Because

Once upon a time, in a galaxy several counties over, there was a sassy mouthed little girl who didn’t like taking no for an answer.

And any time her mama told her she couldn’t do something, she immediately demanded to know why.

“Because,” was often the reply.

“That’s not a reason,” the child responded. “You can’t just say because.”

“Yes, I can,” the mama said.

“No, you can’t.”

“Yes, I can,” she said, this time quite firmly.

“No,” the child insisted. “You can’t. Because is not a good explanation.”

The mama, weary from her child’s questions, knitted her brows and said, “Because, I am the mama, and I said so. How’s that for an explanation?”

The child sucked her lower lip in for a moment, not liking the tone nor the logic. “I still don’t like it.”

The child that lived to tell this story was none other than yours truly and that mama was mine.

And throughout my life, any time I asked her to explain why she was being so ridiculously overbearing, so stringent, and so unrelenting, her reasoning was: Because.

If I pressed for a better explanation, I was told: Because I am the mama and I said so.

Needless to say, I did not like this, not at all.

It was the veto of all vetoes. I could not argue with her stance. It was the ultimate power play and she knew it.

“I will tell Granny!” I cried one day at her injustice.

Mama laughed. “Go right ahead. She knows what a mama says is gospel! Who do you think I learned it from?”

Being a mama apparently gave you some super-authority. It superseded anything else, possibly even the law.

Once when I tried informing the crazy redhead that I had rights and I was pretty sure she was violating them, particularly my pursuit of happiness, she told me she was my governing entity.

“You don’t have any constitutional rights until I tell you you do.”

“How are you so sure about that?” I asked, sticking my chin out defiantly.

“Because,” she began. “I am your mother and I said so.”

That because again.

I couldn’t get away from it.

This was Mama’s go-to, her one-size excuse fits all. When I became an omnipotent and apparently brave teenager, I told her it was lame and weak, because she had no solid ground whatsoever and only used that Mama card when she knew she was failing at finding a solid reason.

She looked at me over the haze of her Virginia Slim 120 and said, “Doesn’t matter, Kitten. That’s still the answer.”

I think hearing that phrase so frequently is what made me start sighing so much.

I soon learned to anticipate the word any time I asked something.

“Can I go __” insert any place that was outside of the city limits with one of my friends and the answer was no.

“Why can’t I?”

“Because.”

Anytime I asked to go somewhere and was denied – because.

Anytime I wanted something and was told no – because.

Every ding-dang time she wanted to just say no and not explain – because.

That word basically meant she was being unreasonably unfair, unyielding, and didn’t give a rat’s skinny tail if it made me happy. She was doing her job – being my mama – and me getting my way was not part of her job description.

If anything, it seemed like her sole life purpose was to do the opposite of making me happy.

I argued. I debated.

I begged.

Nothing worked.

Because stood on its own.

“One day, you will understand,” Mama said.

“I doubt it,” I muttered.

I swore fervently I would never be an unfair parent and would always give a decent explanation for my decisions.

When I became a mama, I would listen to my child’s reasonings and let them have a voice.

And for the most part, I have.

At least, I think I have anyway.

Until I realized, I have kind of used that old trusty Mama card myself.

He asked me the other night if he could do something.

I said no.

“But why?” he wanted to know.

I didn’t respond.

“I would like an answer,” he said.

“I gave you an answer. I said no,” I said.

“That is not a legitimate answer. You need to give me a legit, for real answer.”

So,I did.

Because.

I am the mama. And I said so.

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Tough Mama love

For the majority of my childhood and some parts of my adult life, I can’t think of a time that Mama couldn’t, or rather, wouldn’t fix things for me.

If someone crossed her Kitten, Mama was ready to go to battle and could go from a kind-hearted woman to full blown crazy redhead with lightening speed.

Until, that is, Mama decided to teach me a lesson.

I cannot even remember what it was, or what happened, but one day in my mid-20’s, I ran to Mama, hoping she’d fix it, but I did not get her usual reaction.

“I am so sorry that happened,” she said.

I waited.

Usually, she would ask for the offender’s name and contact information, so she could unleash her hellfire and brimstone.

This time, she simply said, “I am so sorry.”

“Aren’t you going to do something?” I asked.

“Not this time,” she replied. “I think this is a lesson you need to learn.”

I was shocked – don’t mothers live for this kind of stuff? Especially mine, who always wanted to rush in and make it all better.

But, no, she was going to let me deal with this on my own.

It was hard to swallow.

I kind of felt abandoned.

Didn’t she care? Didn’t she want to help? Did she want to see me upset and maybe the victim?

I asked her all of these things.

