The Mama Daughter Dynamic

There are two things I have grappled with most of my life.

One: I have always had hair angst. If it is long, I want it short. If it is short, I can’t wait for it to grow out. And, I have always wanted bangs. That thick fringe that sets off your eyes or the side swept bangs that frame your face.

The second, and one that is most shocking, is I have always typically done the complete opposite of what my Mama has wanted me to do. Pretty much every big decision – from marrying the first husband to not going to law school– has been the polar opposite of what she has wanted and demanded of me.

Both – the bangs and the Mama – have given me fits throughout my life.

And the horror of both is that Mama has always tried to dictate what she thinks I should do with my hair.

There was nothing quite like going to the salon as a teenage girl, with dreams of how you wanted your hair only to have your mother standing behind the chair telling the stylist, “Just give her a perm. And she’s growing out her bangs, so don’t cut them again.”

“I don’t know why I can’t do what I want to my hair,” I would protest.

“Because I know better,” she said.

In a moment of desperation, I once cut my own bangs the night before going to a school competition at the state level.

I think I placed out of pity.

“Why did you do that to your hair?” she asked me.
“You wouldn’t let me get bangs. I needed bangs!”

“You didn’t need that!”

I had cut them so short and unevenly, they were a jagged line about an inch below my hairline and would curl up like corkscrew pasta. It was a wretched mess and there was no way to fix it.

Granny took me to get a pair of shoes.

“Shoes?” I asked. I never turned down shoes but thought it was an odd outing.

“There’s nothing we can do with your hair, but you may as well have some cute shoes as a consolation prize.”

Of course, this probably set me up with the belief that when all goes wrong, buy shoes.

Mama just used this as a multi-purpose example of what goes wrong when I don’t listen to her.

She never lets me live down anything, either, so for the longest anytime I didn’t heed her warnings, she would remind me: “Don’t let this be another cutting your own bangs incident.”

Mama has been quite outspoken and vocal about all my mistakes.

“I don’t know why you married your first husband,” she said one day. “I never could stand him.”
“Maybe if you had, I wouldn’t have,” I replied dryly.

Granny snorted at this comment. In all of her infinite wisdom, Granny never uttered one bad word about my first husband while we were dating or married. She waited until the divorce was final before she expressed her utter disdain of him.

“Well, Jean, you knew how we felt about her daddy, and you married him anyway. Reckon that’s the only thing the old gal got that was like you,” Granny stated.

Mama reminded me every chance she got about what a mistake I had made by marrying him. She recited every time she had warned me and had been right.

I did like I always had and tuned her out.

“You aren’t listening because you know I am right!” she would say.

She urged me to go to law school and I didn’t.

Every time I have complained about my career – or lack thereof – her immediate response has been: “Well, if you had gone on to law school like I told you, you would have had a better career. But you don’t listen to me. Even when I am telling you something that will help you.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “You would have absolutely nothing to hold over my head.”

Granny once told me to not pay her any attention.

“She ain’t never listened to me so I don’t know why she expects you to listen to her,” she said. “Bobby listens to me; Cole will listen to you. That’s what a son does. But a daughter is made to not listen to her mother.”

Maybe she was right.

I was needing a change recently, tired of my chin length bangs and sent Mama a photo I found of the hair I wanted with soft, long bangs.

 “Cute!” she texted back.

I called her the day of the appointment. “What do you think about that cut I sent you?”

“I thought it was precious! You would look so pretty with your hair cut like that!”

“Really?” Did she see something different than the one I had sent?

“Absolutely.”

“You saw the photo of Emma Stone, right? With bangs?”

“I don’t know who Emma Stone is, but I saw the girl with the red hair and bangs and loved it. Are you getting your hair that color, too, or just the bangs?”

“Just the bangs.” What was going on? She always fussed about me coloring my hair.

“Well, it will look good on you. I can’t wait to see it.”

“So, you think I should get bangs?”

“It’s your hair. You should get what you want, and I think that will be adorable. So, if you want it, get it!”

I walked into the salon in shock. Had we finally, after 46 years of existence, turned a corner?

And then it hit me: she was reverse psychology-ing me.

Not only did she reverse psychology me; it worked.

I didn’t get the bangs I wanted, but I will.

Even if I have to cut them myself.

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Ears Wide Shut

Listening is truly a lost art form it seems.

People just flat out no longer listen.

Instead, it feels more like people are only listening long enough to catch an opportunity to talk about themselves.

I find myself telling people things – important things – only for my words to be completely ignored.

Don’t even try to ask someone if they were listening. Odds are, they won’t hear that question either.

Listening is important.

You can pick up some pretty important information just from listening.

