Monday, May 19, 2014

Sharing The Load

My dad was an uber-Christian, and by that I don't mean he was fire and brimstone and Bible quoting.  I mean he treated people like they were Jesus himself crossing his path.  Often at dinner if one of us was complaining about somebody being an annoying pain in the ass he'd say, "You don't know what kind of load they're carrying."

Eye roll.  Heavy sigh.  

"For chrissakes, Dad, can you take my side for once?"

He never took our side.  He took the side of someone he never met who was giving his kid a hard time because he thought that there wasn't a deliberately mean person in the world.  Maybe a person with some worries, health problems, marriage problems, money problems, boss problems, kid problems.  Whatever their problem was it was our job to overlook their bad behavior and treat them with kindness.

A mighty tall order.

When I was working in Chicago doing health benefits claims, I often told him about this woman who was always turning bills in that we already paid.  She had a short fuse and if you looked at it and said, "Wanda, we've already paid this one," she would tear into you and start arguing.  Since I sat at the first desk in the office I often got a direct hit.

"Well, if she's turning in a lot of bills she's probably pretty sick," is all Dad had to say about that.

"Well, I don't feel so good either when she's yelling at me, Dad."

"You're young.  You don't know what it's like to never feel good," is what he answered back.

Mom's car was making a rattling sound in the dash and he and Mom took it in.  The mechanic called and had the dashboard pulled apart and still couldn't figure it out.  Dad was livid.  He knew exactly what the problem was and told the mechanic when they dropped it off.  If he weren't in the process of dying he could have easily fixed it himself like he did everything around the house.  He yelled at the guy about how he was padding the bill and he'd be damned if he was going to pay for that.

I overheard all of this and didn't know whether to cry or give Dad the lecture about how to treat people like he'd done to us a thousand times.

Dad said he was going for a walk around the block.  I went to the grocery store.  Thirty minutes later I came back and he was just then making his way home.

"I guess I was more tired than I thought," he said when he saw me, as if that and not cancer was the reason it took so long.

"Well, it's pretty hot, Dad.  Why don't you just lay down for awhile," I suggested.

"Yeah, I think that's a good idea," he said.  "First, though, I need to call the mechanic and apologize.  I don't know what got into me."

 A few months later Dad closed his eyes for good, and every time Wanda came in I took her bills and told her we'd process them.........even if we already had.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Duplicated Mom

If you even seen the movie "Multiplicity" with Michael Keaton and Andi McDowell, then you are familiar with the magic that Doug Kinney discovers for his overworked, stressed self.  A duplicated him.  The ability to make a copy of himself to keep all the balls in the air.  Then another and another.

It is one of my favorite movies.  "My life's a shambles.  I need pie."

So it is with motherhood, where Original 1st Time Stressed Mom was on top of everything all the time.  When Maggie came home from the hospital I couldn't figure out when I was supposed to shower.  She did sleep but ever-vigilant to my firstborn, I needed to listen to her sleep and I couldn't do that with the shower going.   Everything was on high alert for that kid even when it wasn't the least bit necessary.  When teeth and toddlerhood came along she didn't eat hot dogs.  Are you kidding me?  What's even in those things?  No, it was fruits and vegetables cut into microscopic pieces to ensure choking wouldn't happen.  Food that fell on the ground would never, and I mean NEVER, be put in that baby's mouth.  So many outfits in a day.  Drool?  Change.  Spit-up?  Change.  Miniscule drop of apple juice on her perfect little dress?  Change.

Along came #2 and my mothering methods got a little watered down (i.e. not showering was no longer a viable option every day).  He was the baby that woke up ready to attack the day, and so after I fed him and his sister I would jump in the shower while Maggie kept an eye on him.  Why she was already like a little mother with her smothering hovering, so what was the harm in letting her keep an eye on him?  Unlike his sister, though, Will was introduced to and loved The Hot Dog and if you cut them into small enough pieces you had an easy, winning lunch plan.  And should it fall on the floor?  Wiping it on your pants leg seemed more than sufficient to rid it of germs.  As his Dad always said, "The best way to keep a kid healthy is to expose him to as much germs as possible."  In our case, that would include dog and cat germs, a hamster for awhile and then a parade of reptiles.  And changing clothes?  He was a boy.  What was the point?  He woke up looking for dirt.

