The Mother Load

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

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

I said it.

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

I couldn’t wait to turn 18.

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

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

Or so I thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yup. A set of luggage.

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

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

Needless to say, I didn’t leave.

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

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

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

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

“That is so unfair!” I cried.

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

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

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

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

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

I completely disagreed with this decision.

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

I laughed. Hysterically. For about eight minutes.

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

Then, I cried all weekend.

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

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

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

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

“When will it get better?”

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

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

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

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

 

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Don’t tell Mama

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

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

‘Cause even my Mama was scared of hers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Just don’t.”
“But why?”

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

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

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

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

Wasn’t she a grown up?

I never intended to tell on her, truly.

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

“Your Mama did what?”

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

“Jean!”

Oh, dang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No one needed to endure Granny’s wrath.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is just a sampling.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was mean, but it worked.

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

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

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

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

I heard Lamar agree.

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

“Don’t tell me what?”

The Christmas Pony

There was one thing that was always on the top of my Christmas list for several years that I never got: a pony.

Granny put her foot down adamantly about that pony.

“Where you think we’re gonna put a pony? What are you going to do with a pony? Do you have any idea how much it costs to feed and take care of a horse?” she asked.

“Not a horse. Pony,” I reminded her.

“You know a pony is the puppy version of a horse, don’t you?”

“I don’t want a full-grown horse, I want to get it as a pony.”

I never got the pony, of course. And that is fine.

The pony was the ultimate bargaining chip, my bluff.

I could be quite convincing to everyone that I wanted a pony.

I overheard Granny and Pop discussing it, with my grandfather saying he had already put out feelers to find me one.

“She’ll want it inside, Bob. I ain’t gonna have a pony in this house. And you know she will. That crazy child will be a-saying she’s gotta cuddle it and sleep with it.”

My uncle was the one who should have been worried; it would have been him who had to feed it.

I would ask daily about the pony.

The kicker was me writing P-O-N-Y in great big letters across the top of my Christmas list every year.

“Why don’t you put some other things on there you’d like, too?” Mama suggested.

“All I want is a pony.  If I can’t have a pony, I don’t want anything.”

“Well, humor Santa and put some other stuff on there in case he can’t carry a pony on his sleigh.”

So, I did.

I put all the things I really wanted.

The Lite-Brite, all the Little House on the Prairie books, Jordache jeans, an Atari, and all the other gifts I wanted, way more than a pony.

I knew there was no way I would get a pony and while I love horses, they terrify me.

Mama was so grateful to see I had something more reasonable on my Christmas list that she got me everything.

Granny, however, caught on after a few years.

“Don’t you even start with this pony mess this year, littl’ un,” she said. “I know your game.”

“What game, Granny? Monopoly?”

She gave me a hard glare through her glasses. “Not Monopoly. Sudie’s pony game. You start around November wanting a pony and carry on and carry on. You know good and well we ain’t getting you a pony, but you also know we’ll feel bad enough about it to get you everything else.”

How did she figure this out? What kind of grandmotherly voodoo powers did she have?

I denied this fact and effectively launched the pony request once again, until the following year, Granny had me declare at the dinner table I had given up on the pony. Or else.

“You try this again and there won’t be nothing on your list under the tree. It will be footy pajamas and underwear.”

The thought of footy pajamas and underwear was enough to make me stop asking for the pony. No kid wants to go back to school after the break and tell their friends they got that for Christmas.

Given my shopping procrastination, I start asking Cole for his list around the beginning of November.

This year, the only thing he mentioned was a Playstation 4 Slim Golden Version.

“That’s all I want, Mama,” he said.

I thought one video console couldn’t be that bad.

Could it?
“Six hundred dollars!” I exclaimed when I saw the price. For one video game console? Was this console able to communicate with the Space Station?

I thought that was excessive but at the same time, felt bad. It was the only thing he wants.

“Is there anything else you would like?” I asked.
He thoughtfully pondered this for a moment. “Hmmm…no, not really. I think I have everything else I want. That’s it.”