Case in point, a situation my child came to me about recently.

“You may hear from my teacher,” he began.

That’s never good, I thought. My experience had taught me teachers only called when something was wrong and usually, it was when the wrong-doing was on my behalf.

Instead of jumping right in with my questions, I decided this would be a good time to listen.

Mama always knew if she gave me the quiet treatment long enough, I would spill what she needed to know.

I thought I’d give her tactic a whirl instead of jumping in with my accusations and allegations.

“I made a zero on an assignment, but it counts as a test grade,” he continued after my silence.

“But it wasn’t my fault.”

I nodded slowly.

“Do you want to hear why it wasn’t my fault?” he asked.

“Sure.”

“Well, my teacher told us we had to grade our own assignments, but we had to do in pen. She told us we could not use pencil.”

“OK.”
“I had picked up a pencil in my left hand and had a pen in the right,” he went on. “It was just out of habit. Really. I always have a pencil that I am bouncing. But she came by and picked up my test and gave me a zero. Just because I had a pencil in my hand – and it is not even the hand I write with!”

Now, I could understand his disappointment and frustration at getting the zero. I would have been devastated.

But that was not where his frustration was coming from.

The first point of contention was the teacher was one of his favorites.

She has known him most of his life and in Cole’s opinion, knew he wouldn’t cheat.

His second issue – and the one he was the most vocal about – was that she did not let him explain.

“I wasn’t using the pencil to grade my assignment. I was just bouncing it. Like I said, it wasn’t even in the hand I write with. It was not fair.”

“It didn’t have to be fair,” I said. “She said not to use a pencil.”

“I wasn’t!” he argued. “You aren’t listening to me. I had the pencil in my left hand – I am right handed! I couldn’t change the answer with my left hand.”
“She didn’t know that,” I said.

“She would have known had she let me explain.”

“She didn’t have to let you explain. She said no pencil. You had a pencil. End of story.”

“Did you hear what I said? I said, I had the pencil in my left hand. Not my right. I was not using it. Only bouncing it.”

“Did you hear what your teacher said? She said no pencil. She is a teacher. Not a cop. Not a judge. She is not there to hear your argument or for you to state your case. She told you if you used a pencil, you got a zero. She walked by and saw a pencil in your hand. So, it made sense to conclude you were going to use it. I don’t blame her and stand by her zero.”

I think at that moment, I lost a lot of mom points with my child.

I had always been the first to rush in with the cavalry to defend and protect him.

I had always stood up for him.

But this time, I didn’t. Instead, I told him the teacher was right.

I wasn’t going to call her, nor was I going to email her, asking her to let him explain.

I was going to let him learn this hard lesson.

He had heard his teacher say one thing – not to grade the paper with a pen – and thought he could go do another, as long as he wasn’t grading it.

Her instruction was implied.

It wasn’t spelled out explicitly, but it was more of a subtle understanding: just don’t pick up a pencil, because it will look like you are changing your answer.

And sometimes, those subtle understandings are the hardest to discern. Especially when we are only listening for what we want to hear.

Switching my default response

If you asked my child what my favorite word was, without hesitation, he would respond: no.

No has been my go-to word for a while now.

I felt a certain sense of pride in saying no when asked to do things I didn’t want to do, things I felt infringed on my personal time and space.

Being raised by two independent women taught me to speak my truth long before it was some kind of personal development rally cry.

And my truth was usually “No.”

Did I want to get together?

Nope.

Did I want to volunteer for something?
Um, not really.

Would I like to watch someone’s kids while they ran errands?
Absolutely not – my house was not childproof. Yes, I knew I had a child. However, my house was not childproofed for other people’s kids.

No was my favorite response and reaction.

I heard my friends getting sucked into things they didn’t want to do, and they were miserable.

“If you didn’t want to do it, why did you say yes?” I asked once.

I knew the answer before they said it.

They didn’t want to disappoint someone or let them down. A lot of women are raised to be accommodating and to put everyone else first, even if it causes them to neglect themselves. A lot of women, except for those raised by Helen and Jean, feel that way, that is.

I have joked to my girlfriends that any time they needed me to say no on their behalf, I would be happy to. Delighted, thrilled, ecstatic even.

My child knows no is my initial response, yet, he still tries.

“Can I –?”
“No.”
He sighs, knowing not to press the issue because I can dig my heels down in a no and make it stick.

In professional settings, my variation is a softer “no, no.”

I don’t want to seem quite as unyielding, so I put the extra one in as a gentle decline.

It had worked so well, of a number of years, this whole no thing.

Until one day, I heard some friends talking about an outing they had over the weekend.