When #3 came along, I pretty much had figured this mothering thing out.  Mallory got Relaxed Mom, It'll Be Fine Mom, Let's Not Get Our Shorts In A Knot Mom.  She was the kid that was always on the go with me, and when she would melt down I'd pat my shoulder and she would lay her head on it and stick her thumb in her mouth.  She had plenty to protest as a baby and toddler but she just went with the flow.  If I watched her sleeping it was in the rear view mirror as many of the naps she got were in a car seat.  When I decided to cook asparagus for lunch and chop it into bite-size pieces to see if she'd like it, she inhaled it.  Her preference, though?  VanDeKamp's fish sticks and Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.  By the time she was born, we weren't so broke and Gap had a whole line of baby clothes.  Stylish was her middle name.

There are fractions of every stage of my motherhood in each of them.  Maggie is anal about punctuality, Will believes all lunches are meant to be leisurely, Mal often thinks time is an ishy endeavor.  Maggie developed an allergy to most fruits (maybe overload years ago?), Will still eats hot dogs, Mal recently asked for fish sticks and mac & cheese.   Maggie never outgrew her fondness of naps, Will is still the child who wakes up happy, Mal, the night owl wandering around for a nest as if her own bed isn't even an option.

I faked a lot of things in that career because even when people told me how damn hard and never-ending the job was I thought it was more due to their own ineptness than actual difficulty.  I would soon learn otherwise.

There are some things, though, that my kids got in equal measure.  I never relented on manners, and could easily stand for five minutes with a shy child while they gathered the courage to say "thank you" to a stranger.  Once I said "no" it was no longer negotiable.  I loathe laziness and never allowed them to be slackers.  I wanted them to believe in a power higher than themselves.  I did not tolerate them being mean to each other.

"You know how when you make a copy of a copy, it's not as sharp as... well... the original."

Those three copies are the pieces of my often puzzling, haphazard journey of parenting, and though my mothering changed through the years, the states and the circumstances, they, thankfully, each remain quite original.

And when the history of our dysfunction rears its ugly head I do the most self-serving thing of all.

I blame their dad.

You bet I'm a mother.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

What I Learned

I could probably write about Listen To Your Mother for the next year and not run out of things to say.  I think I'll do the highlight reel next, but first the lessons learned.

Last year I had been on my job for all of one month when I found out the HR manager had just started writing a blog.  I moseyed down to her office and said, "I do that as well and there's this show coming to Kansas City that I've heard a lot about and I was wondering if you'd like to go with me."  We went.  I dragged the Husband as well.  When the show ended and the writers were taking their bow, I leaned over to Amy and said, "That's going to be us up there next year."

A plan was cemented. 

Flash forward to this year and a writer I follow on the east coast posted the link to submit pieces for LTYM in Washington, D.C.  I googled the Kansas City link and posted it to my Facebook wall for my fellow writer.  "Amy, dear, it's go time for us."  We both submitted pieces - probably five minutes before the deadline at least in my case.  We both got called to audition.  My take on mine, "I didn't suck."  Her take, "It was rough."  Then we waited.  When I got the email that I had made the show I squealed in delight and FEAR, and then I pleaded with The Universe to make it so for Amy.  A few hours later The Universe emailed us both to say that this was in fact true.

What I wanted out of this experience waffled depending on my mood.  Primarily, I remain proud of what I've written and believe it could help other parents in my situation.  Besides that, an internet sensation wouldn't be so awful.  A book deal?  Scan me a contract.  A slew of advertisers for my blog so I can quit my day job?  Duh.  A friend to go through the process with?  Yes, that.  Entwined first in a job and then in words.  Somebody who loved stories and authenticity as much as me to be on stage.

