Why Momma G Loves the TV

“I’ve been craving old shows of Julia Child and the Frugal Gourmet.”  This was in an email from my daughter Abby.  She is in Nashville now, navigating life in a new city with a new husband, looking for a new job.

The mention of Julia Child and the Frugal Gourmet brought me back to a simpler time of watching television with my kids- the days when we all crowded on the couch in front of the lone 19 inch portable that sat behind closed cupboard doors in our living room.

When we were theoretical parents, we were not going to let our children watch TV.  We felt their time would be better spent reading books and engaging in intelligent conversation.  But then life happened.  I was a stay-at-home mother with a one-year-old.  Stuck in a rural home without a car, I felt isolated and alone.  We could not afford cable, so our TV only got one channel.  I had a strong disdain for daytime television dramas, but at eleven o’clock each morning I turned on “The Price Is Right” and watched it with my daughter.   Abby stood transfixed in front of the screen.  When the contestants jumped up and down, she bobbed up and down, clapped her chubby hands and yelled “Come on down!”  We were hooked.

Shortly after that, we moved to a new apartment, which was “cable ready,” and although we still could not afford the cable services, by plugging into the outlet we could get the major networks and PBS.  Public television opened a whole new world of entertainment for the kids- and for me.  We became friends with the gang from Sesame Street.  We listened to stories on Reading Rainbow.  We visited the Neighborhood with Mr. Rogers and we learned to cook with Julia Child, The Frugal Gourmet and Jacques Pepin.

For my kids, watching television was a participatory sport.  When Gabe was three, he was given a cardigan sweater that opened and closed with a zipper.  He took a hanger from his closet and every time Mr. Rogers changed sweaters, Gabriel did the same, zipping and unzipping, taking off the sweater and carefully hanging it on the doorknob to the hall closet.

One winter PBS aired “Sleeping Beauty on Ice,” and Abby decided she should become a professional ice skater.  She didn’t have skates, but she announced that the large frozen puddle outside our apartment would work perfectly as a rink.  She convinced her little brother to be her skating partner, and the two of them spent the afternoon sliding their boots across its surface in a complicated dance choreographed by my five-year-old daughter.  They fell so often that the next morning Abby’s knees were black and blue, and Gabe’s right ankle collapsed every time he tried to run.

As the children grew their television horizons expanded, but only under careful scrutiny by their father and me.  I thought we were doing fairly well at keeping to innocent and educational programs, until one day I watched as Elizabeth and a boy from the neighborhood played outside with a Perfection game.  They would carefully place the pieces into the frame, set the timer, wait several seconds, and run away. When the clock ran out of time and spewed the game pieces onto the sidewalk, my six-year-old and her friend would throw themselves to the ground, rolling over and over.  Puzzled at their antics, I finally asked what they were doing.

My little girl looked up from the grass, pulled a leaf from her unraveling braid, looked at me with that “Mom-don’t-you-know-anything?” expression and said, “We’re playing MacGyver.  It’s a bomb.”  So much for violence-free TV.

When the children were in elementary school we spent the better part of a year with no TV at all.  Gabe and Abby were squabbling over what show to watch and their father, who was not raised with a TV in the house and rarely chose to watch it, got fed up.  He silently walked to the shelf where the “boob tube” rested, picked it up and yanked the plug out of the wall.  It sat in a storage shed until the end of the summer when a hurricane threatened the east coast and I convinced him that for our safety we needed to reconnect it.

As the children grew, I found that watching television with them was more important than arbitrarily deciding what shows were acceptable and what were not.  Cuddling together on the couch in front of their favorite program gave us the opportunity to talk about the values and decisions of the characters.  I suffered through hours of teenage angst while watching Dawson’s Creek with Abby, but it opened the door to talk about many of the topics she had been reluctant to discuss- teenage sex, drinking, drugs.  By talking about the characters’ choices, we could share opinions and values.  Once she knew I would not condemn Dawson and Joey, she could trust that I would not condemn her or her friends.