“You are only a victim if you think yourself one,” she said gently. “And I have raised to be nobody’s fool nor a victim. You know what needs to be done in this situation and I am not going to always be there to fight your battles. You decided to do this on your own, too. Sometimes, Kitten, you have to lie in the bed you made.”

Not the answer I was hoping for. And apparently, guilt was not going to work on her — not this time, anyway.

The only way out of the mess was in.

I had to learn to fight my own battles and, realize that sometimes, things couldn’t be fixed.

I did not like it. But I did learn to not make that kind of mistake again.

Still, it hurt, and I didn’t understand why Mama didn’t help me when she could.

She reacted the same a few years later when I was going through a divorce.

A dear friend was visiting me, and as we walked through an antique store, I shared how Mama seemed to be letting me deal with things on my own, rather than rushing to my aid. I admitted I was kind of shocked and thought she didn’t care about me.

My friend turned around and looked me square in the eye and said, “No, she loves you. And I am going to tell you a truth that will hurt: sometimes, at the very moment you need someone the most in your life, that person is not going to be there. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you, it doesn’t mean they are abandoning you; it means they have a life, too, and sometimes, you have to take care of things on your own. I love you, and will always try to be there for you, but, there may come a day I can’t be. Learning this lesson now will save you heartache and disappointment in the future.”

As hard as it was to hear, it was the truth and eventually, I was glad I learned it.

I found out later, Mama stepping back and letting me learn that for myself was harder on her than it was me.

She wanted to swoop in like a one-woman cavalry and right the wrongs; she knew, though, I would never learn to do it for myself if she did.

As a mother, there is nothing harder than to watch your child, even if they are grown, go through something and let them do it.

Especially when it is a mess they got themselves in; even more so when the mess was something you had warned them about and they didn’t listen.

It wasn’t a punishment. It was love.

Tough, strong Mama love.

Just like when babies are learning to walk, we have to let them stumble a few times.

Toting them all the time does not strengthen their legs.

Granted, as I grew up and older, I realize just how much Mama has done and how sometimes, she sacrificed a tremendous amount for me. And even more, sometimes, it was harder for her let me fail – even just a little bit – to help me grow.

“Mama, you’re always going to love me, right?” Cole randomly asked one day.

“Absolutely.”

“Nothing can ever make you stop loving me, right?” he asked again.

I immediately wondered what he did that I hadn’t found yet, but assured him, nothing could or would ever make me stop loving him.

“So, you will always love me, and you’ll never stop?” he pondered again. “Even if you get mad at me?”

I assured him again, I would never stop.

“No matter what?”

No matter what.

I may have to let him learn some lessons like Mama had to let me, but that would never, not ever, stop the love.

Even when it’s tough Mama love, it’s still love.

Entering the work force

“I can get a job when I turn 14,” my child announced one evening. “That’s just a few months away.”

“Why are you wanting to get a job?” I asked.

“Because,” he began, looking me squarely in the eye. “There are a lot of things I want that cost a lot of money and I don’t want to ask you to buy them for me.”

I have to admit, a lot of emotions hit me with this statement, the first being that my child was getting old enough to enter the workforce.

The second was that I admired my child for wanting to work for the things he wanted.

He recognizes what he wants is kind of pricey and he doesn’t expect me to pay for it.

I started working at 15, for pretty much the same reason.

My weekly pilgrimages to the mall had taken a toll on Mama’s finances. Her credit cards were given a better workout than her Jane Fonda tape and she could have saved a lot of time by just having a huge chunk of her check deposited in the bank accounts of Macy’s and The Limited.

Clothing, makeup, books, shoes, and music were staples and necessities of my teenage life, and unlike now, where I tend to be more frugal, everything had to be name brand and top of the line.

Now that I am paying for it, I find myself realizing L’oreal can cover my freckles as well as Lancome.

But, back then, when Mama was paying for it, was a totally different story.

Until one day, she said something she rarely said: No.

“W-what?” I asked, dumbfounded.

“That’s too expensive. I have already bought you jeans that were $100 – what made those jeans so much? Are they stitched with gold thread? I can’t get this for you this week. Maybe ever.”

I don’t even remember what it was that I was wanting. Back then, clothes were expensive and disposable. Mama would buy me something and the next month, it was considered out of fashion and discarded.

“You have to clothe me!” I cried when she told me no.

“Clothe you, yes; spend ridiculous amounts of money and go into debt over one pair of blue jeans – no.”

“What am I going to do?” I cried.

“You’ll figure something out,” she said.

And I did.

I got a job.

Granted, I had been ‘working’ since I was in kindergarten, writing up invoices for my grandfather and uncle and taking phone messages. I was paid a dollar a week and copious amounts of candy.