I wasn’t exactly sure how I would pull that off. We try to not focus on the price or the gifts but on the meaning of the season.
Still, I stressed and agonized over this.
I looked around online for cheaper ones.

Nope.

“I can’t wait to play the Playstation 4,” Cole said every day. “Thank you so much for getting it for me.”

I cringed inside.

“Cole, what if they are sold out?”

“Oh, they are priced where they won’t be. Don’t worry about that, Mama.”

I groaned.

A few days later, Cole handed me a list.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“Just in case they are sold out, Mama. Or you can’t find one or you think it’s too expensive. You know, there’s a lot of reasons why you may not be able to get one for me.”

Sweet, sweet son of a biscuit eater.

My child had beat me at my own game.

His pony was just in the form of a Playstation 4.

Of mothers & sons – and sometimes, daughters

“Mama, can I tell you something?”

This question is asked several times a day.

Usually, it is about one of his favorite shows.

He updates me on the latest episode or shows me clips of it.

Or he tells me about the latest gaming system he’s come across, or a new game.

Sometimes, he shows me what he is doing in his game and how it works.
He loves the graphics and it is common for him to ask me to watch him as he plays so I can see his progress.

Or, he wants to tell me about a song he just heard and ask what I think about it.

“Do you like it?” he asks.

“I liked this song a lot,” I tell him and point out which one and why.

I try not to be critical or negative because even though he’s a teenager now, he’s still in such a highly formative time. And kids get enough criticism and negativity without us bashing stuff when they are eager to share it with us.

“Wanna listen to another one?” he asks.

“Sure.”

He ends up playing me the whole CD.

Heavy metal was my way of rebelling just as rap and punk are his – a soft rebellion but a rebellion nonetheless. I know more about his music than I do mine.

Sometimes, he wants to see the video so we watch it on YouTube.

He always asks me first, knowing that YouTube may have stuff on there that’s not exactly appropriate.

“Do you want to know why I like this?” he asks.

“Tell me,” I say.

And you know what?

I sit and listen.

I watch.

I pay attention to what he’s sharing with me.

There were times I was growing up that Mama didn’t listen to me.

Or, she rolled her eyes and thought my interests were silly.

“You don’t need a new Mouse album,” she said.
“Ratt,” I corrected.

“Same difference.”

“How do you call this music? All the men you like are wearing makeup and have bigger hair than you!”

“You may love Prince but Elvis was and will always be King.”

“Are you watching another movie with Canoe Reeves?”

I spent 90 percent of my teenage years rolling my eyes and wishing my Mama would stop being so critical of everything I liked.

It got to the point I didn’t want to tell her anything I liked because she would make fun of it or be just downright snarky.

She still does it, to a degree.

“Why do you color your hair? I think that is so ridiculous. God gave you a perfectly fine color of hair and you should leave it alone.”

I say nothing. Arguing about why I like something is pointless.

Just like a few weeks ago, my son decided to cut his hair.

His hair, that he had grown out for a year because he wanted it to be like Joey Ramone’s.

When he decided he wanted to grow it out, he asked me what I thought.
“It’s your hair,” was my response.

When he wanted to cut it, I admit, I was sad to see it go. I loved it and thought it was pretty but as my son told me, a boy’s hair is not supposed to be pretty.

After he got it cut, he asked me what I thought.
“I like it,” I said.

“Honest?”

“Honest.” And I do.

It was his choice, his preference, his likes – not mine.

“Did you want to watch The Simpsons?” I ask.

“Really?”

I nod.

He sits next to me on the couch.
“Thank you for always taking an interest in what I like,” he says. “I know you don’t really like The Simpsons.”

“But you do, and that means I have an interest in it.”

As long as he is eager and excited to share what he is interested in with me, I am going to listen.

I am going to watch it or watch him play.

I am going to Google it to make sure it is appropriate and find out everything I can.

