The Abbreviated Summer (8/24/2016)

Summer won’t be officially over until September 5, when we put all our white shoes and linen pants away.

But, summer was really over a week or so ago when school started.

“Summer’s over?” my child said, exasperated one Sunday evening when he was told he had to start the next day. “I literally just got out!”

It sure felt like it. Compared to the summers of my youth, his were over in a blink of an eye.

When I was his age, summer seemed eternal.

Somethings I didn’t like. I wasn’t a fan of the heat, we never went on vacation and with Mama working nights, my mornings were spent poking her multiple times until she woke up.

But somethings were so simple, I realize now how perfect they were.

A big deal for me was Mama taking a friend and me to the movies every summer, sitting a safe distance away so as to give us an air of independence while keeping a watchful eye.

Somehow, Mama always fell just trying to get up from her seat.

She claimed it was because she had a hard time adjusting to the light after sitting in the dark for two hours; I always replied her feet and the ability to move them had nothing to do with the lighting.

More than likely, it had something to do with the fact she was a tad bit clutzy. But picking Mama up from the popcorn shrapnel and sticky stuff we hoped was only Mellow Yellow was as much as a tradition as the summer blockbuster.

There were evenings sitting in the living room with the back door opened, listening to the crickets while we snapped peas.

It just took a few moments for me and Granny to find a rhythm that matched the cadence of the bugs humming in the night.

It could be hot and miserable, but somehow sitting with Granny as we snapped and shucked corns and shelled peas, it didn’t bother us much.

Even though this was work – Granny often put most of our evening efforts into the freezer for the winter – to me, it was the best fun I could have.

Sometimes, she’d make homemade ice cream for us, or her sweetened milk, taking regular milk and adding sugar, vanilla and ice.

My days were spent at the big library in town, sometimes, I even poked Mama enough while she was asleep that we got there before they opened and I was one of the first to walk in and smell all the knowledge on the shelves. I’d check out books by the stacks and spend my days curled up in the chair with my cat reading.

Of course, maybe my favorite summer activity was just the little joy rides Mama and I would take.
They always started at The Store to get gas in her little blue Ford Escort and to get ice cold Cokes out of the chest freezer – in the glass bottle, thank you – and packs of peanuts.

We were cool before Barbara Mandrell claimed she was.

Off we’d go, through the backroads of Oconee County, riding into Morgan County and eventually Clarke County. Mama loved nothing more than finding some old country road, usually one lined with picket fences and thick trees and discovering where they went, so that was how we spent many dusky summer evenings.

And we didn’t go back until after Labor Day, not the beginning of August.

“Why is my summer so short?” Cole asked, wanting more time.

“I don’t know,” I replied. I really wasn’t sure. It made no sense to me and I would love for him to have the long breaks like I did.

But he’s already been back in school for two weeks now.

Good thing my summer was much longer; there wouldn’t have been enough time to enjoy it all.

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The Undergrad Continuum (8/17/2016)

The last few days, I have watched friends I graduated high school with ready their children for college.

I am not sure how this is possible since 1991 was really only 5 years ago so this seems to defy the laws of time.

But there they are, dropping off kids at their dorms hours away and into impending adulthood.

And it dawned on me: they are still babies.

Sure, when I graduated high school, I was ready to take on the world.

I think it mainly stemmed from being young and foolish enough to think I was invincible and that I was going to solve the world’s problems.

I knew everything, too.

Lord, have mercy at the depths and expanse of my omnipotent knowledge or lack thereof.

“I’m not quite sure why you going to school; you know everything,” Granny snorted one day.

I really thought I did.

So much so that I dropped out after my first quarter of paralegal studies because the classes started too early.

“Who can think that cussed early in the morning?” I asked.

Granny was furious; Mama, said nothing at first, until she got the phone bill. It was $8,926,274.12.

Or at least you would have thought it was given the hissy fit the crazy redhead pitched.

“Since you are taking some time to find yourself, you can find a job in the meantime,” she announced with aplomb one afternoon.

“I am your child; I should be able to reflect and be introspective on what I want to be when I grow up,” was my response.

“I can’t think of any better way to find out what you want to be than to learn what you sure don’t want.” She tossed the paper on my bed. “There’s the want ads; find yourself a job by the end of this week or the phone will be thrown out.”