By watching TV with my kids, I learned what sports heroes my children admired and why.  I found out what kind of music they listened to, what clothing they liked, what politicians they believed in and what kind of adults they aspired to be.  But most importantly, it gave us the opportunity to have fun together. Together we laughed at Seinfeld.  Together we cried during “E.R.”  Together we sang with the cast of “Les Miserables” and together we waited for next week’s episode of “X-Files.”

Now that my kids are grown, I usually watch television alone.  Once in a while, we watch something together, but mostly they are too busy with work or friends to sit on the couch with their mother.  But someday, I’ll have grandchildren. We will cuddle together in front of Grammie’s TV and turn on PBS.  I can’t wait to see what Bert and Ernie have been up to.

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Baby You Can Drive My Car

I have a thing about safety.  I made my kids wear bike helmets. I never start the car without making sure everyone is belted.  I check the smoke detectors twice a year.  I even lightly run my hand along the banister when I descend the stairs.  But I was not always this way.

When I was sixteen, I got my driver’s license.  This is a rite of passage that most of us make, and I anticipated it with great excitement.  Most teenagers learn to drive on the family car, and my mother’s car was a Saab with five speeds on the steering column.  My dad, a traveling salesman, had driven it for thousands of miles.  When he replaced the motor, he gave it to my mother. The little red Saab was old and creaky, but ran well enough to transport her to nearby Palmer, where she taught school.  As soon as I earned my learner’s permit, my mother gave me permission to practice pulling the car forward and back in the drive way.  She showed me how to put the car in gear, ease off the clutch and ease on the gas until the car inched forward, braking when I got to the end of the drive.  She showed me how to find reverse and do the same thing until I reached the intersection of the drive way and Green Street.  After watching me a few times, she assumed I had mastered the process, and went to her room to take a nap.

I drove back and forth several times, feeling cockier with every pass.  I turned on the radio, so I could drive to music.  I rolled down the windows so the neighbors would be sure to see that I was driving.  I pulled up and backed out several times, not realizing that with each pass, I inched closer to the stockade fence that separated our driveway from our next-door neighbor’s.  Sure enough, on a backward run, I heard a loud splintering crunch.  I slammed on the brake and got out to survey the damage, where I found the front bumper to be firmly snarled around the fence.  I ran to my mother’s room, waking her with my sobs, and explained what I had done. She, relieved that I had not run over one of my younger siblings, laughed and after a few attempts, disengaged the car from the fence.

Despite my encounter with the fence, I was undeterred, and a few days later, I suggested to my mother that we try driving through the neighborhood.  I was ecstatic, but quickly found that driving a stick while navigating the hilly roads of Monson was much more difficult.  I stalled and stuttered around the corner from Green Street to Bridge Street.  Mom made it a short trip and soon after, enrolled me in Belmont Driving School where I learned to drive on the flat, quiet side streets of Palmer, in a car with an automatic transmission.

I passed my driver’s test on the first attempt and joyfully returned home to announce my victory.  My parents, who surely graduated from the “Figure-it-Out-For-Yourself Academy of Parenting,” handed me the keys to the Saab and told me to teach myself how to drive it.

To understand exactly what this learning curve was like, you must first realize that in a family of eight children, very little was done alone.  All six of my younger siblings piled into the car and together we set off to master the belching red beast.  The beginning of the trip was fairly easy.  After the first few shudder and stalls, I figured out that revving the engine to the auricular equivalent of a jet engine allowed me to get the car in gear and begin moving without stalling.  The peanut gallery of the back seat jeered when I stalled and cheered when we moved, finally settling in for a ride about town by the time I hit third gear.

Together we sailed over the country roads of Monson- over Bridge Street, past the funeral home to Lower Hampden Road, past Highland Ave, and over the “thank-you-ma’ams.”  Finally, I decided we should return home.  Ricky was hungry.  Missy had to go to the bathroom.  I turned into Ely Road to turn around, which at the time, seemed like a good idea.  However, once I turned the car around, I realized that I needed to stop at the end of a rise to turn back onto Lower Hampden Road.  This meant I had to stop on a hill- a skill I had not yet mastered.  I climbed the hill, stopped the car and looked for oncoming traffic.  Seeing that it was safe, I slipped my foot from the brake to the gas, and at the same time let out the clutch.  The car stalled. The peanut gallery jeered.  I let the car roll back to the bottom of the hill so I could restart and cautiously crept to the crest of the rise.  Again when I reached the intersection I stalled the car.  I rolled back to the base of the hill and tried again, with the same result.

