The Mother Load

“When I turn 18, I can do whatever I want, and you can’t do anything about it.”

This statement, this declaration has been uttered by probably 90 percent of the teenage population at one time or other for generations.

I said it.

The good Lord knows I said it. In fact, I am sure my guardian angels are pretty good negotiators based on the fact I survived my teenage years with this phrase coming out of my mouth on an hourly basis.

I couldn’t wait to turn 18.

Only problem was, I turned 18 in December and had until June to graduate high school.

So, I would be eighteen and a half and I would be able to be officially an adult and could do very well what I pleased.

Or so I thought.

Mama’s comeback was, “My house, my rules.”
To which I responded, “Not your house – it’s your apartment on your Mama and Daddy’s house. So, technically, you have no rules.”
“Oh, yes, I most certainly do,” the crazy redhead said, Virginia Slim 120 poised in the air for punctuation. “I am the captain of your ship, little one. You can think you are grown all you want but you are not. Not by a long shot.”

I pulled and pushed against her words, fighting for a way to be independent, wanting to be my own person and know I somehow was in some kind of control of my life and my destiny.

“I am dropping out of school,” I stated one day. “I am going to be a writer and hang out in coffee shops, experiencing life and writing about it.”

Mama gave me a sideways glance. “Don’t you think you it would be silly to quit this close to being finished? Just get your high school diploma and then you can hang out in coffee shops all day.”

She didn’t tell me I couldn’t do it. She just questioned my logic.

“So, when I turn 18, I can hang out in coffee shops, writing and experiencing life all day?”

“If that’s what you want to do,” she said nonplussed. “But, you may want to see if you can wait tables to pay for your coffee.”

Mama evidently forgot what a horrible waitress I was. My toting a tray of hot beverages would be a disaster waiting to happen.

Once, I declared I was going to go live with my father. She was an unfair and unreasonable tyrant. Keep in mind, I hadn’t talked to my father in a year and didn’t even know his number. I just needed luggage, so I could pack.

She opened my bedroom door and threw a box of Hefty bags on my bed. “These will do just fine,” she said. “I am not paying good money on luggage, so you can leave.”

Of course, I was indignant and furious. How dare she give me garbage bags as luggage. I stomped around, pouted, and rolled my eyes for several months to make my angsty point.

A few months later, when Christmas rolled around, guess what she gave me?

Yup. A set of luggage.

I cried. Did my mother – the woman who nearly died just to bring me into the world ­­­– want me to leave?

“Of course not,” she said. “But, I am not going to force someone I raised to be around me if they don’t want to be. You think you are grown. And you are of legal age to decide who you live with. If you want to leave, I think you should at least do so with proper luggage.”

Needless to say, I didn’t leave.

In fact, I stayed put for about another 11 years.

Even though I had turned 18, I still had rules to abide by.

As Mama put it, if she was footing the bill, I had to go along with her laws of the land.

I couldn’t just stay out until all hours, and when I decided to drop out of technical school after one quarter, I had to get a job. Since it was a part time job, she told me to get two.

“That is so unfair!” I cried.

“Who said life was fair, Kitten?” she asked, not even looking up from her crossword. “It’s not. But if you aren’t in school, you should be working. Them’s the brakes.”

I stomped, I had a fit, I pouted. But I was barely making enough to pay my phone bill – I couldn’t exactly live on my own, even if was 19.

I was all grown up and, quite frankly, I had it pretty dang good.

At the time, I didn’t realize it. But once I did move out, it became pretty clear and I had a new appreciation for what a donkey I had been and how she had allowed me to grow up.

Then the other day as Cole and I headed to the store, he made a declaration of intent for what he was going to do when he grew up.

I completely disagreed with this decision.

“I can do what I want when I turn 18 and there is nothing you can do about it!” he said.

I laughed. Hysterically. For about eight minutes.

“You keep thinking that,” I said. “I’m 45 and I still don’t do what I want!”

Then, I cried all weekend.

Where was the cute, precious little boy that never wanted to leave Mama? The one that couldn’t go to sleep without snuggles and Piggie? The little boy who adored me and hung on my every word?

Mama was sympathetic. She had, after all, been there.

“I survived you,” she said. “You will be just fine. Don’t fight him so much. That will make him more determined to do what you don’t want him to do.”

Had I taught her that or did she learn it on her own?

“When will it get better?”

“Boys may be different, but you? Somewhere around 30.”

I had been a horrible daughter. I cried even harder.

“I feel like I owe you an apology for everything I said and did from age 13 through 29,” I said.

Silence. Two solid minutes of silence.
“I accept,” she said.

 

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Something to cry about

Maybe the worst phrase I ever heard as a child was “Keep crying and I will give you something to cry about.”

The second worst phrase was, “We’re having oyster stew for dinner and you are most certainly going to eat it.”

The latter was usually said before the former and was the direct causation of the former being said.

Both phrases can be attributed to my grandmother.

I have zero proof of this, but I am pretty sure Granny was the originator of the dreading crying phrase.