This was a real job, with a weekly schedule and lunch breaks, and where I paid taxes.

I was 15 but fibbed about my age. Or rather just danced around the whole age question. I started working at Cato, taking credit card applications at the door.

I think I made $10 for every application that was filled out, but more importantly, I got a discount on clothes. No, it wasn’t The Limited but it was clothing.

By the middle of the summer, I was working over 30 hours a week.

I loved it.

But, I never brought a full paycheck home.

I spent it. All of it. If it wasn’t on clothes, I was going to the Revco next door and getting drugstore makeup and hair products.

“Even though I am working, I still get an allowance, right?” I asked her one week. “And as your child and your main tax deduction, I think you should still be responsible for some of my clothing and upkeep.”

Mama laughed. She had probably expected me to burn through my paycheck in rapid speed.

Mama had mistakenly thought having a boy would be cheaper than a girl. Boys typically don’t worry about fashion like girls do or care about name brands or getting their hair and nails done. Mama was right on those things, but she failed to realize that boys tend to want bigger ticket items. Video games, cars, and electronics. Things that needed upgrades and enhancements.

Things I have no idea about and that run in the price range of car payments.

“I know the things I want cost a lot of money,” Cole explained. “I know you try your best to get me these things for my birthday and Christmas but sometimes, I don’t want to wait to get them. And, even if I do wait, some of the things are a bit more than what I would feel comfortable with you spending.”

He rattled off a list of things: a gaming computer, new consoles, video capture cards. And a corgi. He’s still wanting a corgi and knows those little herders are pretty expensive, not including the vet bills.

“Where are you thinking about getting a job?” I asked.

He took a deep breath and told me the places he was considering. “I want something that will pay me decent and be a good place to work. There may be scholarship opportunities for me, too.”

He had clearly thought this through.

“So, what do you think?” he asked.

What did I think?

I was proud of him.

Immensely full of weepy mom-pride.

“I think any place will be lucky to hire you,” I said truthfully. I know he will be a great employee wherever he works and bring a great attitude and work ethic to anything he did.

He smiled humbly. “Can you believe I am almost old enough to start working?” he asked excitedly.

No, I can’t. I really can’t.

I was proud of his initiative but really wish time would slow down.

Then I had to think of an added perk Mama had when I started working and smiled.
“Maybe when you start working, you can buy your dear old mom dinner,” I said.

He beamed. “Absolutely! One thing though.”
“What?”

“Will you let me borrow the car?”

Oh, geesh.

You get what you get

My child has always had a good appetite.

As a small child, he was not a picky eater and begged for healthy fare, like celery and apples.

The only thing he ever had an issue with was he preferred my cooking, even if the ‘cooking’ was merely toasting waffles.

Somehow, I made it taste better.

He would eat anything, everything that was made.

Until one day, he didn’t.

He would turn up his nose and frown at what I had made, claiming he wasn’t hungry.

“You were hungry about an hour ago,” I tell him.

“Yeah, but,”….

The ‘yeah, but’ usually means he was not wanting whatever it was I had made.

His idea of what constitutes a meal varies from day to day and sometimes, hour by hour.

One evening he is agreeable to spinach salads, and the next day, he turns it down. Or whatever it is I made.

“You liked it the other day.”

“I don’t want it now though,” he says.

“But Cole, I just spent an hour cooking,” I will protest.

“I am just not hungry,” he replies.

Less than thirty minutes later, he is singing a different tune.

“I am starving! What do we have to eat?”

“There’s food over there that I just made,” I tell him.

He crinkles up his nose. “Nah…don’t we have anything else?”

I tell him there is plenty in the fridge and the pantry.

“It’s just ingredients!” he declares as he surveys the shelves.

“There’s food in there,” I tell him.

“No, there’s not,” he states flatly.

There’s food – trust me.

It may be as he called it in ingredient form, but there was food.

Crackers, soup, rice, bread. Peanut butter – two kinds, mind you, chunky and smooth.

There was cheese in the fridge, fruit, and even stuff in the freezer.

Food that if one was really hungry, one would be more than happy to eat.

I run down a list of things I can make him, earning a resounding no at each one.
“I am not really that hungry,” he says after I list the last one.

I sigh.

He is, I know he is. He’s 13; he’s always hungry.

“You need to eat,” I tell him.

He insists he is not hungry.

We go through this almost daily.

The only thing he seems to never refuse is pizza or chicken nuggets. I tell him Wendy’s and Little Caesar’s are not food group items, no matter how much he protests.

“Then I guess I will just go hungry,” he says.