She always struck a low blow, threatening my phone, my life line to the outer world beyond the graffiti walls of my bedroom.

I sighed. I had to get a job.

How was I going to find myself if I had to get a job?

But find one I did, waitressing during the lunch rush at a local restaurant.

When I complained about being tired and how customers were rude and demanding, Mama just asked me if I was ready to go back to school.

“I’m still trying to figure out what I want to be. It’s not fair to make an 18-year-old figure out what they want to be the rest of their life,” I told her, stomping into my room.

The next phone bill was $9,308, 237.11. (This was when it was long distance to call everywhere except your city and my future ex-husband was at school, 2 hours away.)

“You need to get another job,” Mama said, tossing the paper on my bed again.
“What!? Why?” I whined. “I can’t work another job!”

“Then get one full time job,” she said. “You only work part-time and aren’t in school; you can get another one. Or I will yank the phone out of the wall.”

So I got another job. And another.

I think at one time, I had about 37 part-time jobs.

I was exhausted.

“I’m going back to school,” I whined one day. “This working thing is killing me.”

“Have you figured out what you want to be when you grow up?” she asked.

Oh, heavens no. But I had a clear idea of what I didn’t.

The thought of sharing a communal shower and a room smaller than the one I grew up in did not appeal to me, so I commuted four days a week for four years.

When I graduated that sweltering hot day in June, I just knew I was officially grown and ready to take the world by storm. Before, I thought I was ready; now I was.

I walked out of the Macon auditorium and it hit me: I was really still just a baby.

I didn’t even know how to turn on utilities, how was I going to take on the world?

I was scared and didn’t know what I was doing but again, armed with foolish bravado I thought I could do anything. I’d figure it out, right?
Thankfully, I had the fallacy of my youth on my side to help cushion my errors.

But, it was that year off that helped me grow the most.
Mama taught me the most important lessons of all; she knew working some hard jobs would be good for me, would teach me how to deal with the public, and help me figure out what I wanted to be. She didn’t let me just wallow in my own ruminations either; she is not one to entertain apathy.

She let me think I knew everything while she quietly showed me I didn’t.

She also knew it would keep me off the phone so the bill didn’t go up into the billions.

As I think of all the college freshmen starting school this month, I think they have the whole world ahead of them and I envy that time in their lives.

It’s a scary, exciting, exhilarating time, and I am sure a few probably feel like that they know everything, like I did.

And at least, briefly, for a while, they will.

 

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.

No One Loves You Like Your Mama (5/4/2016)

As I’ve grown older, several truths have grown more apparent.

One, don’t put overconfidence in a pair of control top panty hose.

Don’t believe what someone tells you, and be hesitant to believe what you see.

But the most important one is that no one loves you like your mama.

Mama was probably the original helicopter mom, hovering over me in her overprotective way.

I had back surgery when I was 12 years old to correct a severe curvature in my spine. I was nervous, as any kid would be, mainly because I wasn’t sure what to expect. And it seemed like a pretty big deal – the surgery would take at least 8 hours and the hospital stay was projected at 3 weeks – but to my 12-year-old self, I was mainly worried about my cat.

Mama may have been scared, but she never told me. Those words never left her lips. If anything, when I would get scared and ask if I would be okay, she comforted me and told me I’d be just fine.

In the hospital, the night before the surgery, I looked over and realized Mama was sitting there in the dark, just watching me, quietly. I think she was praying.

“Mama?”

“Yeah?”

“I don’t want to die — I am scared.”

Mama was quiet for a moment, maybe to not let her own fear come across. “You will be just fine, I know it. You’ve got the best surgeon and I know God will bring you through this.”

I went to sleep and the next morning, had the surgery.

Over the next few days, Mama never left my side.

Well, with the exception of going up to the roof of Georgia Baptist to a spot she found to smoke.

I would open my eyes and there she was, standing over me, stroking my hair, and checking on me.

“Mama,” I began, my voice hoarse.
“Yes?” she leaned in to hear me better.

“Quit hovering over me.”

This would become an ongoing theme between us from then until now. “You’re hovering,” I will caution. “No, I’m not,” she will counter.

“Yes, you are.”

“Okay…maybe I am a little. I want to make sure you are OK.”

When I was in my twenties and even my thirties, this was annoying.

Now, I get it.