I was kind of hurt; why hadn’t they asked me to go?
“You always say no,” I was told.

True. I do love my no. And being an introvert makes me also avoid most social gatherings like the plague.

But what they did sounded fun. I may have actually said yes this time.

My no wasn’t set in stone – was it?

Did it seem like it was?

“You would have said it was too far, or we’d get back too late,” my friend said.
That did sound like something I would say.

Or, I had too much to do, or I had plans.

Plans that involved putting on yoga pants and watching Hallmark Movies & Mysteries while looking at cat videos on social media.

“We figured you couldn’t go so we just went without mentioning it.”

Had my no become so standard and common that people were pre-emptively using it on my behalf?

I did not like this.

Sure, I liked saying no, but I wanted it to be my no, my choice.

It was my no to use, gosh darnit.

“If we go back, we’ll ask you,” my friend promised. “But you will probably just say no.”

“No, I won’t,” I said. See – I found a way to work in a no.

“Yes, you will.”
“No, I won’t.”
Perhaps I needed to change my default in some way. A slight tweak.

I had missed out on a great afternoon; what else had I missed on by saying no all these years?

Had my love for the no caused me to stop saying yes to everything that was potentially good?

“So, you will go if we go back?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?” My friend groaned.

It wasn’t as harsh as no; didn’t feel as locked in as yes.

It had so much open-ended potential that could give me the opportunity to decide if I really wanted to do something or not.

Maybe is my new favorite word.

Come next week

There is something peaceful about reflecting on the year as we ready ourselves for the next one.

It’s a time, at least for me, to look back over what the last 12 months had brought into my life.

The moments of joy and happiness.

The obstacles that had been dealt with, whether I successfully bested them, or they knocked me down.

It helps me to take a personal review and see, most importantly, where I made mistakes and missteps and maybe what I can do better.

And this year, like the last few, has had its share of ups and downs.

I would get excited about one thing, to only find myself crestfallen the next day.
Granny used to not get overly happy when good things happened. “Life will balance it out soon enough,” she would say.

That always bothered me, as if it was some self-fulfilling prophecy on her part to usher in something that would tilt the scales of joy more towards the disappointment side.

“No, I am just not going to get my hopes up,” she would tell me.

But this year has taught me to get my hopes up, because in the middle of those high hopes, we are holding on to a thread of faith that can maybe be our lifeline.

I know this year has had some painful moments.

And I’m not just talking about the tragedies we see on the news.

Those were horrible and hurt us as a collective whole.

But sometimes the moments that hurt us the most are those personal events that cause us pain. Grief, loss, failure – we have all faced them this year.

Friends went through divorces.

Quiet a few lost their spouse; others lost other family members and friends.  

And some battled private battles they didn’t share.

I know I dealt with worries and fears that I didn’t speak about, least they come true.

I have tried, instead, to focus on the things I could control, on the things that I could change.

Sometimes, there were not many, so I let go of the things I couldn’t handle.

But every now and then, something sad or unsettling would creep its way into my life.

In fact, it seems like I have been marking years by the sad events lately more than happy ones.

“It takes rain and the sun to make the flowers grow,” Mama reminds me.

I get it. I do. But I am hoping for a little less rain in the coming year, both figuratively and literally.

In her sweet, gentle way she was letting me know that we wouldn’t be able to appreciate the beauty of the flowers without the rain and the sun, two things that if in excess can be harmful. But in the right amounts, make beautiful flowers.

“I am just ready for things to be stable and not so chaotic,” I stated one day. “I want things to be kind of on an even keel.”

Mama sighed. “Everyone probably wishes for that, Kitten,” she said. “But that is not life.”

No, life is not always stable or even keeled, is it?

It’s full of the ups and downs; the good, the bad. The sad, heartbreaking moments followed by the highest of joys. Sometimes, they come in the same week or at the least, the same year.

I know – I have been through all of those more times than I can count.

It’s just life.

We didn’t notice it when we were younger, mainly because our parents were better deflectors and shielded us from a lot of the stuff that people experience now.

But we will keep striving, fighting, trying to find the happiness and joy that bring us joy, even if it means we will have those disappointments and failures that crush our soul.

This year has knocked so many of us down and we have dusted ourselves and resolutely stuck our chin out as if to say, we are not giving up and out of sheer stubbornness, we won’t either.

It has been 12 months of chaos, hectic schedules, and everyday moments of life, that if we aren’t careful, will slip by, unnoticed and unappreciated.

Days that passed so quickly, one would think they were on a train, moving from one holiday to the next.

A year of memories made, and moments shared.

And come next week, we get to do it all over again.