“I have to pee!”  Missy whined.

Ricky leaned into the front seat, “Come on!  Let’s go…I’m hungry!”

I could feel a trickle of sweat running down my back. I wished I could leave the car and walk home.  I wish I had never gone for this stupid drive.  I wished I were an only child.

I wanted to cry, but a long time ago I had learned that one has to take destiny into one’s own hands.  Ordering the peanut gallery to watch from each window for oncoming traffic, I revved the engine once more.
“Yell if you see a car coming!” I warned, and gunned the engine. I popped the clutch and roared to the top of the hill, where I made a right hand turn onto Lower Hampden Road without even slowing down.  The kids cheered and clapped.  I breathed a sigh of relief and slowed to a more cautious pace.

“Don’t tell Mom, or I’m never taking you anywhere ever again.”

They didn’t tell, and I spent the next several years playing indebted chauffeur.

It was, to be sure, a dangerous move.   My license should have been taken away.  But it was a time when cars didn’t have seatbelts, cyclists didn’t wear helmets, and parents didn’t ask where we were going.  They just told us to be back by supper.  Besides, I came from the school of “Figure-It-Out-For-Yourself” and I did.

From there, my driving did nothing but improve, and with the exception of small incident involving a State owned care while working as a VISTA in Idaho, I have a totally uneventful driving record.  But that’s another story for another post.

Confessions of a Pee Wee

When I was a little girl I raced quarter midgets.  These little cars were scaled down versions of midget race cars and were raced by children on a makeshift race track surrounded by hay bales.  My father, a race car enthusiast, thought that it would be a fun family activity for his children to compete, so my older sister Martha-Jean was given a helmet and a car, and taught to drive.  Martha-Jean was a natural, and soon was known as “Lead Foot” around the circuit.  I tried to  imagine why my sister would want a foot made of lead, but I idolized Martha-Jean and wanted to be just like her, so at the age of four, I made my debut as a race car driver. I was to be a Pee Wee.

I hated the term Pee Wee.  To me it was an insult.  I wanted to be one of the big kids- the seven- year olds, like Martha- Jean.  I wanted to be called Lead Foot.  I wanted to fill my dresser with trophies and hang ribbons on my wall.  But four-year olds were Pee Wees, and I had the choice of being a Pee Wee, or nothing at all.  I chose Pee Wee.

There were preparations to make.  On Sunday mornings, my father quizzed me on the meanings of the colored flags.  Green meant go.  Yellow meant caution.  I didn’t really know what caution meant, but I knew when you saw yellow, you slowed down.  And the checkered flag meant the race was over.  Being first to cross the finish line meant you could circle the track in a victory lap while holding the checkered flag.  I had watched my sister do this many times and dreamed that someday I might hold the fluttering checkered flag in a victory lap.

In practice runs, we discovered that I was too small to see over the steering wheel.  My parents stuffed pillows behind me and a folded blanket under my bottom so I could reach the gas pedal.  Once I was on the track, my father quickly learned that I could navigate the path but I could not steer and take my hand off the wheel long enough to hit the kill switch.  He had to run after me, make a grab for the toggle switch and turn off the engine.

After many weeks of preparation, the day of my first race finally arrived.  My stomach did flip-flops as my father buckled the chin strap to Martha-Jean’s helmet under my chin, and started the ignition.  The helmet was too big and slid down to my nose, but a pair of goggles lifted it back far enough so I could see.  I sat nervously until the green flag was waved, and then I began circling the track along with the other Pee Wees.  In the practice laps, rounding the track was easy, but now, with several other cars around me and people watching from behind the hay bales, it was far more difficult.  I wondered where my mother was, and if Martha-Jean was watching, and if my father would be able to catch me in time to hit the kill switch.  In a moment of lost concentration, I veered too far to the side of the track and struck a hay bale, causing my car to spin out.  Faces, hay and colored flags spun like a kaleidoscope, until I recognized the sound of my father’s chuckle as he switched the car off. 