He knows this is the ultimate guilt trip to a mother, making me think my child is hungry.

I sit there and worry if he truly is hungry.

What if he is?

He has convinced me before he could not make it seven miles home without a honey bun and a Coke, or he’d succumb to low blood sugar. He was five at the time but made a strong case.

Again, I offer him things I think he will like.

Grilled cheese. How about chicken nuggets that were frozen?

He sighs and says he’s fine.

I think back to the food options I had when I was a child.

Normally I ate what Granny made or I could go hungry. That was it.

Sometimes, my uncle felt pity on me – especially if it was on nights Granny made some stinky oyster stew – and bought a kid’s meal at Dairy Queen for me, but that didn’t happen all the time.

I often had to suffer with the rest of them and eat just whatever it was that Granny made.

On some nights, it was delicious – her fried chicken was award worthy.

But some nights, like oyster stew night, choking it down was a challenge.

“Can I just eat a couple of Little Debbies?” I asked one night.

Granny glared at me as if I had just made a sacrilegious error.

“Do what?”

She heard me loud and clear; she was giving me time to correct my error.

My uncle was quick enough to shush me at the table and tell me to just eat it quietly.

Oyster stew was just one of the gross things she would try to force us to choke down.

Some odd monstrosity of beef chunks and vegetables in a gray gravy on slices of bread was another.

“Did this come out of the cat?” I asked, examining my plate closely.

She turned five shades of red.

“No, it didn’t come outta the dang cat!” she exclaimed.

I refused to eat it.

“What else do you have?” I asked.

“You can go hungry,” she said simply.

And, she meant it.

“And Bobby, if you go to the Brazier and get her a dadgum kid’s meal with a hot fudge sundae to reward her for not eating what I made, I will stomp a mud hole in your tail. You hear me?” she said.

My uncle lowered his eyes and whispered for me to eat what she made, and he would get me an ice cream later.

“She ain’t gonna starve,” Granny declared, probably referencing my rounded physique. “She needs to learn, sometimes you get what you get. And you are happy to get it. There’s children starving in other countries – heck, in this country, that would be happy to eat what I made.”

She was right. It may not have felt like it on the nights she made collards and cornbread, but she was.

The other night, I made something for dinner and my self-declared starving child crinkled up his nose and refused it.

“What else do you have?” he asked.

I know – he thought I would cook him something special like I have always, always done.

“This is all I made,” I said. “You can have this, or there’s peanut butter and jelly.”

The shock was evident.

“But, I don’t want either of those,” he said.

“I am so sorry,” I began. “Those are your options.”

“I’m starving!” he said. “You don’t have anything else?”
I said no.

“Can I order a pizza?”

No.

I felt like I was not only the worst mother in the world but that I was viciously mean, to boot.

But, you know what happened?

A few hours went by and he decided to heat up some leftovers.

“That was quite good, thank you,” he said.
I smiled and nodded.

Sometimes, you get what you get.

And you’re glad to get it.

Fall from grace

Someone once commented that a person falling was one of the funniest things to see.

Granted, a lot of the video clips on American’s Funniest Videos feature people falling and some are kind of funny. Especially, when the person is doing something they should have known better about doing, like riding a skateboard down a flight of stairs.

But, it always made me cringe a little, especially when the fall looked like someone got hurt pretty badly.

Maybe it’s empathy.

Mama never let me take ballet lessons because I was not exactly the most sure footed and nimble child. Said the woman who cannot exit a movie theater without tumble rolling down the aisle.

When I tried out for cheerleading, I realized my mama was right in that I couldn’t discern my right from my left foot.

But somehow, somehow, I managed to walk easily in heels.

I would wear the highest heel I could find and somehow, never lost my footing.

“You’re gonna fall and break your darn neck,” Granny would warn.

“I walk better when I have on heels,” I would reply.

This made the old gal snort. “You either gonna fall, or you gonna end up with all kinds of varicose veins or foot problems. Shoes can be bad for your health if you get the wrong ones.”

Thankfully, I have somehow avoided both even though I wore four-inch heels while working retail for years. They made me feel graceful and elegant, as I had to be mindful of where I was stepping, lest I break a heel.

Heels were my friend. Wedges, on the other hand, another story.

“If a shoe is ever the death of me, it will be a wedge,” I said one day.

Mama was not sure what a wedge was.

“Remember espadrilles from the 70’s and 80’s, the shoes you never wore?” I reminded her, Mama favoring heels herself when she was younger.

She did.

“That was a wedge heel.”

“That’s a flat,” she said.

“Well, it’s kind of how a wedge heel is – flat across the bottom but it’s stacked up a little.”