I do.

I worry, I try to protect my only child from all the dangers that life can throw at him, and I hover.

I hover so well I should be some kind of stealth military helicopter.

I can tell by my child’s very countenance a myriad of emotions: if he is upset, disappointed, worried, sad, hurt.

And I go into hover mode to do what I can to bring him out of it and to make it better.

He’s 11, so it’s not too terribly annoying right now.

I just want to make sure he is safe, and happy, and knows he’s loved.

Something that no matter how old he gets, I will want for him.

Just as I am 43 and my Mama is still hovering.

I made the mistake of telling her the other day how bad I was feeling because of my allergies.

She was immediately worried and told me to go to the doctor.

I told her I’d be fine and it was nothing a good rain and a couple of Benadryl couldn’t fix.

She wasn’t sure.

“Do you want me to come up there to take care of you?”

I assured her I was good.

She didn’t believe me, naturally, and her morning texts continually asked if I was better.

“I just worry about you…”she said forlornly, her voice trailing off.

I know she does.

For a mama, worry is just another way to love.

My husband may take care of me, make me tea, or draw me a hot bath but Mama is the one who will worry when things are serious.

And when things are serious, she will move heaven and earth to make things better.

She will tell you she’s coming to stay with you for a week, to give you the chance to catch your breath.

She will call you a dozen times a day to make sure you are okay when she can’t come take care of you and doesn’t understand why you think she is over-reacting.

She means well, really, she does. She just wants her baby, her Kitten, to be safe.

Because no one, no one loves you like your mama.

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.

Don’t Make Me Get My Mama (3/23/2016)

My earliest memories of my Mama convinced me being a mother was the closest thing to being either a superhero or a one-person Mafioso.

I can recall recounting something my first grade teacher (who hated me, by the way) had said to me on the way home; Mama turned that Monte Carlo around like something out of “Smokey and the Bandit” and hightailed it back to the school to confront the woman.

The evil woman was scared. I was amazed – Mama was a skinny little waif of a thing then but she was putting the fear of the devil in this hardened woman who looked like she was carved on Mount Rushmore.

A deep epiphany came over me that day. Mama, and not just Granny, was to be feared.

Even though that dreadful woman hated me, she pretty much gave me a wide berth after that, until one day she made another derogatory comment to me. Remembering the way she had reacted that fateful day, I narrowed my eyes and clenched my jaw.

“Don’t make me get my Mama,” I said.

It worked.

Over the course of the next several years, Mama became legendary – a parental “John Wick,” if you will, minus the artillery. Her weapons were her tongue, her big puffy red bouffant, and the fact she was right. And God forbid if anyone disparaged her Kitten. She went from a relatively reserved, quiet peace-loving lady who dared not offend a soul into a hellcat with claws.

When one high school science teacher, who seemed to take pride in how many of us failed his weekly quizzes, decided to point out one of my friend’s test scores in front of the class, my friend replied, “Don’t make me get Sudie’s Mama up here. I will.”

The teacher looked at him and laughed. “In case you forgot, you’re not her child.”

“Yeah, well, she will still come up here if I call her. Don’t make me call her.”

“Would she?” the teacher asked, directing the question to me.

I nodded. She would.

She did, too. I told her what the teacher did and the next morning, she was in the principal’s office, telling him making fun of a student in front of his peers was not conducive for learning and created a hostile educational environment. If it was wrong, it was wrong, and Mama couldn’t stand for injustice.

We had a new teacher the following semester.

Flash forward to my senior trip. Two friends and I had decided to go to Panama City. Mama was fully against this, saying we were too young to go out of state.

Granny, always on my side, snorted and said, “When you was her age, you was already married and divorced. Let the youngun’ go. She’s gotta live a little before life sucks the joy right out of her.”

The morning after we graduated, we hit the road, arriving at a hotel that took our money but didn’t give us a room.

Here we were; three girls completely out of our elements and miles away from home.

I pulled out the only thing I knew could work. I sidled up to the counter, looked that clerk in the eye and said, “Don’t make me call my Mama.”

One of my friends whispered, “I don’t think they know about your Mama here in PCB.”

“No, we don’t know about your Mama. And we don’t care. Your Mama can’t do anything,” the greasy man sneered.

And you know what? For the first time in my life, when I told Mama about it, Mama didn’t do anything.