A Santa-less Christmas

A Santa-less Christmas

Spoiler alert: the following may cause some to doubt the existence of a certain yearly visitor who travels by sleigh and eats all your cookies.

Now, you’ve been warned.

No one warned me, though.

But suddenly, there was no mention of Santa.

The potential threat of telling my child Santa knew when he was sleeping, when he was awake, when he’d been bad or good no longer carried the weight it once had.

Maybe I should have known when my child stated that was “creepy” one year that something was changing.

In his younger years, I had a list to give Santa before the Halloween candy was gone.

Once, he found the note in the floorboard of my car, where it had fallen out of my bag. He was maybe four at the time and worried if he would get presents or not.

“But you didn’t mail it,” he said forlornly. “How will Santa know what I want?”

 “The magic of Christmas,” I said. “He knows already; he’s been watching, remember?”
Cole accepted this as truth, thinking there was indeed a Santa-vision screen in the North Pole, keeping the jolly old elf up to date on what everyone wanted.

One year, he wrote his list and gave it to the Santa on the square, not saying a word to anyone about what he wanted.

“What are we going to do?” I whispered to Lamar.

“I have no idea,” he said. “He said he was only telling the Big Guy what he wanted and no body else.”

When December 25th rolled around, Cole surveyed his loot and shook his head.
“Santa’s slipping; he didn’t get anything I asked for.”

We never knew what the child requested, but I think this may have been the beginning of the end.

“What happens to kids if they stop believing in Santa?” he asked randomly one summer.

It was 190 degrees and my hair was sweating. Why was my child worried about Christmas?

“They get underwear,” I told him.

“Oh,” was all he said.

A few days later, he brought the conversation back up.
“So, you really get underwear if you stop believing in Santa?” he asked.

“Yes.”

He nodded, slowly, thinking this through. He was wrestling with a decision or a plot and didn’t like the outcome of either.

“I think I will believe a little bit more,” he said.

Christmas came and went, and he seemed to still enjoy the moments of suspended disbelief, but I wondered if it was true or just for my sake.

Was it selfish for me to want him to continue to believe a little bit longer?

For him to be caught up in the magic of Christmas and the hope that miracles can and do exist – was it wrong for me to want him to hold on to that?

“Do you still believe?” he asked me one day a couple of years later.

“In what?”

“Santa.”

The question had caught me off guard as it was yet again, no where near Christmas.

I thought sincerely about his question, knowing this was it. This was probably when he was giving up the world of make-believe.

“Yes, I do,” I said.

“You really believe in Santa?”

“Yeah.”

He eyed me cautiously. “They say Santa was a real person that went around throwing toys in the windows of poor peoples homes, so their children could have Christmas,” he said. “But he doesn’t do that now, does he?”

“Maybe not him personally,” I said,choosing my words carefully. “But maybe it is someone carrying on the tradition. And I believe in the hope and magic of the season, where people do good for other people. I think that is what Santa,or Saint Nick, was supposed to be about.”

He considered this for a moment.

“If I stop believing, am I going to get underwear this year?” he asked.

“Maybe.”

He nodded.
And just like that, a few years ago, we shifted from talk of Santa to the practicality of present buying. Gone are the days of writing letters to Santa or leaving out milk and cookies, with carrots for the reindeer. It made me sad to think the days of magic and make-believe were behind us.

“What are you getting the baby for Christmas?” Mama asked.
Even though he is 14, he is and will always be, the baby.

“He needs a computer,” I said. “And underwear. Lots and lots of underwear.”

A strong-willed woman

I have learned something recently.

Being a strong-willed woman is a bit of a blessing and a curse.

I can’t help how I am, I can’t.

It’s in my blood to be strong-willed or stubborn.

Upfront and unflinching.

Some people call it a few other names.

But it is something I can’t help.

Passivity is not something I do well, nor am I weak or subservient.

Having the opposite characteristics of these traits is not always welcomed in the company of some.

Again, it can get you called some pretty ugly names if you are a woman – behind your back and even sometimes to your face.

When a man stands up for himself or states his opinion passionately, he is called an alpha male; a woman, it seems, is supposed to smile and nod and keep her thoughts to herself lest she come across as negative.

A man complaining is a simply voicing what needs to be done; a woman is whining and bitter, even if she is making valid points.

Some people may appreciate this dynamism.

But it’s not a personality for everyone.

“You must have had a mouthy mother raising you,” someone said in an accusatory tone one day.

“Nope,” I replied. “Mama is very gentle and kind; she just doesn’t take any guff off anyone.”

No, the crazy redhead can’t be blamed for the way I am. Nor can the elder redhead.

Those two gave me examples but they aren’t the cause.