Mama thought that was kind of silly. Either be a flat or be a heel. Probably part of the reason she never wore them.

“Why are they going to be the death of you?” she asked.

“Because, I can’t walk in them,” I replied.

I can’t.

A few years ago, I had a cute pair of silver espadrilles that I adored. They were comfortable and went well with jeans. I didn’t wear them very often but decided to wear them one Sunday.

As I walked in to pay for gas while Lamar stayed at the car with Cole, I tripped walking up on the sidewalk and stumbled. In an attempt to catch myself, I grabbed a trash can. A trash can with wheels on it. I proceeded to be propelled down the sidewalk while holding on to the trash can like it was a lifeline. I hoped it would crash into the ice machine and I would stop in an upright position.

That did not happen, of course.

Somehow, the trash can veered off the sidewalk, spilling all of its messy contents in the parking lot and delivering me face down in front of the gas station doors.

A man opened the door to exit, bumping my prone body with it slightly. He grunted at me and then stepped over me. He didn’t even offer to help me to my feet.

“I fell,” I said as I got back in the car.

“I saw that,” Lamar said.
“And you didn’t come to help?” I cried.
“Not much I could do. I thought you were moving the trash can to the other side of the store for some reason. Didn’t know until the end there you were falling,” he said.

I threw those shoes away the minute I got home.

You’d think I would have learned my lesson.

Flash forward about seven years later, and I found a pair of wedge sandals I thought would be cute for the summer. They would give be a bit of much needed height and look casual or sporty when needed.

I wore them once.

Once was enough.
Even as I sat in church, I thought to myself, these shoes are not that easy to walk in.

I should have worn heels.

As I walked across the street to the car, the wedge sandals met uneven pavement and down I went.

I was temporarily parking lot road kill.

When Lamar finally managed to scoop me up, I was a bloody, sobbing mess.

“Do you want to go to the emergency room?” he asked me.

I told him no, hoping it was just a horrible sprain.

I had to tell Mama, of course.
“If it’s broke, she will hurt bad enough to go get it checked out,” my uncle said.

I did and it was.

A hairline fracture on my funny bone, and there was nothing funny about it.

Not the bone or the fall.

Granny was right; the wrong shoe could be detrimental to your health. In this case, it was a wedge instead of a stiletto.

 

Success is paved by a nagging Mama

About a year or so ago, there was a scientific study released that determined nagging mothers raised highly successful daughters.

I am not sure where they got their study pool or what they used as their definition of “nagging,” but I would like to declare myself an outlier to this study.

If nagging had anything to do with it, I would be the Queen of the Universe. Or at the very least, CEO or Grand Poo-bah of something magnificent.

I had a double dose of nagging from both my crazy redheads.

Between the two of them, I had all my bases covered.

Granny had her own subjects to nag me about.

There had better not be any pre-made cake mixes in my cabinets and biscuits didn’t come in a can.

Thankfully, the old gal didn’t nag about housework. She hated it herself and stated matter-of-factly that she was allergic, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

“But you ought to make your bed in the morning,” she stated one day, casting a glance towards mine.

“Why? I am just gonna get back in it later.”

She grunted at me. “That logic makes no sense. Make your dang bed. Smart people make their bed after they get up.”

Where she heard this, I don’t know. Since then, it has been heralded as some indicator of success by some noted people. I am sure if she was alive, she would take credit for stating it first.

Iron your clothes, wear a slip, break in your shoes before you wear them were other nag-full reminders I received.

Sit up straight, sit like a lady, don’t smack your gum, say thank you – did you say thank you?

Call your mother when you go somewhere. Call your mother when you get home. If you don’t want to call your mother, let someone know where you’re going and expecting to be home.

Along with: do your homework and don’t wait until the last minute to do it. Chances are, you may run into an issue and need more time. Don’t miss a class, don’t count on someone else’s notes, and do your work well the first time. Measure twice, cut once.

Both of them drilled this into my head constantly.

When Mama drove me nuts, I went to Granny for coffee and sympathy.

She just gave me coffee.

“She’s trying to raise you right, lit’l un,” she told me. “And it is taking both of us to do it.”

“Did you nag her like this?” I cried.

Granny sipped her coffee. “I did. I tried to. She’s stubborn – that’s where you get it from.”
I am not so sure about that, I think stubborn is a genetic trait in the women in my family along with the freckles.

“She didn’t listen to me, just like you don’t listen to either one of us,” she continued. “Your mama is incredibly smart, she just always thought she was smarter than me or your grandfather and could do her own thing. She could be running AT&T if she had of listened to me.”

