish I had a fabulously scandalous answer for this question, but I don’t. Unfortunately, for the sake of this topic, my life of crime is pretty limited. I’ve accidently put ink pens in my purse after I’ve signed credit card receipts. I once took a maxi-pad from a nearly full box that someone left in the cabinet of the ladies room at my old workplace (hey, it was an emergency), but I replaced it a week later. I’m typically a pretty honest person, and the only theft story I have is when I took a Tootsie Roll from a little mom-n-pop grocery store when I was five. It’s funny, I don’t actually remember the taking part of this tale, but I clearly remember the giving back part.

Chocolate Goodness!

The slow tearing sound of the waxed paper covering alerted my mother that I was up to something in the back seat of our old 1964 Buick Skylark. This was well before 5 year-olds were required to be strapped into pricey booster seats, or even fancy seatbelts, so I was probably sprawled out on my stomach across the seat as I tried to unwrap my secret acquisition as slowly as possible. I’d hoped to have my favorite chewy, chocolaty treat stuck between the crevices of my back teeth before my mother realized that I had clandestinely purloined it from the bottom shelf of the penny candy section of Mike’s Grocery. As I was about to peel off the last noisy bit of paper that confirmed my status as a Tootsie Roll thief, my mother, who was about to pull out of the parking lot, asked the familiar question, “What are you up to back there?” “Nothing,” I nervously assured her as I popped the candy into my mouth paper and all.

My mother never accepted “Nothing” as an answer from me. I was, after all, the kid who dug a muddy, four foot hole in the back of our perfectly landscaped yard while she was inside having tea with her friends from the garden club. I was the kid who, while at church last Sunday, had made a loud hooting sound, during silent prayer, just to hear it echo off of the endlessly high ceilings. I was also the kid who usually had a frowny face on the “Exhibits proper classroom behavior” section of my kindergarten progress report, so when I gave the answer of “Nothing,” my mother always investigated. Before I had time to swallow, she had turned around and pried the glommy goody from my mouth and wrapped it in a tissue from her purse. After a stern lecture on shoplifting, that included the threat of jail time, she placed the wet package in my small hand with a disappointed expression and quietly said, “You took this from Mike, now you have to return it, and apologize.” Mike, the store’s owner was a hulk of a man, whose white store apron usually had a bit of blood on it because he mostly worked behind the meat counter. I was scared of Mike and begged my mother to let me return the Tootsie Roll to his kindly wife Betty, but she wouldn’t budge.

I’ll never forget the fear jolting through my tiny body as my little legs trudged unwillingly back to the meat counter, nor will I disremember the humiliation of admitting my wrongdoing. I do remember Mike thanking me both for my honesty and for the penny, borrowed from my mother, which I handed over to him as compensation for my misdeed. I also recall that Mike didn’t seem as scary to me in subsequent visits to his store. In fact, he usually made a point of saying hello to me by name. I was never sure whether this was because he considered me a new found little friend, or because he wanted me to know that he was keeping an eye on me. So, as a reformed shoplifter, I’ll admit that the monetary value of the most expensive thing I’ve ever stolen was one penny; however the life lesson value was priceless!

You'd better keep your hands off of me, kids!

Memories of my Grandmother

 I got up early Sunday morning to spend the day with my grandmother who is in a nursing home.  It was her 95th birthday and I’ve always thought it wonderful that she celebrates growing another year older on the first day of spring.  When I was a little girl, Grandmother was never the huggy, snuggly cookie baking kind of grandma that you see on the Hallmark Channel.  In a time period where most grandmothers had spent their life taking care of only a family and home, my grandmother had been a shrewd businesswoman.   In addition to owning a slew of rental properties on the beach in Florida, she and my grandfather owned a bustling motel in a busy tourist town.  Back then the housekeeping staff was given Sunday as their day off and my mom, dad, and baby brother would help my grandparents clean the rooms as the guests checked out. Although I was only five when I first began helping, I was allowed to help dry the tubs and sinks, after my mom or dad scrubbed them.  I was also given the honor of placing a miniature bar of Ivory Soap in the soap dish on the sink and in the bathtub.  At five, nothing seemed more perfect to me than those tiny, deliciously clean smelling soap bars.  I would put my whole face in the cardboard box that held them and breathe in their sanitary goodness.  Each week I would beg Grandmother to let me take one home to put in my bathroom.  My mother would always intervene and tell me no. I thought I must have been the only kid in the world who broke out in a rash when they washed with Ivory Soap.  My reward for helping would usually be a glass bottle of orange soda from the motel’s Coke machine.  My granddad would let me put the fifteen cents in.  I would open the frosty glass door and grip the cold neck of the bottle, anxious for the metal clasps to release it.  Then I popped it open using the bottle opener on the side of the machine.  My mother didn’t really like me drinking soda.  I was one of those unfortunates raised on a very strict diet.   Luckily, mom bent her rule once a week as long as I promised to sit down while drinking it.  According to her, walking around with a glass soda bottle was dangerous. If I fell with a pop bottle in my mouth it could knock my teeth out, cut my lips beyond recognition, and possibly render me blind from the shards of glass that were sure to bounce from the pavement into my eyes.  I was a rule follower, so I sat on the wooden bench on the sidewalk outside of the lobby swinging my short legs and drinking every drop of my payment while I imagined how hard my life would be if I suffered a soda bottle injury.