I’d likely place the blame on my grandfather and uncle, with them encouraging me to speak my mind and defend my position when necessary.

Both never had a problem with Granny being stubborn and strong-willed; if anything, my Pop seemed to encourage it.

“Chicken,” he would begin, calling her by his pet name for her. “You need to deal with these folks. They ain’t listening to me.”

I couldn’t imagine someone not listening to my grandfather. He could be quite imposing himself. But Granny had a way of stating her purpose that made people take notice.

Being tenacious and unshakeable are just not traits that are considered feminine.

But whenever something happened when I was younger, it would be my grandfather telling me to stand my ground.

“Don’t you let someone run over you,” he would tell me. “I taught you better than that.”

When I got older, and started working, I found that could be problematic in the workforce.

Some people want you to ignore any problems that exist and not make waves or changes, even if they are for the better.

I quickly grew frustrated with some of the things that were occurring and said so.

Big mistake. Huge.

My words were not welcomed.

“They don’t want things to get better,” I told Mama. “They just want things to be the same and us just suck it up and deal with it.”

“That’s life,” she replied. “Stand up for what you can, for what is worth the fight, and let the rest go.”

But I couldn’t.

I would get upset and voice my complaints and concerns. I would fight for the underdog.

I would be as pigheaded and determined as my grandfather could be until I would reach a breaking point and quit.

“That’s why your granddaddy has been self-employed most of his life,” Granny said. “He can’t stand people telling him to do foolish things.”

I could see his point.

But foolishness was rampant it seemed.

There have been a few places that embraced my strong-willed expressions and allowed me to be myself. Even if it was just a matter of letting me just be able to speak my peace.

Finding a way to express myself in a way that does not come across as strident or unyielding is something I have been trying to work on but doesn’t always happen. Sometimes, I am not able to find that balance.

But why should I have to?

Why is so wrong for me to be strong-willed? Or stubborn?

Or maybe even a little bit of a mess at times?

Is that really such a bad thing?

Maybe it would be easier if I was just more ladylike and quieter. Maybe I should keep my opinions to myself and not try to stand up for things as much.

Or maybe I will try to take the bite out of my tone.

I have tried in the past.

I don’t know that it is really possible.

Nor that I really want to change.

A matter of miscommunication

Frantic.

That is one word to describe how I felt, yet it did not do the emotions rushing through my body justice.

I was wrought with outright fear and anxiety.

My child was not where he said he would be.

Or more succinctly, where I thought he would be.

When I last saw him, I asked him who was with him; he told me he was going one place, so I thought he was with his friends.

When I went to round him up, he was not there. I asked another parent – she had not seen him, but told me where her kids were.

Since my child is always in search of food, I thought it was quite possible he had been scrounging for a rogue granola bar or leftover Halloween candy.

I found his bookbag outside my office, so I took it to my car before going off to find him.

“I better go back through the building; he may be looking for me,” I thought.

I got to where I thought he would be and where he should be; only, he wasn’t there.

I took a deep breath.

Surely he was in the building somewhere, I just didn’t see him yet.

I walked around the top floor looking for him. Nowhere.

On the lower level, I found one of his friends and asked her if she knew where he was.

He had told her he was going where I was the last time she saw him.

And that was when he told me he was going with them.

Anger was the new emotion coursing through my body.

Had he lied to me?

I made my way through the building in a frenzied pace, hoping I would find him.

He was nowhere.

I headed back to another building to see if he was there, anger, fear, anxiety and worry brewing.

My heart was in my throat; was he OK? where was he?

And again…had my child lied? If so, why?

I thought I caught a glimpse of him as I walked back up the hill and called his name.

No response.
Was it not him?

I kept waiting for him to catch sight of me and come running but nothing.

The few yards I had to walk seemed to take an eternity until I got up to the building and finally saw him coming around the other side.

“There you are,” he said, “I have been looking for you.”

I was immediately relieved, grateful and wanted to sob I was so happy to see him. But, in true fashion, I did what all the women in my family do when scared out of our wits.

I yelled at him. Or more accurately, screamed. Irish banshee, soul rendering screams.

All the way home.

I am not even sure what I said, other than, “Where were you and what were you thinking?”

I am sure it was much worse than that because I was in an anxiety fever fit.

I had been looking for him for 20 minutes and every imaginable horror that could happen to my child had raced through my mind.

When I saw he was safe and sound, I unleashed locusts on his little mop top self.

After we got home, I continued my rant.

“You just need to calm down,” Lamar said.

Even though I have no empirical evidence to support this claim, I am pretty sure saying that to a hysterical woman has only proved to worsen the situation.