“Hey, Boo, what happened?  You spun out!” he laughed.

“Did I win?”  I so much wanted him to smile with pride like he did when Martha-Jean won.

“Not this time.”

I competed in several races after that, and spun out more times than I finished.  I didn’t really enjoy racing- it made my stomach ache, and I couldn’t figure out what I needed to do to win. But finally, perhaps by default, my day came.  I was the first to cross the finish line.  The flag man gave me the checkered flag for my victory lap.  I proudly held it up so it would flutter in the breeze, but it was heavy and the wind resistance pulled it from my grasp.  I traveled only a few feet before I dropped it.  The flag man picked it up and handed it to me, and I dropped it again. And again.  It was more a humiliation lap than a victory lap.

“No matter.  Soon I’ll get my trophy,” I told myself.

Martha-Jean had lots of trophies- tall ones in electric red and blue topped with gold cars and molded drivers. You could see the facial features on the drivers- I always thought they looked like my sister.  Standing with the other racers, I wiggled with anticipation, imagining my trophy in blue, with a shiny car whose driver looked like me. Finally, my name was called and I ostentatiously strutted forward to collect my trophy.  “Perhaps now, they will call me Lead Foot,” I thought.

I scanned the table for something tall and elegant, but instead I was handed a short white plastic base with a tiny golden car and driver screwed to the top. The driver was too small to have a face.  It was just a lump of metal dipped in gold paint.  I smiled on the outside, but inside I cringed.  It was a trophy fit for a Pee Wee.

I never became the accomplished racer that my sister was.  In fact, I never won another trophy for anything.  But I learned the first of many lessons about trying to be someone I wasn’t, and accepting who I was.  In the years to follow, I would find that I was very different from my older sister. I am not fearless, or athletic or tall and willowy as she is. Competition- even a relay race- makes my stomach queasy.  She played varsity basketball.  I never learned to do a lay-up.  She moves to music in graceful steps that sway and dip.  I dance like a monkey.  As we age, she grows skinnier, and I… well, I do not.

But here’s the thing- we are not supposed to be alike. We never were meant to compete. We were meant to compliment. She is a willow, I am an oak.  She is an apple. I am an orange.  She is sunrise. I am sunset.  And I’m okay with that.

But every once in a while, when it’s late at night and nobody else is on the highway, just for a few moments, I am in my quarter midget, and I am Lead Foot.  Shh…don’t tell Martha-Jean.

I Pick Erik

“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”

 ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

A couple of weeks ago, my nephew Erik graduated from high school.  In itself, this is not particularly remarkable, since we have a very large family and every year or two there is somebody graduating from someplace.  Indeed, I have two beautiful nieces, Emily and Ashley, who graduated this spring as well.  But Erik’s graduation is special, because Erik has Asperger’s Syndrome.

When Erik was first diagnosed, I had never heard of Asperger’s.  I was to find out it is a mild form of autism, characterized by complex challenges in learning and an inability to pick up on social cues .  I knew that Erik did not act exactly like most other kids his age. His learning seemed splintered- he excelled at some things, but others were very difficult for him to learn.  His speech and language were delayed.  School was a struggle because he was unable to memorize.  It took him years to learn to pedal a tricycle and he didn’t read until he was in third grade.

To me, he seemed like a serious little boy whose slightly robotic way of speaking gave the sense that he was totally unconnected to what was going on around him.

I was wrong.  Erik was connected. He just connected differently from most of his peers.  Year after year, he fought to keep up.  He was socially awkward, especially during middle school where the kids called him names like “spec” and “retard.”  He would get so upset he was physically ill.  Unlike children who may not realize they are different, Erik knew.  He knew he was not as fast, or as agile, or as sociable as his siblings.