 After the cleaning was finished we would stay for Sunday evening dinner.  Grandmother was an amazing cook, and she would always have the main dish simmering as we cleaned rooms so it would be easy to get dinner finished up when we were done.   I loved her roast beef the best.  She would cook it onions, celery and peppers,  slowly on the stove top until it was so tender you could cut it with a fork.  She’d serve it with creamy mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, creamed corn, and coleslaw.  It was a meal so delectable that I could have eaten it every day.  During dinner the adults would talk while my brother and I listened and politely ate our food.  This was a Sunday ritual that lasted throughout my childhood until my grandfather passed away and Grandmother sold the motel and moved into a little yellow house a few miles away.  Once this happened we spent Sunday afternoons helping to weed my grandmother’s garden, or doing other chores around her house while she made dinner.

As I grew up, Grandmother and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye.  She didn’t approve of the music I listened to, nor did she like the fact that I decided to stop piano lessons to be in plays.  I was also pretty certain that she liked my brother far better than me just because he was a boy and because he stuck with his piano lessons. I once asked my very affectionate mom why Grandmother didn’t seem to like me. She assured me that Grandmother loved me very much, but that she just wasn’t very good about expressing emotions.   There were times, though that we got along just fine.  She painstakingly taught me how to cook; a skill that I took to like a fish to water.  My remaining family swears that my mashed potatoes taste exactly like hers.  When my mother, her daughter, became terminally ill and I wanted to quit college to stay home and care for her, she dropped everything and moved into our home to serve as a round-the-clock nurse.  “A woman can’t be without a college education,” she insisted.  Two years later, as staunchly religious as she was, she didn’t judge me when I confessed to being pregnant a few months before I married my first husband.  She simply helped me plan my wedding in her calm steady way.

Now that she’s 95, she doesn’t remember who I am, and when she does have a small glimpse of memory she’ll ask how my long-dead mother is doing.  I always swallow hard to suppress the ache and, say, “fine.”  I’m afraid telling her that she’s gone could be like hearing it for the first time.  Now, my grandmother is far more affectionate when I visit her.  She hugs me hard and holds my hand.  The lines on her face that were once pinched with all of the worries that running several businesses can cause, have softened.  She is childlike and happy.  In her own world, she laughs and sings to herself  When we showed her the brightly frosted birthday cake made just for her, she reached out and took a piece with her hands, gleefully devouring each bite with gusto and licking the frosting from her fingers.  It was a pure moment, without rules, just the way life should sometimes be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How J.K. Rowling Saved My Life!

When my daughters were little, we had a very specific evening routine.  After homework, dinner, and baths, we would pile on my bed for story time.  Ours was a televisionless household.  Not because I’m opposed to TV (heck, I love it), but because the cost of cable didn’t fit in with my tight budget as a divorced mom.  Story time was our evening’s entertainment.  After my daughters secured the perfect spot on my queen-sized bed, were shrouded in their favorite blanket, and were holding fast to their most prized stuffed animal, the stories began.  Sometimes we rhymed our way through Seuss, or climbed the Alps with Spyri’s Heidi.  On more adventurous nights we voyaged on the Hispaniola with Jim Hawkins in Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Treasure Island.  Some nights we laughed at the hijinks of Astrid Lidgren’s Pippi Longstocking.  Other evenings we’d have to pause the story to wipe away tears of joy as the old couple in Melmed’s The Rain Babies was rewarded with a child of their own.  No matter what the story, by the end we were all peaceful, contented and sleepy, as I carried, or walked, my girls to their beds for prayers and a kiss.

Six years ago my youngest daughter became seriously ill.  She had always been a happy child, and without apparent cause or warning she became paranoid. For several days she said things that didn’t make sense.  She accused friends of plotting against her, and admitted to hearing things that clearly weren’t audible.  Then, she slipped into a deep depression. For three long months she wasn’t herself, and for three months more she continued to change from my calm, sweet, jubilant girl to an aggressive, violent and unpredictable person that I didn’t recognize. Our home-life changed from peaceful and happy to little more than a zone of survival, as we met crisis after crisis. I went from being an active elementary school teacher to being a full-time caregiver who rarely left my house.  It seemed the only contact I had with the outside world was with baffled medical professionals in our rural area who offered little help with our situation.  My oldest daughter, who had always been a straight “A” student, left school in the middle of her senior year. She worried so much about what was going on at home that our family doctor advised that she finish school with a home-bound teacher provided by the school system.  My husband and I, who had always engaged in deep, interesting conversations, talked of nothing but our family situation.  How had we been reduced from what seemed like an ideal family to a group of dysfunctional zombies running on autopilot?  Besides the chaos, the worst part of it was the shame. Being a motherless daughter, I had always worried that I wouldn’t be as good of a mom as the mothered crowd. I also worried profusely about the ten years that I raised them alone when I was a divorced mom. These disadvantages had served to make me try harder than my peers in the mothering department.  Now it seemed that despite my efforts I had failed my children as I had long ago predicted.  I isolated myself from friends, and the little family that I had left. I couldn’t stand to answer their questions, or hear their accusations.  “Do you think it’s from the divorce?”  “Is it because you remarried?”  “So, your oldest isn’t in school either?” 