No doubt if a nagging mother could nag her daughter all the way to success, Mama could have been a telecommunication maven. But she didn’t really aspire to that. When she was offered a new position, she turned it down because it would have meant a longer commute or a move, and less time with me. The success was right within her reach, but, Mama was happy where she was.

I wish I knew what that was like. I am always feeling that restless spirit that things could, should be better than they are.

Anytime I complain about life not being the way I want it to be, Mama loves to remind me it could have been – had I only heeded her nagging.

“This is when I should maybe tell you I told you so,” she will say not so gently. “But you never listen to me or do what I tell you. If you had, there’s no telling where you’d be now. You probably would be a millionaire and retired.”

I let out a deep sigh.

She always thinks if I had only listened to her, I would be a millionaire.

Maybe she’s right.

If that study was any indication, I should be a millionaire made over, have an empire to rival Oprah’s, and maybe own my own small country.

I find myself nagging my son now, telling him some of the same things I received as a child.
Make your bed, read something new every day, say thank you – did you say thank you?

What are you going to be when you grow up? An engineer? You sure you don’t want to be a lawyer?

He sighs. “I know, Mama, you don’t have to stay on me about this.”
“Yes, I do, too,” I say. “If I had listened to Mama, there’s no telling how different my life would be right now.”

He rolls his eyes – where does he get that eye-rolling from? Oh, right. Me.

I pray he never tells Mama that little tidbit. She will never let me live it down.

A nagging mother leads to successful daughters; I wonder what the outcome is with nagging mothers and sons.

A mama’s faith

Growing up, I never realized just how much my Mama probably worried.

I knew she was overprotective; I was her only child after all. But I never realized just how much a mother had to worry about until I became a mother myself.

The minute I held that little swaddled lump, I instantly knew life was no longer the same.

Things that I didn’t even give a second thought were suddenly terrifying and anxiety producing.

I did all the child-proofing imagined, crawling around on my hands and knees, looking at things from not just the eyes of a curious child, but from the perspective of a mother seeing possible dangers.

I had to make sure food was cut into pieces that would not choke, the laundry detergent I used on his clothes had to be dye-and allergen free, and I worried about the ingredients in the baby food.

I worried about everything. I still do.

Mama understood; she has lived a life of worry since I was born.

Granny, however, had no sympathy for me.

“You think you are the first mother that ever worried?” she asked me one day. “You ain’t. You don’t know worry.”

“I do know worry,” I said. “How can you possibly know the depths of my worry?”

I was in for an earful.

“How can I know anything about worry?” she began. “I will tell you what I know about worry. I gave birth to a child that didn’t live to his first birth day. That’s a pain you never get over.

Then, your uncle was in Viet Nam.” She shook her head, remembering that time period. “My child, my baby, was over in a foreign country fighting. And in the middle of that, your mama nearly died. She has only one functioning kidney, and it shut down on her when she was pregnant with you.

The doctors told me she had a 1 in 100 chance of making it through the surgery, and your chances depended on if she made it,” she said, her voice solemn as she lost some of her normal constant anger as she relived these previous experiences. “And that’s just a small fraction of what I have worried about. You think you are the only mother that worries? You don’t know the half of it.”

I was quiet as I digested all of this. I had heard all of this before, countless times, over the course of growing up. This was just the first time I had heard it in the framework of being a parent myself and how that must have felt.

“How did you do it?” I asked. “How did you get through all of that?”

She let out a deep breath, as if releasing the weight of the world. “I prayed. I think I prayed from the time I found out I was pregnant with my first child and I haven’t stopped. And I won’t stop until my last breath, either.

When Bobby was in Viet Nam, all I could do was pray. I couldn’t go over there with him – if they would have let me, I would have. Believe me. But I prayed all the time. Some people’s kids didn’t come home.”

Her voice caught a little and she paused to re-center herself. “When your mama nearly died, I had to make a decision no parent should have to make. For the doctor to try to save one of you. I told him you both would make it.”
“How did you know?” I asked.

“I just did. I had to remember that God doesn’t put more on us than we can handle. And I figured the good Lord knew I couldn’t handle me losing either one of you.”

Granny had always been honest with everything she said; a trait that was a blessing and a curse, depending on which way she was driving her message home. But this was the most vulnerable she had ever been.

“It’s just part of being a mother,” she said.

“The worry?”

“That,” she said. “And finding your faith. You may think you’ve got it before, but you spend more time in prayer when you become a mother than you ever thought possible.”

She was right. I think I have spent the majority of the last 13 plus years praying, with just about everything I say being some form of prayer.