I texted Mama to let her know I was home, because even though I am nearly 46 years old, she wants to know I am safe. Wanting to know your child’s whereabouts, no matter how old and grown they were, was never more tacit than at this moment.

“Home –too exhausted and upset to talk. Talk later.”

“What’s wrong? Are you OK?” was her immediate response.

“Just really upset and don’t want to rehash.”

So she did what any mother would do – even this mama.

She called.

“What’s wrong?” she repeated her question.

I briefed her on the events of the last 40 minutes.

“Bottom line, if he had just been where I told him to be – which was with me – to begin with, this would not have happened. I have let him have too much freedom.”

She was quiet. Unusually quiet. Normally, Mama is the one who defends Cole, her only grandchild, no matter what and things that would have gotten me whoopings for days, she waves away and tells me to let it slide.

This time, she wasn’t so quick to defend.

“Put Cole on the phone,” she said sternly.

I handed him the phone.

He quietly talked to his grandmother for 15 minutes before handing the phone back to me.

“We have discussed what happened,” Mama began. “It was a matter of miscommunication, but, we came up with some ways to avoid it in the future.”

“There won’t be any future incidents,” I said. I was being irrational I know, but I was still shaking.

“You can’t do that, Kitten,” she said quietly. “You can’t do that with him, no more than I could do that with you when you were his age. He is a good kid. Remember that. A good kid. But still a kid. And sometimes, you have to give him chances, even if it means he messes up.”

“How are you so calm about this?” I asked.

“Because,” she began, “I know how that feels. Oh, how I know that feels. It’s an awful feeling. But, he thought you heard him tell you where he was going and you didn’t. It was, as I said before, just a miscommunication. That’s all.”

Mama did something Granny in all of her infinite, omnipotent power and wisdom had never been able to do.

Mama was somehow on both of our sides.

 

The judgment of small talk

Being an introvert makes social situations a little challenging at times.

Even when it is with people I like or want to know better, I find gatherings quite hard to deal with.

It’s not that I hate people, mind you. Even though I do prefer the company of animals to most humans, that is not it.

No, it’s the small talk that does me in.

I loathe small talk.

I can talk at length about things that range from random trivia to deeper subjects but the tedious ‘getting to know you’ questions and chatter drive me batty.

Mainly because the mundane conversation can be used to judge and people have sorely forgotten how to be polite and inquiring without belly flopping right into someone’s personal life.

“Are you married? Do you have kids?”

If you answer no to either question, you can bet the next question is “Why not?”

People sometimes forget one is not necessarily a precursor to the other, which can make for some uncomfortable exchanges.

But perhaps the most annoying one is, “What do you do?”

Such a simple question really.

But one that is very loaded.

Depending on your answer, people are going to decide how to treat you.

If you say you are a doctor or other professional, people will treat you with respect.

If you say you have a blue collar job, their reaction may be a little different.

It’s wrong, but it is something I have witnessed far too often.

I was raised to treat everyone equally, and to not let their job title dictate the level of respect they received.

Yet, that one simple question carries a tremendous amount of weight to it.

Many times, people feel like titles and what they do for a living defines them, and sometimes, it can.

We do tend to get caught up in our jobs and worry about the image we are projecting into the world.

I have met a few people who let you know with every breathe what they did for a living and how important they were.

And, I have known folks who were humble and down to earth that did not need any kind of recognition for their positions.

In parts of Europe, it is considered rude to ask someone what kind of work they did. It is a matter of pre-judging someone.

Deciding if the person was worth getting to know. Evaluating if the person’s net income would put them on equal footing with us.

And trying to size up if the person can be valuable to us in any way.

I hate this question and it’s kind of hard to avoid it when you are in most social situations.

“I don’t care what someone does for a living,” I told Mama one day. “I don’t care what their level of education is or if they have a big, important job. And if their opinion of me is only based on how I earn a living, they can stick it.”

Mama gently agreed. “Well, Kitten, you can tell a lot about a person by how they treat their wait staff in a restaurant. If they are rude to them, they will be rude to others, too. You weren’t raised to be that way so it is a bit hard for you to understand.”

It reminds me of how someone I knew once whined she was ashamed of her fiancé’s job and didn’t know if she could marry someone who “wore his name on his shirt.”

“Lots of people have their names on their uniforms,” I tried telling her.

“Like who?” she sniffed.
“Doctors, for one. Cops have name badges, too. There is nothing wrong with wearing your name on your uniform.”

She never saw my point, but I am sure she is the type that uses the small talk question of “what do you do” to decide if someone was worthy of her or not.

The good thing about small talk is people usually aren’t listening; they are waiting to respond with more stuff about themselves.