Just a little over an hour before the show started I was coming from the bathroom and headed upstairs at the church where the event took place.  I couldn't tell you how many authors I've seen at this church.  Dozens at the very least, but I've never been beyond the sanctuary.  Alone in the basement I headed toward the staircase when a woman stopped me.  She was about my age, attractive, quite beautiful actually.  "Please can you help me for a second," she asked.


"I'm looking for the AA Meeting that's supposed to be here and I can't find it.  Do you know where it might be?  I need to find it."

"No, I'm sorry I don't.  I know it's here some place because I heard somebody say that it was going on.  I'm not at all familiar with this place, though.  I'm sorry.  Maybe upstairs?"

"Okay, I'll keep looking."

She headed down the hall looking in empty room after empty room.  I headed up the stairs. 

At 7:30 we took the stage, stood before hundreds of strangers and told our stories.  The night was nerve wracking, followed by sheer joy.  After we took our bow Amy and I hugged for a long time.  There wasn't a whole lot to say between us.  We did it.  We will be forever connected.

Therein lies the beauty of Listen To Your Mother.  We are all connected and it is the stories of our triumphs and failures, fears and happiness, our realness that is the cement.

My daydreams may or may not ever materialize, but I would give up the possibility of every single one if it meant that the chance encounter I had an hour before the show led to that woman standing before strangers and telling her own painful story.

Yes, that........for I am her.

She is me.

We are in this together.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Write On Sister

I took a creative writing class in high school and I have no memory of the "why" part of it.  My guess is that I heard it was an easy class, but it clicked and I loved going into that room.  I would have stayed in there all day if they'd have let me.   I took a long break for many years until I asked to join an established writing group.  They had to vote on me (I passed) and every month we would meet and share our work.  That eventually led to this blog.

I have been asked by my friend Mary to participate in a blog hop.  The subject?  It's all writing, peeps.

What am I working on/writing?

I am always working on blog stuff.  My day job is very numbers orientated and daydreaming and writing in my head could lead to lots of mistakes.  That is the frustrating part of my day.   The paying attention.  I need to make money and I wish it could be by writing but that hasn't happened yet, so I have to work.  Fortunately, it is part-time so I do have time to write - not as much as I'd like but what are you gonna do???  Baby's got to finish college.  I have another goal of writing a children's book and I have no idea what it would be about, but I LOVE children's books.  I have loved every stage of my kids lives, but I miss reading to them.  If You Give A Mouse A Cookie.  Goodnight Moon.  Angelina BallerinaMadeline.  I felt like every character lived in this house for years.  There is a children's bookstore nearby and I always stop and look in the window.  Charmed.........every single time.

How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

It doesn't.  I am just one of many, many bloggers out there trying to get some attention.  All of those bloggers have a writing voice and when you follow them you begin to recognize it.  My voice is unique to me and hopefully, strikes a chord with readers.

Why do I write what I do?

My style fluctuates from funny to sad to wow.  It's how I think.  I like to have fun with my writing but profound wonder of life and loss is integrated into everything I do.  I am often too feely for my own piece of mind many days.  I think everyone wants to go through life thinking they made a difference.  I have to write myself there.  I have to tell the story (sometimes of total strangers) to say "I cannot stop thinking about you and here's why."

How does my writing process work?

I am by nature an observer.  Things will appear on my radar and I will note its significance.  I hardly ever know why it's significant.  I just remember it.  It is when I'm writing that The Significant Thing will pop up and get woven into my story.  I've learned to trust it and its place in my writing.  In fact, I love it.  When I plan out a story it hardly ever goes the way I've imagined until The Significant Thing appears and ties everything together.

I will have much more to write about Listen To Your Mother sometime this week.  It's a whole lot to process but The Significant Thing came to mind today.

And she was beautiful.