I seemed to remember Granny praying as she took me to school. It wasn’t a big production, it was just something she did as we made our way through town. I didn’t think anything of it when I was little but have found myself doing it now.

Granny wasn’t the only one who prayed. Mama did, too, and, still does.

It wasn’t something I heard her do until I was a teenager, and then in the stillness of the night, I heard her prayers when she thought I was asleep.

That first time I heard her pray was before I had back surgery. I was scared but can’t even imagine how scared she was.

She was terrified but didn’t want me to know. Hearing her prayers made me wonder if I needed to be more scared than I was.

“Mama, am I going to be OK?” I asked.

She smiled as she rubbed my head. “Yes, Kitten, you are going to be just fine.”

“I’m scared,” I told her. “Are you scared, Mama?”

She smiled again. “No, Kitten. I know you will be fine.”

She was lying, of course.

Another thing I have learned about being a mama is, you lie like crazy when you are frantic with fear because you want to spare your child from a second of worry.

From that point on, her prayers only seemed to increase. She prayed I never got hurt, she prayed when I was commuting in college, she prayed when I started working in Athens.

She prayed when I moved away from home and prayed when I didn’t move back.

One of her texts the other day, she just simply wrote, “Praying for you today.”

Somehow, in the middle of my anxiety, that gave me peace and comfort.

I think sometimes, as our children get older, we pray more because the problems get bigger.

As mothers, it’s hard to let go, even the tiniest bit. Sometimes, it feels like we are giving up any control we may have.

It also feels like the scariest thing to do, especially in the world we live in now.

I think that is what all mothers do at some point.

We just take that deep breath and pray.

A cautionary tale

The other day, I was reminded of the importance of one little word.

A word with only three letters but a big impact.

The word is ‘but.’

It wasn’t a word I have thought much about in a while but when it was brought to my attention, I realized it is a word I needed to pay attention to.

This one little word may have been the redheaded duo’s favorite word.

“Your biscuits were good,” Granny began, “But, they were too big.”

“How can a biscuit being too big be a bad thing?” I demanded to know.

She looked at me with disgust. How dare I defy anything she declared as fact?
“Because they are. Your sausage patty is only so big. What are you going to do with the leftover biscuit?”

“I make my biscuits for butter and honey,” I said.

She snorted. “Of course you do. But, normal folks like sausage and none of that vegetarian nonsense.”

I wanted to tell her I wasn’t even a vegetarian anymore, but it wouldn’t have mattered.

“You did good on that test, but,” –

“I like your new haircut, but,” –

“Your house looks nice, but,” –

I have learned to not only dread but wait for the but.

The but that comes to let me know that whatever compliment had been previously given was about to be taken away.

Granny was famous for it.

Mama, as kind hearted as she is, is much more subtle with her but.

And even though I am 45, I want Mama’s approval.

Some things, she is easy to please.

Others, she can hold me to task more than Granny and would probably impress the old gal.

Where Granny was critical about cooking, Mama reserves her negating for things I do to my hair.

“Your hair is cute,” she began one day. “But why did you want to color it red.”

“I was paying homage to the crazy redheads in my family,” I replied.
“Hmmm,” she demurred. “But, difference is, we are natural redheads, Kitten. You are a natural brunette. Stick with what God gave you.”

“If that was the case, I would be bald, Mama. And so would you.”

She also doesn’t understand some of my other life choices.

“It’s wonderful you went back to school, but,” – here it comes – “I don’t know why you didn’t go to law school. Probably because I wanted you to.”

I sighed. It was hard to endure the buts. I was given a compliment only to be followed by something that completely wiped out the previous praise.

I cringe when I hear that word, so I cringe a lot; it’s said by everyone.

Including myself.

I didn’t notice how much I said it until I realized how much I hated it – kind of ironic, isn’t it?

I would thank my husband for doing something and throw a ‘but’ in there.
Mama would ask me if I liked whatever she got me, and I had something to undercut it.

‘But’ was everywhere.

I wondered how different our perspective would be if instead of trying to find flaw with something, we just focused on the positives of a situation.

I know when I hear the but, I immediately anticipate some criticism coming. And after the but is uttered, I don’t focus on the things I did right or the praises; instead, I focus on the one thing that I did wrong.

The but is a great big minus sign, taking away any good we may have done and tend to put us on the defensive.

I decided I needed to try to limit my buts unless they were absolutely necessary.

Cole decided to help clean one day.

I hadn’t asked him, he just did it because he knew I had so much to do.

So, he washed the dishes and folded laundry.

“Mama, I wanted to help. Did I do it OK?” he asked when he finished.

The laundry was not folded the way I like. I have always had a thing about how my towels are folded.