It’s a horrible, dreadful thing to say to a child.

I wasn’t even quite sure what she meant the first time I heard it.

Wasn’t the fact that I was evidently in some kind of distress or turmoil enough?

She thought I needed something else to cry about?

Was what she was going to give me make me wail against the wall?

But, being the smart alecky, sassy little girl I was, I of course had to poke the bear.

“W-what are you going to give me?” I asked between my sobs.

The old gal tightened her jaw and said, “You keep carrying on and you will find out.”

The threat – even though it was of unknown severity – was enough to usually make me suck my lip back up and get quiet. I may have been sassy, but I wasn’t stupid.

She held the promise of giving me something to really, truly cry about over my head most of my life.

It’s probably why now, I am one of those closet wailers, crying in private and never wanting anyone to see my tears, least the promise was made good.

One day, when having a teeny, tiny hissie fit, Granny reminded me she could give me something to really cry over.

“Like what exactly?” I asked. “You have been saying this for years. What exactly are you going to do? You are just all talk.”

I had done the unthinkable. I had shocked the old gal into silence.

She glared at me full of venom.

“You have no idea what I am capable of,” she said before she stormed away.

I somehow had sassed and lived to tell about it.

Counting myself as lucky, I tried to stay out of her way for a while. Like about a year.

I lived in fear, because there was no telling what kind of Granny-meanness she had in store to prove me wrong.

One day, I got brave and was sassing her about something – I can’t even remember what it was, but a sass had been invoked.

I didn’t cry though. I knew better.

“What did you say?” she asked.

That was not a request to repeat it. No, she was giving me the opportunity to apologize or maybe even a five second head start to run.

Not being the brightest at times, especially when my sassy mouth had overtaken any common sense, I repeated it.

“I’ve got a right mind to wring your neck,” she said.

“Oh, you wring necks? Is this like giving me something to cry about?”

The look she gave me would have stopped a charging bull in its tracks. Probably because the bull would have had the sense to be scared.

“Hateful, spiteful child,” she seethed.

I retreated to the sanctity of my room.

She couldn’t wring someone’s neck. That was just a saying, I was certain.

A few days later, Granny declared she was going to get chicken from one of her brothers for dinner.

She came home with chicken, but, it was not fried or baked. Nope, this chicken was still alive.

I still wonder how she got that thing in the car.

Pop looked out the back door.

“I thought you was getting a bucket of chicken, Helen,” he said. “What is this?”

“It’s going to be dinner, Bob,” she said as she tied her apron around her waist.

“It’s still got feathers on it,” my grandfather stated.

“For now, it does,” she said.

My grandfather and I watched her head outside to take on the chicken.

Surely, she wasn’t serious? This was a joke, right?

Granny stood in the middle of the back yard, with the chicken frantically running around her.
She told it to stop, which it didn’t. It was a chicken, after all. And probably knew her plans for deep frying.

Of course, the fact the chicken not doing as she told it made her angry. She watched it stealthily before she reached out and grabbed it.

Given the voracity and torque of her grip, that poor chicken may have been on the receiving end of some the anger that was directed towards me.

It took me a while to eat chicken after that.

I didn’t tell Mama about all of this until recently.

“If it makes you feel any better, she used to say that to me and Bobby,” she said when I mentioned the crying phrase. “Sometimes, she liked to blow a lot of hot air.”

“Yeah, but she threatened to wring my neck one day,” I began. “Let me tell you about what she did to that poor chicken…”

Mama was horrified.

We both agreed – it was a good thing we never did find out what it was she was going to give us to really cry about.

The pastel pusher

“I wish you would incorporate some color into your wardrobe,” Mama complained one day. “You are not a ninja.”

I ignored her. She has been making the same complaint for years.

“Can’t you wear some lovely pastels? You’d look precious in yellow or a soft, pale, pink,” she added.

Where she got this idea, I don’t know.

There have been times I have had a moment of reckless abandon and have bought a non-black blouse and have lived to regret it.

Normally, I feel like a walking Easter egg when I do.

Mama still thinks I need to veer away from my black on black ensembles.

“Black is supposed to be thinning,” I protest.

Maybe it is if you are already thin or just trying to trick the eye about a few pounds. It wasn’t really working for me, but I was sticking to my macabre color scheme.

“You used to wear more color,” she continued.

She must have been referring to when I was younger and didn’t have a say in what I wore.

In Mama’s world, I would still be wearing florals and corduroys.

Thankfully, Granny interceded on my behalf.

“She don’t need to be wearing prints. Or corduroys. That kind of material ain’t made to stretch like that,” Granny said.

A fall season in plaid was a horrible mistake. I am barely five feet and as a child, was as round as I was tall. “Did you really put this one in plaid?” Granny asked my mother. “What in the world is wrong with you, Jean?”

Granny thought solid colors was the best and put me in her favorite color, red, which yielded taunts of “Hey, Kool-Aid!”

I promptly ran back to the florals, despite knowing I looked like a chubby, mobilized botanical display.