Born into a family of athletes, Erik found team sports difficult, because the action transitioned more quickly than he was able to process.  Basketball and soccer were too fast.   He tried karate, but memorizing the sequences of the katas was difficult.   Again and again he tried, and while he struggled, his siblings excelled.  It was frustrating.  It was disappointing.   But like all of us, Erik had a choice.  He knew he could dwell in the trenches of self-pity, or he could recognize things for what they were and make the best of them.  Erik chose the latter.  When his siblings excelled, he reveled in their success. Over and over, I saw Erik stand in the shadows of his siblings’ victories, and over and over heard the pride in his voice as he told me how fast his brother ran, or how many points his sister scored.

Last summer, we sat together at the beach, and I asked him what he wanted to do after high school. He looked down and kicked at the sand.  “I want to go into the Service,” he said slowly, “but I can’t because of the Asperger’s.”   His voice betrayed his disappointment, and it broke my heart.  I worried about his future.  But I should have known better.  Erik does not give up.  He found that he could excel as a swimmer.  He plowed through his high school courses and finally, he donned a red cap and gown and graduated with his class.

At the beach last Sunday, I looked at my nephew sitting across the blanket from me.  He is tall and slim and handsome, with muscular shoulders like his dad.  He grinned when I offered my congratulations, but did not stop to bask in the accolades.  In true Erik style, he quickly took off to test the water with his younger brother and sister.

As I watched his silhouette against the horizon, it occurred to me that sometimes life is a team sport. We choose sides carefully, selecting those individuals who are the strongest and fastest and smartest to join our team.  And often, we pass over people like Erik -those who take the spotlight off themselves and shine it on somebody else.  Those who celebrate the victories of the team instead of the victory of the star. Those who walk instead of run, but keep walking.

I pick Erik.

Sending the Horsies

“I’m sending the horsies!”

This was in a text from my daughter Elizabeth. She is in Florida where it is hot and sunny. I am in New Hampshire where it is not. We cherish the time we have when we are together, but it is never enough. In the evening, when I am home from work, I send her a text, knowing that she will be busy with school and friends. It is just a nudge. A touch, to say I love you.

The horsies began when Elizabeth was in first grade. She painfully thin and ill with an endocrine disorder that would take years to diagnose. I wanted so badly to keep her near to me. I wanted to home school her- to keep her safe from classmates who sneezed and coughed and spread their germs over her books and pencils. I wanted to protect my sickly little girl with the huge eyes from the older boys in the bus line who laughed at her skinny arms and legs and called her a “bug eyed creep.” I wanted to let her snuggle under the covers until it was late in the morning, and spend golden afternoons in the sun where the fresh air and warmth would help her to grow strong and healthy.

But what we want as parents is not always what is best for our children. Children become strong by doing, by overcoming, by daring. I knew that I needed to go to work and Elizabeth needed to go to school. I knew she needed to take courage in hand, leave my protective arms and enter the battle ground with the brick walls and hopscotch playground. She needed to prove to herself that she did not need her mother with her every moment. But she needed a reminder that her mother was not far away.

When Abby entered kindergarten, I made her a friendship bracelet out of cotton embroidery floss. I told her that if she became lonely, she need only touch her bracelet to remember that her mother is her best friend. The bracelet was all she needed.

When Gabriel started school, he charged forward with the bravado that only a five-year old boy possesses. He announced he was too old for a kiss goodbye, but devised a secret handshake. When I dropped him off, he would lightly punch my fist with his, meaning, “I love you. I’ll see you in a few hours.” It served him well.

I stumbled upon a solution for Elizabeth in the children’s jewelry section at a local department store- a tiny pair of gold earrings in the shape of horses. As I put the earrings into her ears that night, I told her that these were magic horsies that would gently nibble her ear lobes when I was thinking about her. I told her if she became lonely for me, she should send the horsies to let me know. I would send them back right away, and when she felt a nibble, she would know that I was not far.