I prefer the dishes to be stacked a certain way to air dry.

“Yeah, but,” – I caught myself.

“But what?” he asked. The minute he heard the but, his expression fell a little.
“I don’t have any cash to give you for helping,” I said.

He hugged me. “I didn’t want anything, Mama, I just wanted to help.”

“You did great,” I said.

And I left the but out of it.

A curious rivalry

I had a realization the other day when I was talking to someone.

Just out of the blue, it hit me.

A conversational epiphany, I suppose.

But throughout the conversation, this person kept trying to one up me.

If I said something, they responded with, “Oh, how wonderful! I have done ___”
Fill in the blank with something of greater success, greater magnitude or greater sorrow – take your pick.

This person was trying — and succeeding — at one-upping me.

I didn’t catch it at first and thought they were generally engaging in conversation.

I am not even sure if the person was aware they were doing it.

But even my dull observations were one-upped.

Every time I made a comment, she had to see my boring stat and raise it to mundane.

Finally, I had to just smile and walk away. I was emotionally exhausted and didn’t like the competitive game I had not agreed to play.

This, of course, is not a new phenomenon. But it has grown considerably worse over the years.

Why do some people feel the need to best someone else? Is it that important to get one more word in, to have something better than their friends?

Since when did we live our lives in perpetual comparison and competition?

Granny dealt with it with one of her sisters.

“I swunny,” she began one day. “It doesn’t matter what I am dealing with, that sister of mine has got it worse. Or better, depending on which way she is trying to irritate me.”

“Why does she do that?” I asked.

“Who knows. Because she is a miserable human being and she is trying to make herself feel special by trying to out do me no matter what it is. If something good happens to me, she’s had better. If something bad happens, hers is worse.”

I chalked that up to just a lifelong sibling rivalry but have found it happens quite often between folks that are related. And sometimes, even more often between those we consider friends.

I don’t get it.

Can’t we just be happy for others, or commiserate with them if need be, and let them have their moment?

Do we have to go around trying to compare ourselves to everyone else?

Granny would tell you Facebook was possibly to blame.

Before she passed away, she blamed the social media platform for all of societies ill; at least she was finally giving Madonna a break.

She may be right.

I caught myself seeing someone’s status update recently and felt like I wanted to scream my accomplishments, too – didn’t my stuff matter?

Mama assured me my stuff did matter, but maybe that person’s stuff was equally important.

“Can’t you be happy for them?” she asked.

I balked at a response. I was happy for them. Wasn’t I?

“What if they told you that in person? What would your response be?” she asked.

“I’d congratulate them,” I said.

“Then why do you feel the need to shout what you’ve done now?”

I wasn’t sure.

Part of me felt like I wanted someone to see I had done something, too. I wanted them to be proud of me, or to applaud what I had accomplished. I wanted it to be known that while they had something great happen, so had I.

I did refrain; I am my mother’s daughter, after all, so I knew to take the higher road.

But I still felt a pang of rivalry. It wasn’t quite jealousy or envy. No, this was some other offense, that wanted to poo-poo all over whatever another had done and scream, “But look at me! I did this!”

Just like I had someone do to me.

It’s an ugly, horrible, bitter trespass that has no redeeming qualities.

I hated it when someone did the one-up thing with me, so why would I get the hankering to do the same thing?

Mama reminded me Pop used to do it, standing around Kelly Lumber Yard, with his buddies all bragging about their grandchildren. He loved to save his turn to the very last, so he could tell them how his only granddaughter had made straight A’s.

“That’s different,” I told her. “That was the equivalent of the biggest fish they caught but instead of fish, they used grandkids. And it just feels different.”

“Why does it feel different, Kitten?” Mama asked. “Because someone was bragging on you?”

Ouch. I didn’t see that one coming.

But that wasn’t the reason.
Maybe it was the context of the situation. When those men gathered ‘round with their cups of coffee and red link biscuits waiting on their construction supplies, they knew they were getting in a braggart’s folly. They also wanted to share what their grandchildren had done – not them. It wasn’t about them but about someone they loved.

And that is vastly different than my recent experience.

The person in question had a history of no matter what I was talking about, she always had to one-up. It wasn’t just me, it was everyone.

It was a matter of belittling everything anyone else had ever done or thought about doing.

It circled back to Granny’s earlier comment about her sister doing the very thing to her because she was miserable. At least in Granny’s opinion, she was.

“You know what Granny told her sister the last time she tried that one-up game with her?” Mama asked.

“What?” Inquiring minds truly did want to know.

“She told her that sometimes it wasn’t always about her,” Mama said.

“And sometimes, I think that’s good reminder for us all.”

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.