And then, sometime in my early teens, something miraculous happened. I came across an article in one of Mama’s magazines – was it Redbook? Ladies Home Journal? – that declared black made you look thinner and chic.

Another small miracle happened: Mama actually let me have a bit of input into what I was going to wear.

I wanted everything in black.

It also simplified things; I didn’t have to worry about if things matched.

I didn’t get the full wardrobe, however; Mama gave me some say but not all.

“It’s fall, you need some lovely sweaters in pretty, lush colors,” she said, picking me out sweaters in shades of peach and deep green.

Then, come spring, she was pushing the pastels again just as she does now.

And when I was a little girl, I didn’t mind them quite as much.

They went well with the white shoes and sandals I couldn’t wait to break out at Easter.

But after I had gone to the dark side, I just couldn’t justify wearing the white shoes again.

Mama was perfectly fine with me denouncing white footwear; she never cared for them to begin with, claiming they looked cheap no matter how much they cost.

“And they get scuffed so easily. You spend most of the time trying to polish them,” she said.

Despite us reaching one point of agreement, Mama still disapproved of my color choice.

“Johnny Cash wore all black,” I tell her.

“You’re not Johnny Cash,” she replies.

A few weeks ago, I was on the hunt for more professional looking clothes.

Just about everything I got was black.

People probably think I wear the same pants every day, when, it is just about a dozen pair of the same color.

I did make the mistake last year of buying a pair of white and black pants – they were a print though, something Granny cautioned me about, being of short statue and waist line.

“Are you wearing your pajamas to the grocery store?” Lamar asked me as I headed out the door.

“No, these are pants.”

He looked at me. “Are you sure they are not pajama pants?”

“I am sure.”
I never wore them in public again.

“It’s time to grow up and stop wearing such a bland color,” Mama said.

I sighed. I was tired of arguing with her.

“Give me one good reason why I should wear one of your precious pastels, and I will do it.”

“It will make you look younger,” she said.

Dang it.

One thing I want, maybe equally to looking thinner.

Vanity had won.

I am now on the lookout for some lovely, youth-invoking pastels.

A modern-day impropriety

According to my dear, crazy redheaded Mama, the end of civility fell upon my generation.

Hers, she claims, had a sense of decency.

“We didn’t talk the way you and your friends do. It was unheard of,” she declared one day.

I was not sure what she was referring to; she thinks everything that I say is inappropriate, even when I am merely stating a fact.

“What are you talking about?” I asked her, not really wanting to know.

“The things you say in mixed company. It’s not proper.”

Mixed company was Mama’s definition of men and women. And based on her boundaries, saying pretty much other than “Hello,” was rude and improper.

“What did I say?” I asked.

“More like what didn’t you say. I can’t believe you talk that way around menfolk.”
I can’t believe my mother uses the phrase “menfolk.” How old was she exactly?

“Mother, just because your generation was so hung up on silly stuff does not mean mine is,” I said. “Generation X-ers are a little bit different.”

Mama sniffed. “It’s still is rude and just shouldn’t be done.”

What got her knickers in a knot on this particular day was my recounting of what I had said to the owner of the feed store about Doodle.

I had commented the parking lot pup was part pitbull, and while we weren’t sure what she was mixed with, we felt certain her southern hemisphere was pittie because she had a wiggly backside.

Except, I said the other b-word that meant backside.

Mama had a fit.

“I can’t believe you told a man that!” she cried.

“What?”

That! How could you?”

“Mama, they hear worse than that on the radio or the news. Trust me. Me saying that word is the least offensive thing that was said that day.”
“It’s not a matter of offending someone. It’s a matter of talking properly. A woman is not supposed to talk like that in front of a man,” she stated.

In Mama’s world, this should have been put in the Bill of Rights or engraved on stone and handed to Moses. She had a list of certain categories and words that she felt like should not be mentioned in front of or in discussion with members of the opposite sex. It would be easier to list the ones she found acceptable – food, weather, and only non-controversial books.

“I don’t know if you have jumped into the 21st century yet or not, Mama, but men and women have been having discussions on these topics for a while now. I am sure you have watched television; they talk about all kinds of things you deem improper on TV.”

She sighed. “And that’s probably why I prefer reruns of Perry Mason to some of these shows. Your uncle and I tried to watch an episode of Mom one night – I thought I would like it because the taller woman had been on West Wing with Mark Harmon. You know he’s Gibbs and I have always liked him. Anyway, it was the most atrocious thing I have ever seen. We turned it. It was embarrassing to sit there and hear that kind of language with my brother sitting three feet from me.”

“Mama, are you really this hypersensitive?”

I could hear her bristle on the other end of the phone. “I don’t consider myself hypersensitive. I just think that there is no decorum left in your generation and those that came after it. Nothing is sacred, and everything is up for discussion, and it does not matter who is present.”

Mama, bless her heart, would have a huge fit if she had ever heard some hardcore rap music.

I am not sure why she has been so unyielding in this area, but she has. She has always been mortified about me discussing anything she deemed the least bit delicate within earshot of any men I knew, unless I was married to them. And even then, she thought it may not need to be shared.