“What do you do for a living?” someone asked me recently.

“Whatever it takes,” I replied.

Thankfully, they didn’t even notice.

 

 

A brief rebellion

My teenage years were not quite the rebellious era one would think.

The biggest thing I did was sass Granny and live to tell about it.

While other kids were sneaking out to go to parties, I thought I was big stuff if I cruised the Piggly Wiggly with my friends.

I lived in righteous fear that I would be caught and have to endure the wrath of Granny and Mama.

Mama would take away anything that mattered to me – namely, my phone.

Granny, on the other hand, was her own brand of punishment and could instill fear in the devil himself.

So, needless to say, I stayed out of trouble.

But there were times I pushed the boundaries.

It wasn’t intentional.

Usually, it started out as something that seemed harmless at the time, then turned into something that would get me in deep, unmeasurable trouble.

If wisdom comes from experience, this may be why I don’t let my own child go anywhere.

While hanging out at a friend’s house one day, her mother said she had a headache and was going to lie down.

We were probably the cause of said headache, or maybe she was doing it so we wouldn’t bug her.

Whatever her reason, she had left two teenage girls to their own devices for the better part of the afternoon.

Even though my friend, Crystal, was a couple of years younger, she was always a bit more eager to do things we shouldn’t.

“We oughta go to the store,” she suggested.

“No, Mama told me not to walk anywhere today.” I lived in a world where if Mama told me not to do something, I didn’t. Even if I was well out of her sight, she would somehow know. And what Mama didn’t know, Granny could darn well find out.

Crystal gave me a sly smile. “We don’t have to walk.”

Sometimes, I was a little slow on the uptake. “How are we going to get there?”

She picked up her mama’s keys. “We can take the car.”

“Your sister isn’t here to drive us.” See – slow on the uptake.

“No, dork,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I will drive.”

I was worried about this for many reasons. I was terrified of driving; even as a teenager, I thought we were too young to be behind the wheel of a vehicle. My next worry was the fact if Mama didn’t want me walking, how would she feel about me riding in a car with a 13-year-old driving? She had a fit once when Granny took me somewhere and didn’t tell her. This would not sit well.

“I don’t think this is a good idea,” I said, not feeling so sure.

“Do you want some candy or not?”

Candy won.

And off in the car we went.

I thought I was going to throw up as she backed the car out of the driveway and into the street.

But as we eased out of the neighborhood, my nervousness and fear broke free.

It was exhilarating.

We both squealed and laughed, screaming “wheee!” as we drove around.

Was this what it was like to be a bad girl?

It made me feel so free and fearless.

Until we came up to a four-way stop.

“Crap,” she muttered. “Is that your Granny?”

I looked in the direction she indicated and sure enough, sitting at the stop sign was Granny in her burgundy Olds.

“Act casual,” Crystal said.

We did, and Granny drove on through without a sideways glance.

“Where is she going?”

I wasn’t sure. Maybe home? Maybe to the grocery store – but which one?

It threw an uncertain monkey wench in our freedom plan.

“Maybe we shouldn’t go to the store?” I suggested. “She will want to speak to your mother if she sees us.”

She would; Granny was big on talking to mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, and any one in your family tree if you were friends with me.

“Maybe we need to go the opposite way?” she said.

Crystal may have been the  wild one, but she was smart enough to fear Granny.

I nodded.

We went down another road and another, taking great caution in avoiding any possible place Granny may be.

“Oh no!” I cried. “That’s Pop and Bobby’s work truck!”

Sure enough, at a red light, there sat my grandfather and uncle.

How many stop signs and red lights did this town have and did I have family sitting at everyone of them?

We turned down another road. And the next thing I knew, we were pulling onto the highway and heading straight towards my house.

“We will turn around at the cemetery and go back,” Crystal said.

We thought we were in the clear until right as we turned around at the cemetery and pulled into the road, here came a little blue Ford with one little crazy redhead at the wheel.

“I’m going to die. That’s it, I am dead meat!” I said. Part of me was glad. I had been a bad girl for about 20 whole minutes and it was exhausting. I was ready for it to be over.

“Duck down!” Crystal cried. How were we going to drive and be in the floor board?

But Mama was busy lighting her Virginia Slim and didn’t pay us any attention. Crystal hit the gas and we sped all the way back to her house.

Mama arrived a little while later to pick me up, none the wiser.

Or so I thought.

A few months later, I was with another friend, riding around against Mama’s usual wishes. And there at the same dad gummed stop sign sat Mama.

We ducked down as Mama drove by.

She didn’t say a word.

Until one day, when I was heading out to a friend’s again.

“Sudie, don’t you be going anywhere, you hear me? It’s not safe,” Mama began.