When we went home two days later – because we realized we were too young to be miles and miles away from home without our mamas—I told Mama what happened. She pursed her lips together, her grey-green eyes flashed first with anger, then worry, and she nodded silently while I told her the horrors I had endured.

“I am so sorry,” she finally said when I finished.

“I got the name of the hotel and the name of the mean clerk for you,” I told her.

“I don’t need it,” she said. “You see, Kitten, you wanted to go off and be all grown. I thought you were far too young to go off with your friends without an adult. Had you maybe listened to me, and not gone, this wouldn’t have happened.”

The woman who lived to defend and protect her precious Kitten was not going to unleash her locusts in another state? What in the world was wrong with her?

“So, you aren’t going to do anything, Mama?”

“Not this time,” she said. “You wanted to be all grown and independent. Part of being grown means taking care of your own problems.”

Of course, since I have grown up, Mama will still launch an attack if anyone wrongs her only child. She has threatened to come up here on numerous occasions when I have told her of some injustices.

And I admit, there’s sometimes, I wish I could just let Mama handle some stuff.

As a parent myself, I am trying to teach my child how to handle his own issues. The other day, after exploring every possible option to get a game to save, he asked for the phone. “Who are you calling?” I asked.

“Their customer service department,” he said.

“Do you want – ”

“No, Mama, I got this. I’m 11, you know, I can take care of it.”

He scurried off to leave a message for tech support. They called back within 10 minutes.

“Wow,” I said. “That was quick! They must have excellent customer service.”

“Maybe. Or maybe it was what I said when I left my message.”

“What did you say?” I asked.

“I told them I had spent my money I saved up on this and needed to know how to make it work. But I think the kicker was, “Don’t make me get my Mama.””

The legend undoubtedly continues.

 

Consider this a PSA for December birthdays (12/9/2015)

Like many others, I am a December baby.

My original due date was supposed to be in January, but the only time I decided to arrive early to anything was when I made my grand entrance in the world.

I don’t remember my first birthday, but have seen pictures of myself sticking fingers in a decadent chocolate cake that my Uncle Bobby got me from the Black Forest Bakery in Athens, hailed to have been the premier bakery in the ‘70s.

After that, my birthday was a flop for a while.

There was no big parties – who had time to worry about coordinating a birthday party during the month of December, let alone, the week before Christmas.

No, usually, Mama and Granny had the swell idea of just bringing cake and a bucket of chicken to school for me to have a party with my class. It gave the teachers a brief respite and then, Mama usually sprung me out a little bit early.

When it came time for my present, Granny would instruct me to go pick out a gift from under the tree.

“Not that one. No, put that one back. Uh uh. No. That’s an early Santa gift; he dropped that one off when you was at school. No – get that one back there with the green bow on it.”

A green bow that was probably older than me as it clung to life on the box with layers of clear tape (because Granny was not about to throw anything away – she could get a dozen Christmases out of that bow) was my symbolic green light to my birthday present.

I eagerly tore the paper off and opened the box – careful not to rip it because Granny would re-use the boxes for decades, too – and found just what every kid hopes they never receive as a gift:

Footy pajamas.

Footy pajamas with some kind of horrible ‘70s design – maybe a Care Bear riding a unicorn – was not a good birthday present.

“I didn’t want footy pajamas,” I would say.

“You needed ‘em,” Granny would declare.

“I didn’t want them, though.”

The old gal would snort.

“I didn’t ask you if you wanted them, I told you you needed ‘em – you done outgrown your other ones and these will keep you warmer than a gown. And lookie,” she began, pointing to the drop-seat flap in the back- just what every little girl wants to see on her jammies.

“Now you ain’t got to take ‘em all the way off to go potty.”

My sugar high from the school cake had worn off, so I didn’t attempt to argue with the woman. Disappointed, I went to my room, with my highly flammable – but with excellent traction -footy pajamas in hand.

I wondered if I could move my birthday. Perhaps having a birthday in July? No, the Fourth was then and it was hot. Plus, school was out; no way to have a party with my class. November? Thanksgiving.

What about September? Labor Day.

Was there any good month to be born? I surmised not.

I was the only child, only grandchild, and only niece – and the best they could manage was “Go pick out a present from under the tree?” To paraphrase Molly Ringwald in “Sixteen Candles,” don’t adults live for this stuff?