I will always listen to his music and allow him to have that freedom of expression with what he likes.

If he wants to share and tell me what’s important in his world, I am going to gladly be a part of it.

“You don’t have to watch this if you don’t want to,” he says.

Nope, I will. I know when my Mama was snarky about things, I quit sharing those details with her. It’s no fun having someone you love rip your stuff apart.

As long as it is important to him, it will be important to me.

“Always?” he asks.

Always.

The Birthday Party Blues (7/27/2016)

My child is already making his birthday list, putting a corgi at the top followed by Pokemon cards and DS games.

His birthday is months away, mind you.

But, he starts early. Real early. And that’s OK. It’s my way of making up for never having him a real, official birthday party.

Just hearing about friend’s planning parties for their own children is usually enough to give me hives.

All the elaborate stuff that goes into it – jump-jumps, petting zoos, themes.

What happened to just cake and ice cream?

I’m not knocking those who do the big deal birthday parties at all; they are just not something I would do and didn’t even want when I was a kid.

Nope, even when I was a kid, birthday parties kind of freaked me out.

Who in the world ever thought running around a bunch of chairs, with balloons on them nonetheless, to fight with other kids in a game of “Musical Chairs” was fun?
It was terrifying.

For one thing, the sound of a balloon popping is terrifying. Particularly if under your tater. Running around a bunch of chairs is not fun either.

It made me feel like a real life Jack in the Box toy, which also scared the stew out of me, except instead of popping up, we were popping down.

Then there was usually a pin the tail on the donkey thing. Yeah, give kids something with basically a needle and blindfold them. It made me question all the rules of safety I had been cautioned about. I mean, what was next – running with scissors?

The worst though was my own birthday party one year.

I was so excited about having my friends come over, but Mama probably chained smoked two packs of Virginia Slims while she got everything ready.

And nothing made Mama more scared than seeing a car pull up for someone to drop their child off at the party and peel away.
Mama watched the car drive away in a panic.

“Does your Mama know when the party’s over?” she asked as the child made her way inside. “She knows to come back and get you, right? Right? Where did she go? Some place close?”

I didn’t know why Mama was so upset but I think she wanted to cry. She asked me who the kid was and I told her I didn’t know. She came in toting a gift though; she couldn’t be too bad.

She wanted to sit on the couch with the other moms, but she couldn’t.

She had to make sure everything went smoothly, meaning someone wasn’t sticking their fingers in the cake.

We played the games – no musical chairs with the balloons or pin the tail on the donkey. I can’t remember what we played but it definitely wasn’t that.

As we settled in for cake and ice cream, Mama was ready to breathe a sigh of relief. Everyone knew cake and ice cream meant the party was wrapping up.

Just as Mama was thinking she had survived, she found two kids jumping on her bed.

I’m not sure how she got them down but she did and she didn’t even scream.

Maybe it was because she knew the party was about to be over.

Soon, mamas were grabbing up coats and gathering their children, thanking Mama for the party. Knowing my Mama, she was ready for them all to leave so she could chain smoke for the next two hours.

We still didn’t know if that kid’s mama was coming back or not.

Eventually, she did. It was about an hour or two after the party ended but she finally came back.

We still don’t know who that kid was.

That was the last birthday party I had at home.

“Mama, can I have a birthday party – a real one? Not at school?” Cole asked me years ago.

He had had all his parties at school which meant I brought something to the school to celebrate. One year, I even took a piñata to day care then realized that was about as bad as the pin the tail on the donkey thing.

Multiple kids running around and needing to be watched and entertained, the dogs panicking and probably getting stuck under the bed while they hid, trying to make small talk with parents while I wanted to introvert…

“No. I think I am going to take a hard pass on that,” I said. “But, I will make it up to you. I promise.”

So he starts his birthday wish list in July.

He gets one really cool gift and some small other ones; I get to keep my sanity.

 

 

The Chocolate Concealment (6/8/2016)

Some of you may judge me for this. I know that ahead of time.

