Always be kind to your mama

Mamas, it seems, can be a sensitive bunch.

Particularly mine.

I don’t remember her being that way when I was younger, but she has become so in recent years.

She claims I am not as compassionate as I could be.

Case in point, she can’t hear most of the time.

I am not sure if it is because of her age that her hearing is declining or it’s because she and my uncle normally have the T.V. volume at some obnoxious level that can probably be heard five miles away.

“What did Cole eat after school?” she will ask.

“He ate two orders of fries,” I said.

She hears: “He was attacked by flies?”

“He ate two orders of fries.”

“Flies?”

“Fries.”
“Rice?”

“No, Mama, he ate two large orders of fries. Fries. Fries!” I am practically yelling by this point, straining for her to hear me.

Mama takes it the other way. “I don’t think you should talk to me that way,” she says, a tone of indignation creeping into her voice.
“I was not talking to you any way. I was talking so you would hear me.”

“You were yelling.”
“Mama, I told you four times he had fries and you didn’t hear me. I had to practically yell, and I still don’t know if you heard me or not.”

She gives me the silent treatment for a few moments. She probably didn’t even hear what I said the last time.

“I am so sorry I cannot hear that well. I am 74 years old, my hearing may not be the best,” she said.

“Mama, you may need to get a hearing aid.”

“I am not getting a hearing aid,” she said. “I don’t need one. I am just not hearing as well. And this phone is not the best. I don’t like it. But you could be a bit nicer and more compassionate. You know, one day you will be old and may need some patience, too.”

I sighed. It wasn’t that I was impatient with her. I just felt like she needed to get her ears checked.

When did her hearing start to decline? Had it been around the time she started going a bit slower when she walked? The woman that worked two jobs after she retired– often getting off work at one job and sleeping a few hours before going into her next job – now found grocery shopping too tiring.

“Why do you get so angry when I can’t hear you?” she asked one day.

“I don’t get angry,” I replied. I don’t.

I get…I am not even sure what I get.

Sad, frustrated, scared – that’s what I get.

My Mama, the crazy redhead, was always able to hear every swear word under my breath as a teen and could live off coffee and nicotine for days. She was the one that would move the biggest mountain standing in the way between her Kitten and whatever I needed to do.

And now, I am fearful as age seems to be creeping up on her.

It scares me. It really does.

“You do get angry,” she insists. “You need to remember I am your mama and you shouldn’t get angry with me.”

I tried explaining I wasn’t angry again, but she had already decided I was. “Did you ever get angry at Granny?” I asked. When all else fails and you can’t win an argument, deflect.

Mama felt silent again.

“Well?” I pressed.

“I didn’t get angry with her; I got frustrated.”

“Uh huh.”

“I did.”
“And, why was that?” I asked. Before I asked the question, I knew the answer.

Mama didn’t say anything. She didn’t have to. Granny refused to get a hearing aid, doing the same Mama had done, and accused her of raising her voice because she wouldn’t hear.

“Didn’t she say you used to yell at her? Simply because she wouldn’t hear well. And you got so frustrated with her.” Hello pot, meet kettle.

“I had a reason; there was nothing wrong with that old woman’s hearing when she wanted to eavesdrop.”

True. Granny could hear a pin drop, or a bag of cookies open when she wanted to; the rest of the time, she exercised selective hearing and tuned us out.

Something I think Mama may do, too, though she denies it.

“You just need to remember one day, you will be old, and you will want Cole to be patient with you,” she said.

Right, I thought.

A few days later, Cole was trying to tell me something and I had to ask him to repeat himself.

Three times.

As he walked away, I heard him take a deep sigh.

And so, it begins.

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Yearning for childhood lost

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

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

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

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

Mine was watching Mister Rogers.

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

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

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

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

Where people spoke with gentle words and softer tones.

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

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

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

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

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

“Who’s your favorite?” he asked me.

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

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

But I had the sanctity and safety of childhood.

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

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

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

“He died?” I asked.

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

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

A cool guy.

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

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

“I will check it out,” I promised.

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

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

Compassion, kindness, and empathy truly were his superpowers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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