“I think you are being awfully silly. I think most women discuss these things in this day and age,” I said.

Good lord – I had been reduced to using the phrase ‘in this day and age’ – I was officially old.

“I am not silly,” she insisted. “I just think, if you look back on the course of history and start looking at when things started going wrong in this world, you will notice it began with language. Our language helps set us apart and give us boundaries. People who may not have had much money still knew how to talk properly. Now, everyone talks so plainly, it makes them look unintelligent and uneducated. People just say anything now – and don’t care who hears it. And it brings us all down.”

There you have it.

The downfall of civilization was brought about by the impropriety of our language, at least according to Mama’s theory.

A Granny-sized void

Someone commented the other day that they didn’t realize Granny had passed away.
“She did. Four years ago, on the 11th of March,” I replied.

“You still talk about her like she is still here,” they said.

It dawned on me that maybe I do.

And there’s times, believe me, that it feels like the old gal is still with me.

I told Mama it was as if she had been so much larger than life that her presence still lingered.

Mama agreed. “There’s days it doesn’t feel like she’s gone and some days, the void is all around,” she said.

A void.

That’s what it was.

She had filled such a huge part of my life, that now there was an emptiness.

Part of this gaping hole was due to my own stubbornness and grudge-holding the last few years she was alive.

“I do believe you were both equally to blame on that,” Mama said gently when I told her how I felt. “Granny was angry because you moved to the mountains and not home. She thought you were moving here. I thought you were moving here. And when you didn’t, she thought being angry was the best way to deal with it. You were her favorite person in the world.”

I didn’t feel that way when she passed away.

But growing up, she was my biggest fan and strongest ally, even when I feared her the most.

On Saturday mornings, she had been up for hours by the time I woke, cleaning and getting things done so we could go ‘loafing’ as she called it.

This just meant we went grocery shopping and to her mother’s house in Bold Springs, where the smell of fresh hay bales drifted through the house as I sat on the old metal sliding swing on the wrap around porch.

When I got older, Granny was often the one chauffeuring around an Oldsmobile full of teenage girls around, getting us pizza, burritos and junk food for low-budget horror movie binges.

She never complained.

If anything, she loved it.

She loved having a house full of laughter and squeals, no matter how late we stayed up.

If Mama was shushing us and telling us to go bed, Granny was the one sneaking down the hall to watch videos with us.
“I think Roger’s the cutest,” she would whisper as we watched Duran Duran videos.

“I like Nick,” I said.
She looked at me. “Of course you do, he’s got on the most makeup.”

After I got my driver’s license, Mama reneged on letting me drive her car.

“You promised!” I cried.

“I had no idea on God’s green earth you would pass!” was her reply.

In all teenage drama, I flung myself across my bed and cried.

Granny came in there to comfort me.

“You can take my car anytime you need to,” she said.

Granted, she didn’t know I put her car and our family friend who was teaching me how to drive in a ditch a few months earlier.

“I want my own car, Granny. I am just going to drive to school and home. That’s it.”

A few hours later, a car pulled down the driveway.

Granny and Pop had gone to town and bought me a beige ’77 Chevy Nova.

“I still have to pay for it,” Mama said as I squealed my thanks to my grandmother.

“I wouldn’t have got it if it hadn’t been for Granny,” I said.

“Darn right about that!” Mama replied.

Even though that car was far from perfect – she had to make me a cushion so I could see over the steering wheel – it was mine and my grandmother had made sure I got it.

During most of my teenage years, if it ticked my Mama off, Granny seemed to be the biggest supporter of it.

When I had Cole, she stayed with me for two weeks to help me figure out this whole motherhood thing.

The day she was leaving, I begged her to stay.
“Please, Granny, we have an extra bedroom. Please. I am not going to know what to do.”

“Oh, you’ve got it figured out,” she said simply. “You just needed to rest and get acclimated to having a baby.”
She made it sound like it was no big deal, but she had helped a lot. She cooked breakfast every morning and did laundry and swept. Keep in mind, she was 83 at the time.

Of course, she had called everyone, including the church to make sure no one had usurped her throne as president of her Sunday school class to announce she was seeing after her great-grandson for two weeks.
“Y’all put that in the bulletin,” she ordered over the phone. “Don’t y’all even think of moving any of the chairs around in the Sunday school room. I mean it. But y’all make sure everyone knows I’ve got a great-grandson.”

I was telling Mama all of this the other day.
“She was proud of him. She was proud of you,” Mama said.

“She never told me that,” I said.

“She didn’t have to tell you, Kitten. She told everyone else.”

Granny, the little redhaired girl out of a slew of children, had spent all of her life, wanting to be special to someone. She wanted to be the best at something and to have recognition, like we all do. But she had never really got that from her own mother. So, sometimes, her methods of getting that recognition may not have been the best way to go about it. But she had tried to give me the very things she didn’t have, the best way she could.

“I hope when I am gone one day, you will remember everything I have done for you,” she said one day, so many years ago.