But, a few of you will understand.

And maybe you do this yourself from time to time.

It started a few years ago, when Cole was around 4.

I locked myself in the bathroom, hoping for privacy.

Cole, being part cat, tried to paw me out from under the door.

“What are you doing?” he wanted to know.

“Nothing!” I cried.

“I can see your feet! What are you doing?!”

He frantically started hitting the door. ‘Let me in!”

His howls were now becoming far too loud and would soon draw attention.

I had to do the unthinkable.

I had to let him in.

“What are you doing?” he asked again.

I swallowed. “Nothing.”

He sniffed the air then shot an accusatory glance at me. “I smell chocolate,” he declared.

I couldn’t hide it any longer.

I had hid in the one room with a lock to eat a candy bar.

A precious, precious candy bar.

Without sharing it with anyone else.

Cole readied himself to wail – what kind of horrible person hid to eat a candy bar and didn’t share with her child?

It wasn’t that I was necessarily hiding to keep it from Cole.

But maybe I was trying to hide it from someone else.

Like his father.

I quickly promised the child his own candy bar, or maybe a trip to Dairy Queen if he would keep it on the down low. He lowered his eyes and agreed, already plotting to get both.

Over the years, I found other hiding places but they have not been nearly as effective.

I thought my office would be ideal, in all of its cluttered confusion.

I successfully hid bags of Dove for a while, until my hiding spot was one day discovered.

When I reached under the carefully placed envelopes and magazines in the basket, the bag was empty.

Except for a few wrappers, evidence of the transgression that had occurred.

I gasped.

He had found my candy. And ate it.

How did he find my hiding space? How did he even know I had candy?

I asked all these questions aloud to the empty bag of Dove milk chocolate.

“I think he noticed you kept coming in here,” a voice answered.

It was Cole; not the bag.

“You kept getting up and walking in here for a few minutes. I think he wondered what you were doing.”

And, I foolishly didn’t hide the wrappers I put in the trash.

Had I really gotten so lackadaisical I didn’t cover up my tracks?

“I will have to find another hiding spot,” I said, sinking into my chair.

“He will keep looking until he finds it,” Cole whispered.

Much like Liam Neeson hunting down his daughter’s kidnappers in Taken, Lamar would sniff out every square of chocolate I had until it was no more. And he would eat it, shamelessly.

I have known for over 13 years now that I have to strategically hide chocolate from him. Lamar doesn’t know it but we almost broke up once over a Girl Scout cookie. Well, two actually. He came over one night – to eat leftover pizza—even though I told him I was near death and shivering on the couch. “I am just coming by to eat the pizza and watch some TV,” he promised. How romantic, I thought dryly as I hung up the phone. I snoozed on the couch while he ate the leftovers and watched some bicycling documentary on cable. Before he left, he had kissed my head and told me had already taken the evil beagle out and for me to lock my deadbolt.

The next morning, all I could think of was Thin Mints and Samosas – the fresh boxes I had bought on my way home and had been too sick to eat.

Surely, cookies and coffee would make me better.

There was one each left in the box.

Lamar was dangerously close to be permanently single that day.

After we married, he ate my birthday chocolate bar that our neighbor brought me.

I had hid it, too, mind you, tucked behind some condensed soup and other stuff that I knew he wouldn’t even give a second glance to. But he knew there was a chocolate bar in the house and he had to eat it.

Now, he was not only finding the stuff in the cabinets or pantry, he was brazenly coming into my office, rifling through the papers and stuff to find the chocolate.

I didn’t know what to do. Should I hide it in plain sight? Or maybe get one of those hollow books that people hide their valuables in?

“Mama!” Cole cried one day as he looked over the shelves in the pantry. His box of Little Debbies was gone, or rather, the empty box was sitting on the shelf.

“I put my name on them,” he said forlornly.

“Your daddy doesn’t pay attention to that,” I said, empathizing. “I don’t think he cares, either.” If he would eat a king size chocolate bar in a bright pink wrapper that read, “For you, Birthday Girl!” I don’t think a sticky note with the name “Cole” in permanent marker was going to stop him.