“There’s all these people-less cars riding around.”

From the look on her face, I do believe I was busted.

My rebellion, albeit brief, was over.

 

Granny on my shoulder

Granny’s voice has been a familiar refrain throughout my life, and even more so now that she has passed away.

There are many days where her words of wisdom echo in my head, giving me direction into whatever situation I am facing.

Being able to call her for advice is something I sorely took for granted and it is something that I miss, oftentimes reaching for the phone with questions about what to substitute in a recipe, what to give Cole for a cough, or how to best handle a situation.

Oftentimes, her words were full of sage counsel, as she offered instruction and guidance from her decades of experience.

“Use cold water when making biscuits,” she would remind me. “Your dough will be tough if you don’t.”

“Keep all your receipts; you never know when you’ll need them.”

“Don’t open the oven door so much; you’ll make your cakes fall in the middle.”

She was full of hints and helpful tips to help me navigate all the twists and turns life threw at me.

As much as she was full of guidance, she also imparted a certain amount of sass and vinegar.

“If they gonna talk, give them something to talk about.”

“Don’t worry about what they think; you and God is a majority.”

She was the salt of the earth and sometimes, spoke the truth even if it was unpopular.

And there was no talking behind someone’s back.

No, Granny, the Helen Prime in the family preferred to speak directly to the person’s face.

“I wanna make sure there was no misunderstanding in my message,” she told a poor soul once after delivering her diatribe. “And when something is delivered by a rumor mill, the message may get watered down. I’d hate for you to not know exactly how I felt.”

I can’t even remember who the person was but remember the gasp they took at her words.

No, Granny was full-strength, non-diluted truth and righteousness in her delivery.

Her acrimonious nature skipped her children, with her daughter trying to be a paragon of gracious kindness.

Mama balanced out Granny’s bluntness with a gentler approach and response.

Both influenced me as I grew up but, for good or for bad, it was Granny I have turned out the most like.

I know what she would say so well, it is like I can hear her running commentary as if she were still alive.

“Do you remember the cartoons with the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other?” I asked Mama one day.

“Yes,” she replied.

“That’s how I feel sometimes,” I said. “Granny’s on one shoulder, you’re on the other.”

“Which one am I?” she asked.

“You really have to ask?”

She should know if anything, Granny would be the one encouraging me to go ahead and say something whether it needed to be said or not.

When a discussion takes a very heated turn, Mama’s voice is the one encouraging me to find a peaceful compromise or to maybe bow out. “Not everything deserves a response,” she would say.

Granny’s voice is always rooting for the opposite. “They are wrong and need to be corrected,” Granny would say.  “If you don’t correct ‘em, you are just as wrong as they are. Set ‘em straight.”

On a recent trip home, I told Mama how Granny’s influence was still pretty solid, with her strong opinions trickling into my perspective from time to time.

“I miss her, even if she was sometimes a bit much,” Mama said. “At least you always knew where you stood with her.”

Yes, you did. It didn’t matter who you were either; she was an equal opportunity fusser outer.

When I left, Cole and I went to the mall in Athens, a place I hadn’t visited in a number of years.

“There’s the cookie place you said you and Granny used to go to,” my child commented.

“Yes, we need to get a cookie before we go,” I said.

The warm smell of cookies baking always lured Granny in, but she had, in her words, a love hate relationship with that cookie place.

Once, as the girl behind the counter approached her to take her order, she wiped her nose with the palm of her hand. “What would you like?” the girl had asked.

“For you to wash your dadblamed hands and put on some gloves before you get me my cookies,” Granny replied.

Another time, Granny had some sticker shock when she was given her total.

“For that price, I could have gone to the store and bought the ingredients to make several dozen cookies,” she protested. “Maybe even made a down payment on the cow for the milk.”

“Do you not want the cookies?” the girl asked confused. No one had probably fussed about the price of cookies before.

“Yes, I want the cussed cookies; I promised my husband I was gonna get him some. But this is ridiculous what you charge for them!”

The girl blinked. “I don’t charge this personally. It is just what corporate tells us to price them at…”

Granny knew that; she was just going to complain to whoever was closest.

Getting cookies at the mall as we left was a tradition with Granny, just as getting a pretzel and lemonade was with Mama. We had already had the pretzels.

So, there we were, getting two cookie sandwiches with a thick layer of frosting as filling.

Two cookies mind you.

The girl gave me the total.

Suddenly, I could hear Granny fussing loud and clear.

“Ma’am? Did you hear me?” the girl asked.

What would Granny say? I thought to myself.

Whatever it is, for once, I decided to just keep my mouth shut.