And I do. Every single bit of it, I do.

 

The (super)power of common sense

Granny always considered common sense a rare, priceless thing.

“You got book learning,” she told me one day. “I ain’t so sure about the common sense yet.”

“Isn’t book learning good?” I asked.

“It depends on what you are doing in life,” she said. “Look at this one,” she gestured towards my Mama as she stood at the stove.

“This one is real smart when it comes to the books. Likes to act all fancy-pants smart-alecky about things. And look at her. She can’t boil a hot dog to save her life.”

Sure enough, Mama had boiled the water out of the pot and was trying to unstick the burned carcass of whatever parts the animal could live without from the bottom.

“She ain’t got no common sense,” Granny muttered.

I thought she was being horribly unfair towards my Mama.

Granted, the younger redhead was and still is slightly naïve about some things, but I didn’t think it was necessarily a matter of not having common sense.

It was more like she was easily distracted and, maybe she didn’t pay attention like she should sometimes.

I told Granny I thought she was being awfully mean towards Mama, to which I was promptly met with a grunt.

“Well, we’ll see. If you was in an emergency situation, who would you want? Me, or Miss Marketing Degree over there?”

Considering Granny made Clint Eastwood look weak, that was a pretty easy answer. But still – it felt unfair. Mama had many traits that were just as useful, just as important.

“She’s real smart,” Granny commented one day about someone.

I could tell by her pause, she was wanting me to take the bait and ask her to elaborate.  I never liked to give in to her when she did that, so I didn’t ask.

“Don’t you wanna know how she’s smart?” she asked.
“Not really,” I answered.

Granny snorted. “Probably because it don’t involve stuff you think is smart.”
She had made her stance real clear.

Granny put a high prize on common sense, lavishly praising those who had it.

Book smarts, she figured, wasn’t really something that had a purpose at times.

Yet, this is the same woman that had a full-grown, adult size hissy fit when I made my first B — in Geometry.

“How in the sam hill did you make a B in Geometry?” she yelled.

“I just did,” I said. Actually, I was proud of that B. I earned that B.

“Jean, what do you think of this?” she asked.
“I think if she did the best she could, I am fine with it.”

“Well of course you are,” Granny said sarcastically. “If you had a lick of sense you’d know she needs to get a good education, so she can get a job. You don’t get good educations making B’s.”

“I think I failed Geometry and I have a good job,” Mama said quietly.

I was confused.

Granny thought you had to get a good education to get a good job? What about all of that common-sense stuff she preached and praised all the time?

“Your grandmother wanted to go to college,” Mama said gently when I asked.

“But back then, girls didn’t. They quit school early to work the farm and take care of their younger siblings. That’s what happened to Granny. She wanted to be a nurse and couldn’t. So instead of learning about medicine and how to take care of people, she did the best she could with what she had. And that was understanding how the world works a bit better than most.”

“She seems to think we aren’t too bright in the common sense department,” I said.

“It’s her way of trying to toughen us up,” Mama said. “I think you have plenty of common sense; Granny thinks you do, too, she just doesn’t brag on you to you. She brags to everyone else though.”

She didn’t think Mama had common sense and that still bothered me.

“It’s OK,” Mama assured me. “I am smart in other ways, and it may not be something Granny appreciates but that’s fine.”

Mama could do just about anything with a computer when I was younger; she worked on one all day, after all. But, she also had a car engine explode because she didn’t know you were supposed to change the oil every now and then.

One afternoon, Cole sighed and stated he wanted to be smarter. This came after reading about Tesla.

“Cole, you are extremely smart.”

“You keep saying that,” he said. “I think you are blinded by the mom-goggles you wear. I just want to be really, really smart – Tesla smart — and am worried I am not as smart as I want to be.”
“Well, the good thing is, you can learn more and expand your knowledge base,” I told him. “There’s always measures you can take to increase your knowledge which translates to feeling smarter. But I think you have something that is far greater than just book smarts.”

“What’s that?” he said, not exactly convinced.
“You have common sense,” I said. “Trust me. It’s not something everyone else has. But you have both.”

He frowned, not liking my answer.

I didn’t think he would.

Common sense seems basic and ordinary, when truth be told, it’s darn near a super power.

But maybe it befalls a lucky few. Even if it sometimes skips a generation.

Don’t tell Mama

I learned quite early, certain things you just didn’t need to tell Mama.

Not just my Mama, mind you, but mamas in general.

‘Cause even my Mama was scared of hers.

One afternoon as we came through town, Mama wasn’t paying attention as closely as she should have and ran through a red light.

“Mama!” I cried, expecting the police to appear out of nowhere to arrest her.

“Shhh,” she quieted me. “That light changed too quickly on me. It didn’t even turn yellow.”

I wasn’t sure of the facts; I was just in shock my Mama broke the law.

“Are you going to go to jail?” I asked her.

“No. I would just get a ticket,” she said. She was worried though, I could tell. More than likely, she had been trying to find her cigarettes and hadn’t realized she was approaching the light.