“You’ve got to start hiding food,” I said simply. “You need a hiding spot – one better than mine – and you need to hide your treats. Your daddy is worse than a bear.”

Little Debbies, root beer – anything Cole put back to enjoy later, like during one of his favorite shows, his father would find and eat.

A few weeks later, Cole found a small Coleman cooler at the store. It was just big enough for a six pack of Barq’s and some Strawberry Shortcake rolls.

It worked, too, for about two weeks. “Hey, this is a neat little cooler! What’s in it?” we heard his father say.

The other day I found a wrapper in the bathroom trash. I didn’t say a word, I just helped hide the evidence.

 

 

Snips, Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails (6/1/2016)

A dear, dear friend once gave me a check list of things to follow as the mother of a boy.

One, was to expect to never at any given time have enough food in the house. Even if I had just been to the grocery store, there would never be enough food to fill the vacuous black hole of a boy’s stomach.

She was right about that, as I feel like most days, all I do is feed him.

She also warned my house would never be clean again.

Heck, it hadn’t been clean before, so that didn’t really bother me.

Her next heeding was to always check his pockets because sometimes, living things may find shelter there. Especially if he is wearing pants with a lot of pockets.
“And you don’t want to find out the hard way that amphibians cannot survive a washing machine cycle,” she cautioned.

By the time Cole reached double digits on his age, I felt like I could breathe a sigh of relief.

He hadn’t stuffed a frog or anything else living in the pockets of his pants, leaving the critters to their natural habitats where he would study them each night, armed with a flashlight and a journal.

He wasn’t particularly fascinated with violent video games or movies as some of his peers had been. Sure, he liked his Nintendo DS but it was not an everyday toy.

He loves old cars, and has a definite opinion on what kind of car he was going to get when he could drive at age 30.

All in all, he has been a rarity of sorts, being well behaved, thinking on his own, and having his own opinions on things that sometimes rivaled my own.

So, when he my precious little lump of boyish charm decided he loathed baths, I was shocked.

This is the child that once used my whole brand new bottle of fragrant body wash in his bath – so he could “smell good for the ladies,” he declared. He was in pre-k at the time.

Just a year ago, I was buying him banana scented Minion body wash and now, I am arguing with him as to why he needs a shower every day.

“I don’t smell yet,” he will say.

“Cole, you don’t wait until you smell – you take a bath every day!”

“Well, I don’t do anything to get dirty,” he said.

“You shed dead skin daily, it’s mixed with oil, and dirt, and other stuff your body produces.”
This was science and instead of my child finding it gross, he exclaimed, “Cool!” and wonder if he could watch it happen.

“No,” I sighed, not really sure.

I could not relate to this new-found aversion to cleanliness. As a child, any time a bath was drawn, I would get in the tub, even when it wasn’t for me. I would beg to take a third, sometimes fourth bath as a child because I loved being clean.

But I was a little girl. A little girl who propped up on her stuffed animals and read them books all day while eating Little Debbies.

A little girl who never broke a sweat, and seldom went outdoors.

This is a little boy – a very busy, active, always outside little boy who sweats.

“But I don’t stink – yet,” he will say.

And that’s another thing: little boys seem to like noxious odors that can gag a 100-lb German shepherd.

Cole took his shoes off one night and wiggled his socked toes, pointing a foot at Ava.

The big dog promptly fell over and shuddered.

He giggled with glee.

“Cole, get in the shower before you get in bed,” I said.
“Never!” he cried.

He tells me he has a protective layer going on and when he takes a shower, it removes the barrier between him and the outer world, allowing germs and the like to go through his pores.

“Do you have any idea how long it takes to build up a good solid barrier?” he asked in all seriousness.

Bathing the 100-lb German shepherd is actually easier than finagling him to get a shower; and she will nearly kill you.