Elizabeth is grown now. She wears large silver hoops in her ears. She is tall and willowy, and exotically beautiful. Her eyes are still huge but instead of teasing her about them, boys get lost in them. She has traveled to places I only read about in books and she is not afraid. She is brilliant and beautiful and has a heart that spreads golden warmth to everyone she touches.

But every now and then, as all of us do, she needs to be reminded that her mother loves her. She needs a text, an email, a phone call, a letter. So excuse me. It’s time to send the horsies.

Mother-Loser-of-the-Year

“I had to drop my kids off at the before-school care center this morning.  I always feel so guilty when I do that.”  I smiled at the speaker, a pediatrician with whom I work, and noticed her eyes were a little teary. 

“Mother guilt,” I said.  “We all have it. For me, the first pangs of guilt started when I sipped a cup of coffee during my pregnancy with my firstborn.  I paid the price eleven-fold in heartburn, but every time I watch Abby stumble to the coffee pot and pour a cup at six a.m. I wonder if she shares my caffeine addiction because I couldn’t wait nine months to feed my habit.  Still, these pangs of mother guilt are nothing as compared with the “Mother-Loser-of-the-Year” award. 

It’s true.  I won the “Mother-Loser-of-the-Year” award two years in a row, and was runner-up more times than I can count.  As hard as we try to be perfect parents, we mess up.  The bigger the mess-up, the closer we come to wearing the “Mother-Loser-of-the-Year” crown.

My first attempt at this award came when Abby was an infant.  She was a beautiful baby, dressed in cotton dresses I had carefully washed in Ivory Snow and soft booties I had hand-knit during my final months of pregnancy.  I had nursed her and burped her and rocked her and gently carried her to her perfectly decorated bedroom to lay her down in a perfectly padded crib.  Momentarily distracted when the phone rang, I misjudged my distance from the door frame, smacking her sweet little bald head against the woodwork.  Because the boo-boo left no mark, I didn’t qualify for an award, but I clearly felt the pangs of mother guilt and wondered if I should be allowed to even touch my firstborn child ever again.

To my amazement, no troopers stormed my door to remove my baby from our home, and despite my ineptitude, the fates saw fit to send us two more children within the next three years.  You would think that as I became more experienced, I would have drifted further and further from the “Mother-Loser-of-the-Year” award, but that is not the case. 

When Gabriel was five, he fell off the playground equipment down the hill from our townhouse.  Gabe was prone to dramatic performances, so when I heard him wailing at the foot of the hill, I stood at our door to assess the damage. There was no blood, but he was dragging his right leg behind him, and wore an expression that would put Sarah Bernhardt to shame.  Rather than running to his aid, I called out, “Come on, Gabe- you’re fine.  Don’t be so dramatic- you can walk home.” 

By the time he reached the house, my son’s face was streaked with muddy tears and his howls had not subsided.   All my efforts to soothe him failed, so I finally took him to the pediatrician’s office, only to find he had fractured his coccyx.  That year’s “Mother-Loser-of-the-Year” award was mine.

Perhaps my finest moment at “Mother-Loser-of-the-Year” was the spring when Elizabeth was three.  She and I were wrestling on the carpeted living room floor.  Tickling her tummy, I began to roll over when I heard a sudden snap.  Her giggles stopped and her eyes widened in shock, and then filled with tears.  I was on the phone to the pediatrician’s office within seconds, and a few hours later, she was wearing a cast from her thigh to her toes.  Yes folks, Momma-G broke her baby’s leg. 

For six weeks, she wore that cast, and every time I looked at her, I felt horrific pangs of mother guilt.  To add insult to injury, while we were in public places she would loudly plead, “Mommy, why did you have to break my leg?”  I could actually feel the stares burning into my flesh.  I felt that I had reached the apex of my “Mother-Loser-of-the-Year” career, but as all mothers know, it can get worse, and it did.  While still wearing the cast, she got chicken pox. 

Actually, Gabe came down with them first.  He suffered from allergies, so I didn’t really pay attention to his scratchy throat and sniffles, and sent him to school on a warm spring day.  He came home from kindergarten sweaty and uncomfortable, so I helped him take off his shirt. His belly and back were covered with pox, and two weeks later, two thirds of the Weston School kindergarten were absent with chicken pox.  Thank you very kindly, Momma-G.  Please straighten your “Mother-Loser-of-the-Year” crown.