“You sure you not going to go to jail?” I asked. I only got $3 a week allowance; I didn’t know if it would be enough to bail the redhead out or not.

“I’m not, Kitten,” she said. “But, do me a favor, OK?”

“OK.”
“Don’t tell Granny.”
“Why?” That was my favorite question for everything and this time, it was a very important one. Was Granny secretly a cop?

“Just don’t.”
“But why?”

Mama frowned. Why couldn’t I just do as I was asked?

“Because, I don’t want to get in trouble. And, she doesn’t need to know everything.”

Now, I didn’t want my Mama to get in trouble. Especially not with Granny.

But what I couldn’t understand was my Mama feared her.

Wasn’t she a grown up?

I never intended to tell on her, truly.

The slip just came out in conversation with Granny one day.

“Your Mama did what?”

Uh oh. I knew I had snitched and I felt awful about it.

“Jean!”

Oh, dang.

The tongue lashing that followed was fierce. I felt sorry for Mama and slightly embarrassed. She was in her mid-40’s and I think she was grounded.

“Why did you tell her?” she asked me.
“It was a mistake, I didn’t mean to,” I said truthfully.

It didn’t matter though; the damage was done.

A few days later, Pop broke something.
“Don’t tell your Granny,” he said, hiding the evidence.

Before I could promise I wouldn’t, he added, “And I mean it. Don’t throw me under the bus like you did your own mama. That was wrong, child. Wrong.”

I didn’t make the same mistake twice and Pop was in the clear.

No one needed to endure Granny’s wrath.

“Did she get this upset when you did something wrong as a child?” I asked Mama.

“When I was little, I would rather take a whooping than listen to her fuss,” Mama said. “It may have hurt but it was over a lot quicker.”

I could see that. Sometimes, you’d think Granny was done giving you what-for, and then she would catch another wind and come back from Round 2.

Unlike Granny’s personal brand of fire and brimstone, Mama’s weapon is the incessant worry.

After I had given Cole some soup and Tylenol and told him to rest, I gave him one firm instruction: Don’t tell Nennie.

“Why can’t I tell my grandmother I am not feeling well?” he asked.

“Because,” I said. “Trust me.”
I am sure he didn’t mean to disclose to his beloved Nennie, just as I had not meant to tell Granny all those years before, but the next thing I knew, he was handing the phone to me.
“Nennie wants to talk to you,” he said.

“What is wrong with him? What are his symptoms? Have you taken his temperature? What did you give him? Does he have a rash? Does he have an appetite? What was the last thing he ate before he started feeling bad?”

This is just a sampling.

The barrage of worry-laden questions goes on for about 20 minutes.

She follows up by texting me every 10 minutes afterwards to know if he feels better.

“Send me a picture of him so I can check to see if he looks different.”

“I am not sending you a picture,” I texted back.

Horrors upon horrors, she did the cardinal sin of replying to a text with a call.
“Can you call the doctor to see if he is OK? Or take him somewhere?”

Keep in mind, I had just answered 200 million questions only an hour earlier.

“He’s fine,” I said. “Let me parent.”
“He may have e-coli or salmonella,” she says. “What if he is allergic to something?”

To get her to stop her worry rampage, I have to pull out the heavy artillery. “You mean like the time you nearly let me die when I was stung by a bee and you didn’t believe me when I told you it felt funny?”

It was mean, but it worked.

“Cole, why in the world did you tell my Mama you weren’t feeling well? She is going to text me all night to take your temp. We both know the reason you don’t feel good is because you ate a family bag of pizza rolls.”

“I’m sorry, Mama. I didn’t mean to,” he said. I knew he didn’t, but I was the one in the hot seat.

Mama finally calmed down after a few days and things went back to as normal as they can in our world.

Until I caught the tail end of my husband and son’s conversation one day.
“Don’t tell Mama,” Cole had said.

I heard Lamar agree.

I took a deep breath and readied myself. I knew how this was going to go down. This time, the mama in question was me.

“Don’t tell me what?”

Yearning for childhood lost

I am a tad bit sentimental and I admit, I probably over-romanticize things at times, too.

Maybe that’s why I often like to remember the antics and tales of my childhood so much.

For the most part, it was a time of awe and wonder nestled between Twinkie clouds and Hostess cupcake dreams.

And there’s parts of our childhood that make us who we are and influence the adults we become, even if we don’t realize it at the time.

Mine was watching Mister Rogers.

Every evening as Granny made dinner, she usually sat me in front of the televisions with a snack of some kind. Sometimes, it was peanut butter and crackers; others, it was a bag of Bugles she had saved me from her lunch break.

She turned on Mister Rogers and hoped I would stay entertained long enough to not bother her while she cooked.

And it was enough to keep me in rapt entertainment, at least for that half hour.

I was pulled into this world where kindness mattered, where respect for everyone was given.

Where people spoke with gentle words and softer tones.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was sinking into the fabric of my soul.

The show was even enough to sooth the edges on my often loud, usually hot-tempered grandfather.

“PawPaw, who’s your favorite character?” I asked one day.