For Mother’s Day, my child gifted me with Mom coupons, telling me I could redeem them for showers. “Cole, you are supposed to take a shower every day,” I replied.

“Well, you only got two coupons for that, so not sure how that will work out.” The coupons were specifically for a “Scrub –a-Dub Hug,” which meant he’d get a shower and even hug me later instead of complain about the cruelty of water and soap.

I fuss, I beg, I plead, I bargain – boy, do I bargain – all to no avail.

“He’s a little boy,” his father says. “Little boys all go through that stage where they hate baths and they want to see how gross they can get.”

When would this stage end? How long would it last? He was enjoying being as icky and gross as he could get away with.

“Don’t worry,” Lamar said. “Once he gets interested in a girl – and I mean a real girl his own age – he will start caring if he has a bath or not.”

This did not comfort me at all.

The only way to get my little boy, all snips, snails, and puppy dog tails, to care about whether or not he was clean was if he was interested in a girl?

If only that checklist came with instructions on how to handle the heartache of little boys growing up, I would be better prepared.

 

That Mama’s Intuition (5/25/2016)

There was no getting past Mama.

The woman claimed she had eyes in the back of her head, which led me to dig furiously through her hair while she slept when I was a small child.

But Mama had a keen sense of when I was doing something I shouldn’t, was in trouble, or just all around in a pickle, often of my own doing.

I spent most of my earlier years wondering how my Mama knew what I was doing or more accurately, had done, outside of her presence.

And this was years, decades even, before we had the technology we have now.

No, Mama had her own GPS system that ran on what she called Mama ESP.

Once, when I was heading out with a friend, Mama cautioned us we better not be cruising with any boys, without looking up from her crossword puzzle.

“Oh, we won’t,” my friend replied.

A few hours later when we pulled back into the parking lot to pick up another friend’s car at the Winn-Dixie, there sat Mama, on the hood of her car, like a little skinny red-headed angry hood ornament, breathing fire from her Virginia Slim 120.

She tried to pull me from the backseat, the first of many occasions where she would try to pull me out of a moving vehicle.

“You lied!” she had screeched as she continued to try to pull me through the window. I am not entirely certain the window was even down but rather, she was executing something straight out of “The Matrix,” only about 20 years earlier.

I was embarrassed and more accurately, scared. I had been caught in a lie by the red-headed dragon herself. And I think she was going to do more than just put me on restriction or hide my phone.

Somehow, somehow, one of my friends saved me and used some Jedi mind trick to convince Mama to let me go home with her. I am still not sure how this happened, as Mama didn’t really like her, but the girl had pulled off a “This is not the droids you’re looking for” move with such aplomb, I would have thought she was Obi Wan Kenobi in the flesh.

When I got in my friend’s car, I looked at her and said, “I don’t know how you managed that, but thank you. You just spared the skin on my hinney.”

My friend shook her head, “I just don’t know how she knew where we were. It’s like she’s psychic or something.”

Or something.

I asked Mama the next day how she knew where I was. She was barely speaking to me and giving me the silent treatment which meant she scowled at me with disappointment most of the day.

“I have my ways,” was all she said.

“What ways?” I asked.

Was it smoke signals she sent out from her Virginia Slim?

Did they go to other chain smoking mothers to keep a lookout for daughters with rebellious attitudes, big hair, and too much makeup? And boyfriends who could be described pretty much the same way?

Whatever it was, she knew where to find me, and where I had been.

On a few occasions, this internal tracking system came in handy in circumstances that didn’t involve me being caught in a lie.

Once after going to a friend’s house to sit out by the pool, I suffered a pretty severe sunburn. I was miserable. I also may have had a slight case of sun poisoning. I managed to whimper my way through a late night run of “Pretty Woman” at the theater, but only because I was promised extra butter on my popcorn.

I wouldn’t dream of asking my friends to drive me 30 minutes back home; I had to be a trouper and tough it out. Besides, wasn’t this how you got a good base tan?

But all I wanted was my Mama.