Now that my children are grown, these stories are fodder for hearty laughter at family reunions.  I have come to realize that children are really quite resilient and forgiving.  I have found that the things that caused the most guilt in me were the things that mattered not at all to them.  They do not care that I sent them to school in mismatched socks, or spilled coffee on their homework.  They do not mind that I made them wear hand-me-downs, watered down their orange juice to make it stretch further, and fashioned Halloween costumes from old sheets instead of buying them from the party store.  They don’t care that we celebrated birthdays on the weekends, ate the generic store brand cereals and carried brown bag lunches.

What they did care about is this.  They wanted to be hugged often, no matter how sweaty, dirty and sticky they were.  They wanted to be listened to, even when their stories were long and convoluted and peppered with “and then, you know what happened?”  They wanted see smiles more often than frowns.  They wanted to hear encouragement instead of criticism, and coos instead of growls.  Mostly, they just wanted to be loved.

When Abby was eight, we moved to a brand new town house with beige carpets and pristine walls.  I wanted so badly for my children to live in a home they were proud of that I spent part of every day scrubbing fingerprints from the white walls.  One day Abby asked me to play ball with her and her siblings. I was washing walls and told her I was too busy.  She burst into tears and cried, “I hate this house!  Ever since we moved here, all you do is clean!” 

I looked at the the sponge dripping soapy water onto the beige carpet.  I looked into daughter’s watery green eyes and realized that in ten short years she would be out of high school and never want me to play ball again.  Tossing the sponge into the sink, I kissed her soft pink cheek and grabbed her hand.

“C’mon.  Let’s play ball.”

Careful Mom… your crown is slipping.

Love Notes

A couple of weeks ago, my son Gabe received notification from the University of Leeds that he had indeed met all the qualifications required for his Master’s degree.    This, of course, made my mother’s heart swell with pride, and I immediately conveyed my congratulations to him and emailed all one hundred of my closest friends to give them the good news.  There is an unspoken pact among mothers that when it comes to boasting about our kids’ educational milestones, all rules of etiquette are suspended for a twenty-four hour period, allowing us to brag ad nauseum without social repercussion or consequence.   I took full advantage of this.

And then,  this morning, while rummaging through some photographs, I fell upon a wrinkled slip of paper that made my heart swell to the extent that it leaked out of my eyes.  I unfolded the paper to find a note that my young scholar wrote when he was seven.  My thoughts flew to Gabriel in second grade.  He was tall and so thin that the other kids made fun of scarecrow physique and his missing teeth.  He loved to read, but he hated any schoolwork that resembled mindless repetition.  One day, while visiting his classroom, I searched the brightly decorated bulletin boards for my son’s work.  At one end of the classroom was a display of poems, obviously meant to be second grade gifts for Mother’s Day.  There were rows of papers, neatly penned, framed with hand drawn pictures of flowers, kittens, and bunny rabbits.

                “Roses are red

                Violets are blue

                Sugar is sweet

                And so are you.”

Where was my son’s work?   I looked back and forth across the rows of red roses and blue violets.  Surely he did one -he hadn’t been absent.  Perhaps he hadn’t finished.  No, the dates on the papers indicated that they had been done several days prior. Surely he had time to finish his work.  Maybe he didn’t want to participate in a Mother’s Day gift. I had yelled at him last week after stepping on his little green army men with my bare foot.  And I nagged him to clean up his room. Again.  And to stop teasing his little sister.  Again.

God.  Maybe my kid hates me.  

At last I found it, the last in the bottom row, scrawled in pencil, barely perceptible amid the riot of cheerfully crayoned pictures labored over by his classmates.   My eyes welled up then, as they did this morning. 

For the next several years, school was a challenge.  Gabe never learned to color, or to do the same work the same way that everybody else did. 

But you know, I’m kinda glad he didn’t.

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