My grandfather looked at the screen thoughtfully. “I reckon I like that little tiger one the best. He seems like a neat little cat.”

My grandfather, this larger than life man, who worked in construction as a roofer and often came home covered in tar and when angered, could probably frighten the underworld, liked the shy, slightly fearful tiger. It was quite a contrast.

“Who’s your favorite?” he asked me.

“I like them all,” I said. “But I hope one day when I grow up, I marry someone like Mister Rogers. He seems to be nice to everyone.”
And to a little girl, that was very important.

See, I was a chubby kid, my mother was divorced – something that was not that common back then, and my father, who I never saw or talked to, was Iranian. There were a lot of little things that made me ‘different’ and not necessarily in a good way.

But I had the sanctity and safety of childhood.

Of being surrounded by people who loved me and having friends that cared about me regardless of the fact I made a horrible choice for dodgeball or any other team sport in the gym.

I grew up and somehow, the lessons I had learned from watching Mister Roger’s Neighborhood faded into the background.

It wasn’t until several years, when working in radio, my friend and morning show host mentioned it was the day that Fred Rogers had passed away.

“He died?” I asked.

I somehow had missed it a few years before and was saddened at the news.

“Yeah,” my friend said. “It hit me hard. Fred Rogers was a pretty cool guy.”

A cool guy.

I had never thought of Mister Rogers in that light before; to me, he had been soothing and comfort, a magical escape from a world that sometimes may not be quite as nice.

“You really should check out some of the stories on him,” my friend said. “Cole would really love him. There’s a book too that will really tell you how amazing of a person he was.”

“I will check it out,” I promised.

I didn’t have to. A few days later, in my mailbox was the book, I’m Proud of You, by Tim Madigan, and a few DVDs of Mister Rogers Neighborhood for Cole to watch.

I started the book that evening and was profoundly amazed at how the Fred Rogers on the show was exactly the way Fred Rogers was in real life.

Compassion, kindness, and empathy truly were his superpowers.

No wonder as a child I hid his lessons deep in my heart.

Over the years, especially the last few, I have been even more drawn to his wisdom. One of his quotes has been shared quite frequently: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

I find myself looking for the helpers a lot lately. Wondering where they are, the people who somehow find ways to help those around them and give comfort, even when they are experiencing pain and trauma themselves.

But sometimes, that’s what we are supposed to do. Come together and help one another, simply because we are ‘neighbors’ and need each other.

I think of how his simple wisdom is more profound now and how in so many ways, my childhood was idyllic. I lived in a world where I didn’t understand fear, I didn’t have worries or concerns because life and the world I grew up in felt safe and secure.

Now, there’s children who will never know what that feels like.

Re-reading Fred Rogers’ words makes me see how timeless they were. And how we need them, desperately need them now.

Mister Rogers passed away 15 years ago on February 27, but thankfully, his kind, compassionate wisdom has left behind some gentle echoes.

Not exactly romance

“Valentine’s Day is Wednesday,” I told my husband on Sunday evening.

He didn’t respond, which wasn’t surprising.

He has extremely selective hearing.

Just like he can’t hear me scream about a vicious bug being in the house, but I can open a bag of chips behind a closed door and hears it.

“I said, Valentine’s Day is Wednesday.”

He was silent a bit longer.

“Oh, yeah?”

He probably figured it was better to go ahead and face the impending reality.

“Yep.”

“Well, maybe I will get you something special this year.”

He glanced over his shoulder to see if I was buying this malarkey.

“You’re not going to do your usual ‘gift’ of scrubbing the toilet and telling me that says love more than Hallmark ever could, are you?”

The look on his face told me that was indeed his plan.

“That’s not romantic?” he asked.

“No, anything involving Lysol and a scrub brush is not romantic,” I tell him.

Neither is washing my car, brushing the dogs, or any of the other things he has tried to pass off as a Valentine gift when he forgets.

I am not sure which is worse: when he forgets and tries to make up for it, or when he remembers and buys something in a panic.

I think it is really my fault for setting the romance bar so low. I had been quite high maintenance before I met my husband, so I thought it may be time to stop being so demanding.

When we celebrated our first Valentine’s Day and saw the crowd waiting in line outside of the restaurant, I immediately offered the option of just calling in our order or getting pizza.

We ordered take-out from the restaurant and ate half of it at my apartment until his neighbor called to tell him his German shepherd, Venus, had escaped the fence and was in his yard wanting in.

By the time he got back, I had fallen asleep on the couch, so he let Pepper out and covered me with a blanket and went home.

The next year, we were married.

We picked up pizza after running some errands.

The following year, we were parents.

I don’t even remember what we did.

Since we tend to be creatures of habit, I have a feeling we had pizza.

The next year was when he completely forgot it was Valentine’s Day and gave me a bag of Hershey’s nuggets still in the grocery bag with the receipt.

“They were out of the heart junk,” he announced.

And the next year, I got a box of chocolates on the 15th, because it was 75 percent off.