She had never been to my friends’ house, and it was late; I couldn’t ask her to drive all the way out there after she had worked until 2 in the morning.

I was so busy whimpering I didn’t see the headlights of Mama’s car as they flooded the driveway at my friend’s house. Even though it was late, Mama drove out there to get me.
She gave me an emphatic gasp when she saw how burned I was. “Oh, dear,” she began. “I am so glad I came on to get you; you may need to go to the emergency room.”

“Did someone call you?” I asked.
Mama shook her head, gently leading me to the car. Everything hurt. I felt like I was overcooked and even my hair felt extra crispy.

“No,” she said.

“Then how did you know?….”

“A mother just knows,” she said.

She never told me how she knew, or how she found my friend’s house in the dark when she had never been there before. This was decades before cell phones with Siri and navigation, which even now, I am sure my now fluffy, slightly darker haired smoke-free dragon would mess up.

She took me home where it took me a week and a lot of vinegar baths from Granny to survive the burn.

I still don’t know how she figured all these things out.

Just the other day, I asked Cole something, very direct when I already knew the answer.

He gasped in horror. “How did you know that, Mama? Are you violating my privacy? I have rights you know!”

I hadn’t violated any rights.
I was a mother.

And some things, we just know.

I am my Mama’s mother’s granddaughter (5/11/2016)

I swore when I was a child – probably more a teenager, really, as they know everything – that I would never be like my Mama.

No, that skinny fire-breathing redhead was crazy.

She thought the silliest things were life-hazards, when riding in a Monte Carlo with her smoking and the windows rolled up was probably more hazardous to my health than me roller skating.

She was strict. More specifically, “controlling” was the word I used from age 15-23.

I thought her sole purpose was to make me a completely uncool spinster.

“Your mama is so nice,” my friends would say.

They would come over to talk to Mama about things they didn’t feel comfortable talking to their own mamas about.

This is the woman who would randomly show up at school in the middle of the day to peek in my class to make sure I was okay.

The woman who would point at me, then the floor, commanding me to come there so she could ask me if I had lunch money or not.

And my friends came over to ‘chill with my mom?’

“Why do my friends come over here and talk to you?” I asked her once bewildered.

She shrugged. “I don’t know. Is it so hard to imagine that I am maybe a nice person and they want to talk to me?”

What in the world did this woman possibly have to talk about?

Other than her heedings and warnings about everything being dangerous, including air, she didn’t have a lot to say.

“What do you say to them?” I asked.

Mama shrugged again. “Nothing really.”

I approached Granny with this dilemma.

“You wanna know why your friends come over here to talk to your Mama? It’s because she’s quiet. She actually listens to them,” the old gal said.

“She does what?”

“She listens.”

I reckon Mama has always done that. She is quite the good listener, especially if she is not injecting her listening with her words of warning.

“So my friends come over here because she listens? Don’t I listen?”

Granny shook her head.

“No, you too busy telling everyone what your opinion is like they care. They don’t want to know what you think of their boyfriends. Knowing you, you’ve already said it. They want someone that’ll listen to them and let them figure it out on their own.”

The old gal evidently missed the irony of her statement.

She spent a goodly portion of her time expressing her unrequested opinion on everyone along with her judgements. If Granny disagreed with what someone was doing, instead of trying to be a compassionate person as Mama does, she told them what she thought, holding nothing back.

And Mama was quiet. I think some folks may have thought she was aloof but she was really just more reserved and observant.

Granny, on the other hand, would not shut up.
“I’m shy and don’t feel comfortable talking to a bunch of strangers,” she said – an outright lie—out of the blue one day.

“I bet the greeter at Walmart wished that were true; you spent 15 minutes the other day discussing your hysterectomy with them.”

“They asked how I was, and I told them,” was her response.

Granny believing she was shy was almost comical. A bull in a China shop that had been poked with a fire was more subtle than this woman.

And she didn’t feel comfortable talking to strangers? She never met a stranger. She would go up and start talking to someone like she had known them for years.