You have no idea how hard it is to find a psychiatrist who isn’t overbooked or burned out in an overpopulated area, in a state where the cost of malpractice insurance is nearly the highest in the country.  After droves of doctor visits, beginning with her first odd symptom, I finally found a psychiatrist who listened and asked all of the right questions. After nearly a year of hell, my daughter was diagnosed with type II bipolar disorder.   She was placed on a low dose of Lithium, and slowly, but surely, after two medication adjustments my old daughter began to emerge. While I was joyful to have her back, she didn’t return completely unscathed.  The psychotic episodes that she experienced before her depressions had damaged her short-term memory and affected her ability to be as organized, and attentive, as she had once been.  She started back to school in the fall struggling academically as her brain worked overtime to correct itself.  I spent hours each evening re-teaching her and trying my best to keep her caught up.  

The stress of the past year and my overwhelming responsibility of caring for my daughter began to take its toll on me.  When something is wrong with your child, all other things become insignificant.  I ate too much, worried too much, and watched my daughter like a hawk for any sign that her medication had stopped working.  My anguished tossing and turning at night made my husband and me both automatons the next day.  The lack of sleep exacerbated the worry, and it all became a vicious cycle until one sleepless night, while trying to calm me, my husband asked the pivotal question, “What’s your favorite memory of her from before all of this started?”  I started backwards in my mind recounting the pride I felt when she was in a community theatre production of Scrooge.  I went back further to academic awards she’d achieved.  I thought back to times when we had walked the beach with sandy hands full of shells.  All were comforting, but the memory that brought me the most peace was the one of us snuggled in bed with our books and blankets.  I hopped out of bed and practically ran to my overflowing bookshelves.  That night J.K. Rowling, in so many words, saved my sanity.  As Rowling’s brilliant prose, in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone catapulted me to Harry’s world of witchcraft and wizardry, my racing heart slowed and my anxiety diminished.  Just as the sorting hat was about to determine Harry’s house at Hogwarts my eyelids fluttered to a close.  I didn’t stop there.  The next night I nearly finished the first book of the Potter series, and the next I made it to the third chapter of the second book before I drifted off. Soon I was getting full nights of sleep and functioning much better during the day.  

When I’d read all that Rowling had to offer, I moved on to Lemony Snicket‘s, A Series of Unfortunate Events books.  Klaus, Violet, and little Sunny Baudelair’s battle of wits with the wicked Count Olaf validated my need to see the underdog victorious over evil. I finished each short book with zest, and hungered for more.  I read old Nancy Drew books that I’d saved from my childhood.  I asked for Laura Ingalls Wilder‘s Little House series for my birthday, and devoured each page with more vigor than I had as an eight year old. My daughter’s fostered my new obsession by loaning me their well-worn volumes and offering their suggestions.  “You HAVE to read The Giver by Lois Lowry, Mom, but be prepared to cry,” said my now healthy daughter as she presented it to me before bed one night.  It was pure poetry, and I did cry all through Chapter 19 and at the end.  I went through the Twilight (by Stephenie Meyer) phase with both of my daughters, and even developed a slight crush on Edward Cullen, who I still must admit doesn’t hold a candle to my wonderful husband! 

Soon months passed, then years, and while I still indulge in a good children’s book from time to time, I’ve moved on to enjoying both fiction and nonfiction written for adults.  (Right now I’m going through a memoire phase!)  Throughout this time my daughter has blossomed into a beautiful, and healthy, young woman.  Her memory and attentiveness is back to normal, and the bipolar disorder is well controlled by lithium.  She has wonderful friends, a loving boyfriend, and is doing well in school.  Her future is so hopeful and bright.  The rest of our family is in much better shape, as well.

While I know indulging in literature written for children and young adults is absolutely no substitute for professional help when one is severely stressed (and believe me, our entire family sought help), I’ve found that it can be quite calming.  It takes me away to simpler worlds of clear-cut good and evil.  When life seems to offer uncertain resolutions, I can be sure that Nancy Drew will catch the culprit in the end, and Harry Potter will somehow keep Lord Voldemort at bay.  When life sometimes seems unfair I know I can find justice between the pages of a book, and when sleep won’t find me, the comfort of an imaginary world, free of my own worries, lulls me to slumber.  How do you deal with stress?  What’s your favorite children’s book that you enjoy reading as an adult?

Blogger’s note:  All afore mentioned stories and their themes are the property of their respective authors.