The next year, he waited too long – past noon – and he couldn’t even get me a heavily discounted box of candy as a consolation prize.

“You want some Peeps? They’ve got them out already. But they are out of even the bad leftover Valentine candy,” he told me over the phone.

I groaned.

Still, I hold out hope each year, that maybe, maybe he will do something to surprise me.

Maybe there will be a card, or even a small box of candy.

Or maybe, he will do something special.

I have been so desensitized to it that Valentine’s kind of creeped up on me this year, with me not realizing how close it was until I was standing in a store surrounded by balloons, flowers, and big boxes of chocolate.

“I can’t wait to get married and not be single on Valentine’s Day,” I overheard one woman say to her friend.

“Me, too,” the friend replied. “It will be nice to know you will have someone to send you flowers to work and take you somewhere nice.”

I shook my head.

I wanted to tell them marriage isn’t exactly romance or guarantees your Valentine Days will be full of floral deliveries or non-discounted boxes of chocolate.

Sometimes, it may mean you get a clean bathroom out of it though.

Not for the faint of heart

I remember the day I turned 29.

It was 16 years ago – yikes, that’s hard to believe.

But the day I turned 29, I took the day off from work.

I worked out twice that day, hoping to fight off the effects of gravity and the aging process.

I didn’t even eat any birthday cake, something I never skipped.

I grieved.

It was my last year in my twenties.

I felt ancient, as if my youth and life were over.

I was about to enter a new decade, my thirties.

Little did I know those years would fly by in the blink of an eye.

I went through a divorce, got remarried, had a baby, moved a couple of times, and went through about 4 different career changes.

No wonder by the time I hit my 40’s I was exhausted.

My spunk and sass seemed to have been replaced with, “Eh, it’s not worth the energy fighting over.”

Blasphemous talk for one who is a quarter Irish.

“Cole, when I was younger, I would have….”
I recount tales of my younger hot-tempered responses and how I stood up fiercely for myself and for others.

Now, I just hope to avoid any disagreements, so I don’t have to worry about it for days on end.

The aging process has not only affected my emotional response but my physical as well.

Remember when Dolly Parton declared, “Time’s marching on, and eventually you realize, it’s marching across your face?”

Yeah, well, Truvy got that one right.

She just left out the battlefield extended in all directions.

The other day in the bathroom, I saw not one, not two, but four grey hairs sticking up from the midst of a field of black, dark brown, and whatever other colors are mixed in there.

I screamed.

These had popped up overnight.

The greys could and would be covered with some liberal painting of color at my next appointment.

An easy fix, I told myself.

But some of the other things were not so easy.

For one thing, the few pounds I would gain from too much cheesecake no longer come off as quickly as they previously did.

Just five short years ago, I could just skip my afternoon bag of M&M’s and drop whatever weight I had gained.

Now, I am still struggling to lose the weight I gained three years ago.

“Once you are over 40, you will find it’s not so easy to lose that weight,” Mama informed me one day.

I told her I was already learning that.

“So, you may want to lay off the cheesecake. And the candy. I know you think they are their own food group.”

I groaned my disapproval of her advice.

“Your body is going through some changes now that you may not like and may be embarrassing, so you need to pay attention to what you eat and do.”
I was in my mid-40’s and finally, my Mama was giving me the talk about my changing body.

And as much as I hate to admit it, she was right.

“I have cut out everything that tastes good and you want to know how much I have lost?” I asked one day.

“How much?” a friend asked.

“I gained 2 pounds. Two pounds! And I think I pulled something trying to squeeze into my imitation Spanx.”

“Honey, how old are you now…?”

No response was necessary.

To add insult to injury, as if eating kale and gaining weight with multiple greys dotting my hairline were not enough, I had something else happen.

Adult acne.

As a teenager, I somehow dodged a bullet and had clear skin.

Maybe Mother Nature thought I had enough going against me and told pimples to find another canvas to land.

But here I was, trying to figure out which cream, gel or serum to apply first: wrinkle cream, lifting cream, brightening gel, or acne treatment. And vitamin C treatment. Did you know you face needs vitamins, too? It does.

“Maybe you put too much gunk on your face? Could that be it?” Lamar asked, watching me slather various things on my face one morning.

“Given the fact that middle aged women seem to blame everything on our hormones, that’s mighty brave talk for a skinny man to use,” I warned.

He got the hint and went into hiding until later that day.

But the real kicker was even more painful than the esthetic issues I was experiencing.

“It’s going to rain today,” I announced one morning.

“Weatherman on TV said it is going to be clear,” Lamar said over his coffee.

“I don’t care what they said, it’s going to rain; maybe snow.”

“What makes you think that?” Lamar asked.
“The way my neck is hurting, it is going to do something. Trust me. I may not have Doppler, but I have a neck that lets me know.”
“Good lord, you are not old enough to start sounding like Granny.”

Guess what?

Around 3 p.m. that afternoon, it started sleeting.

“Told you,” I said. “My neck knows.”

This getting older thing is not for the faint of heart.

But, it sure beats the alternative.