I think when she worked in a sewing plant, she talked so much they had to move her away from one of her best friends. That didn’t work; she just started talking to whoever they moved her next to.

Mama was the quiet, compassionate empathizer and then there was Granny, the chatterbox full of judgements she felt needed to be shared.

Oh, sweet son of a biscuit eater.

I’m not like my Mama at all.

It’s worse. Much, much worse.

When All Else Fails (4/20/2016)

Do you know what having the title ‘mother’ means?

Don’t think it means you are adored and revered – let me stop you right there.

No, it means you are the one whose advice, warnings, and wisdom is completely disregarded.

Whatever comes out of your mouth is ignored, causes involuntarily eye-rolling, and may cause stomach upset.

It’s more harmful to your health than the newest pharmaceutical.

“Don’t do that, you are going to get hurt.”

I think I wake up saying that some mornings.

“But –”

“No. No buts, just do what I say.”

Of course, I don’t know anything. I mean, what could a mother possibly know?

I can see the impending accidents that can occur and despite having no working knowledge of physics, can ascertain at what speed and velocity something will ricochet through the air to make contact with one’s head.

Maybe that’s mother’s intuition but who knows? That’s just as ignored as everything else.

“What don’t you put that up to keep it safe?” I ask.

“It’s alright.”

The next day: “Oh, man…that’s ruined…”

Really?

“Mama…can you get me another one…”

Unfortunately, no; that was the last one.

“Oh, man….”

“Didn’t I tell you?….”

Just the beginning of this phrase causes the rest of what comes out of my mouth to be muted.

Don’t try finding sympathy in the company of your own mother. If she is anything like mine she can remember every time you ignored her heedings. Mine will even side with my child just to pour salt in the wound.

“You never listened to me so why should he listen to you?”

“Maybe because I am right?”

Mama sighs, an exasperated, slightly dramatic sigh. “I am usually right, too, you know.”

“So far it hasn’t happened.”

Of course, when I was younger, I never thought for one moment she could be right. She was far too full of rules: telling me what to wear, what time I needed to be home, to watch what I was doing, and not stay up late on a school night. “If you know something is due, make sure you do it when you get the assignment – not the night before it’s due.”

I ignored her then, and, yes, I ignore her now.

“Make sure….have you…did you?”

Her statements are all peppered with constant warnings and advice.

“I am an adult, you know. I can do this,” is my retort.

A few days later – sometimes, it’s not even days but hours, actually – I am on the phone with her, asking her how to fix it.

“Can I ask you something? Why didn’t you listen to me to begin with?” she will ask.

How can I tell her that I am not supposed to listen to her? I am pretty sure it is written somewhere that while a mother can be adored and cherished, she is not necessarily listened to.

“Did you ever listen to Granny?”

She didn’t respond.

Granny would give Mama many words of wisdom, none of which my mother would take.

“She’s just being bossy and controlling,” is how Mama described the advice.

In hindsight, however, Granny was right.

She was right about a lot of things, like wearing a slip, even if you think you don’t need one so everyone else won’t see all your glory; never buying cheap shoes; and always making sure you look presentable before you head out, lest you want to run into everyone you know in town.

She was right and, as much as I hate to admit it, Mama is right about a bunch of stuff, too.

Having a son does increase the validity of what I may say, but not by much. I can tell my child what to do or, more accurately, not to do, and he will listen in as much as he feels applies to him and what he wants to do at that given time.

Our conversation usually follows a rhythm of me telling him not to do something and him declaring he knows what he’s doing.

This is typically followed by a thud or the sound of something crashing. “I’m alright,” he will call out, not too convincingly.

“Didn’t I tell you?…”

“Yes, Mama, you did…”

I sigh as I survey the damage. Wood floors can create pretty immediate bruising.

Didn’t I just tell him not try to run-slide in socks?

Did he listen?

Of course not.

When all else fails, just do what your Mama told you.