“Be sure to pack practical shoes,” I heard her yell from the other room. I rolled my eyes and quietly mocked back, “Be sure to pack practical shoes.” I was packing for a trip to Colorado to attend the National 4-H Roundup. This wasn’t my first trip away from home. By my senior year in high school, I was a seasoned traveler, constantly attending some sort of 4-H, band, choir or church camp, conference or retreat. Yeah, I was Lisa Simpson in high school. That same summer I had spent a whopping one week at home. The rest of that time was spent gallivanting around the great state of Oklahoma. I didn’t need my mother telling me how to pack. Besides, it was October. That’s still flip-flop weather in Oklahoma and Colorado wouldn’t be that far off. I knew my Keds and dress flats would be fine. Keds are totally practical. But as our bus reached the Denver suburbs, the snow started to fall and my heart began to sink with dread. To make matters worse one of the two buses in our group broke down. They piled us all onto one bus to get us to the conference. When we finally arrived at the hotel we were all cranky, tired, hungry and late to the opening event. Then I found out I would be rooming with three much younger girls. It made me feel like a babysitter and it turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. I called Mom. I told her I hated everything and I wanted to come home RIGHT NOW. I told her it was snowing and that I hadn’t packed those practical shoes and I wanted to come home. Mom’s voice sounded panicky in her reply. I had never done this sort of thing before. I never called home. I was the child that didn’t need her 94.2% of the time. She told me that she would figure out a way to come get me, but in the meantime, I was to try to have a good time. She told me that if things were not better in the morning to call her back and she would come. I never called back. Everything turned out fine. I came home with great new stories and a pineapple (random). It just made me feel better to know Mom was there and had my back. My siblings are way older than me, my brother by 16 years and my sister by 5. I know five years doesn’t seem like much, especially now, but we never went to the same school at the same time. By the time I was three, my brother was married and out of the house and by the time I was 14, my sister was married and out of the house. As a result, I have always been independent and self reliant. The joke in our small town was that my parents had three only children. When I was a baby, I learned that if I hopped up and down in my highchair, I could scoot it across the kitchen floor. This was how I managed to spill scalding hot coffee down myself. Twice. I became quite adept at climbing cabinets to get to bowls and cereal. After one summer of my sister’s daily lunches of burned mac & cheese or soggy tuna salad, I figured out very quickly how to use that stove. I remember the first day of preschool, when mom dropped me off I barely waved goodbye. I don’t even know if Mom hung around to wistfully stare at me or got teary or any of that. I headed straight to the big easel in the middle of the room and started painting. I remember witnessing other kids being dropped off that day and being shocked by the screaming and crying. I had never seen someone cling so fiercely to a hand. One girl threw a tantrum like I’d never seen before. It was mesmerizing. Her face was as red as a tomato as she screamed and cried. Her mom would get one of the girl’s tiny hands pried from her arm only to find it instantly reattached to another section of her body. I’m sure her mom thought she was fighting an octopus. I was appalled. “What’s the big deal? She’ll come back and get you later. Plus you get to play with all this stuff!” Preschool for me meant that I was just that much closer to getting to ride the big yellow bus. The same bus my sister shoved me away from every morning when I tried to go to school with her. I didn’t understand these kids and their separation anxiety. I was always being dropped off with various babysitters and Mom always came back. OK, there was that one time when I was forgotten, but that was just one of those miscommunication things between Mom and Dad. It happens. What? It totally happens. Anyway, I knew someone would eventually come get me.
My mom never passed on much in the way of words of wisdom. She’s a good Southern woman. So she taught me to stand up straight and chew with my mouth closed, but she didn’t teach me anything about menstrual cycles or sex. She never warned me about drugs or alcohol, but she did teach me how to tie a proper bow and how to flip pancakes. One time she told me, after I’d mentioned that I thought my boobs were getting bigger, that “Sex will do that to you”, which was funny because I was still a virgin at the time. I told her “I guess that’s something to look forward to.” She moved onto a new topic. The one thing that I can say is that my mom has always been there in the 5.8% of the time when I did need her. All of those horrible sewing projects I had to do in 4-H? Mom was right there. She’d camp out on the floor of the sewing room while I painstakingly removed the right sleeve from the left side of a dress. She sat there because she knew the minute she left I would be hollering “MOMMMMM!!!! HELLLPPP!!!!”. I was not good at stitching.
And then Chris got sick. He got so sick that I had to take him to the emergency room. That was where they discovered the large tumor on his liver, the same day our sewage started backing up in our basement. I spent from early morning to late evening in an emergency room waiting, worrying, and freaking out. When they got Chris settled into a room, I went home to take care of the dog and get some rest. Except I was too revved up to sleep. I donned rubber gloves and a mask, grabbed bleach, a dustbin and a mop and then headed down into the basement to attempt a clean up. I scraped and gagged and gagged and scraped poop off the floor until my arms were rubbery and I was woozy on bleach fumes. When I finally gave up and lay down, I lay there staring at the ceiling while my brain tried to work out how I was going to be at the hospital with Chris, deal with the literal shit in my basement, take care of the dog and be at work all at the same time. It was like that riddle where you have a duck, a bag of seed, and a fox and you all have to get across the river, but you can’t carry it all in the same trip and you can’t leave any of the three alone together. I had reached the point where I didn’t have the brainpower to solve the duck, fox and seed riddle let alone the riddle of my life. I knew that in order to get everyone safely to the other side I was going to have to make two trips, carry the duck and fox over together, leave the fox. Then go back with the duck and get the seed. I could make two trips or call my mom. I called mom. And she was there. She was there to take care of the dog and deal with the plumber. She made sure I had a hot meal every evening and clean clothes to wear. And when her oh-so-self-reliant-independent daughter broke down in sobs and admitted her fears, she was there to put her arms around her. She knew better than to tell me that everything would be all right, because in the end it wasn’t, but she was there to reassure me that I didn’t have to go through it alone.
There are times when I get so frustrated with my mom. Really, who doesn’t get frustrated with their mom? Moms can be so annoying with their know-everything ways and their insistence on helping. But then I think about the child I was and the person I’ve become. I think it must have been really hard being my mom. I was her last chance at having a child to mother and coddle and I wanted nothing to do with being mothered. I was her baby. The baby of the family. Ha! My parents still introduce me to people as “their baby.” I imagine that it must have been really hard to have your baby only need you 5.8% of the time, to sit back and wait for her to ask for help. And so I take note of the things she did teach me. I take the time to tie a proper bow on a package. I can flip a mean pancake. I have excellent posture. I still can’t sew a straight line and Mom may still have to help stitch things together, but I always, always, remember to pack practical shoes.
Happy Love Thursday.