“Mama, something needs to change?” I said the day after.

“What do you mean, Kitten?”

“I got footy pajamas for my birthday.”

“And you looked adorable last night in them!”

That woman needed to cut back on the caffeine sometimes.

“No, Mama,” I began. “Don’t you think it’s wrong that I have to pick out my birthday present from under the tree? It’s like my birthday doesn’t get its own day. It’s not fair. My birthday should not be an afterthought. It’s not even in birthday paper – it’s in poinsettia paper.”

I may not have been quite as logical and eloquent in my delivery; I was 11 after all. But Mama understood.

From that year on, Mama decided to give my birthday gift either before December, or after – my choice. Instead of poinsettia paper, it’s usually still in the bag from the store she bought it, complete with the receipt in case I want to return it.

She even will call me when she is in a store and tell me what she is looking at or sends me a picture, asking me if it’s something I want. Needless to say, she’s gotten better at the birthday gifting thing over the last 30 years.

Granny wasn’t on board with the whole separate gift idea until Mama pointed out to the old gal, who’s birthday was May 13, that maybe she would be fine with a combo gift for Mother’s Day.

“Oh,” Mama said, in her genteel passive aggressive way. “So we can get you a pair of footy pajamas, too, then?”

“No, I was a-born a long time before I was a mother,” was her reply. “And I expect something nice for my birthday and something nice for Mother’s Day. And don’t you get me no footy pajamas – you get me anything to sleep in, it better be a gown.”

A gown. The old gal wanted a gown as one of her gifts.

Because no one wants footy pajamas for their birthday.

The power of forgiveness: Doing some self-work

 

I have been doing some self-work lately – a byproduct of trying to better myself these last few years.

I’ve been restless, anxious and felt stagnant, even when trying to take great strides in other areas.

Nothing I did was working the way I wanted it to.

I was frustrated and frankly, depressed. I fell into the trap of feeling sorry for myself and whining to Mama far too often.

I am sure any mama would tell you that’s part of their job, but my mama must have the patience of a saint given what she puts up with from me.

That, and it makes her feel bad because when I get in my pits of despair, it’s something she can’t talk me out of or help and every mama wants to “fix it” for their baby.

“Maybe if you moved closer to home, things would be better,” Mama said during my latest rant.

Of course, this is her answer for everything.

“I’ve tried,” I said, and I had. But, I reminded her, unless they had somehow hit the lottery, that was feeling more and more far-fetched.

I told her everyone I blamed for things not working out the way I thought they should. And Mama quietly listened.

Some of the folks I was blaming had long been out of my life – maybe even forgot I existed – but I was throwing all the blame on them.

Mama could understand. Trust me, if anyone can hold a grudge, it’s Mama. Granny taught her well.

When I finally took a breath, Mama was able to speak.

“I know you are going to hate this, because I am going to tell you what you need to do. But what you need to do is forgive.”

“What?”

“You need to forgive them. Let it all go, there is nothing that can be done about it anymore, but it’s hurting you. You need to let it go.”

Crazy talk, I declared. I was justified and I knew it.

But life has this divinely timed way of putting synchronicities in your path to illuminate a point.

Everything that crossed my path in the days following Mama’s advice was about forgiveness.

“Not forgiving someone is like drinking poison and expecting it to hurt the other person,” was one thing that popped up.

It seemed like all of my friends were discussing forgiveness and how the freedom it brought with it. Not for the other person, mind you; but for the one doing the forgiving.

It doesn’t mean you condone what they did. It doesn’t mean it was OK, or that you will allow it to happen again.

It means you don’t want to carry around the emotional baggage of it anymore.

I am reading a book and just a few chapters in, is a chapter on forgiveness.

The author says imagine you have a river full of everything you want flowing to you – all the goodness, joy, happiness – is on its way, until unforgiveness blocks the path.

The book also said to forgive everyone. To make a list.

It’s a process – believe me.

I started making my list.

But I started my list and then realized I was focusing on the situation and finding fault – pointing fingers and placing blame.

Rehashing the situation only proved to make me relive it and feel those emotions all over again. I stopped, and just wrote the names instead.

Another quote that came across my screen said sometimes what someone does has nothing to do with you, but is solely about them.

So maybe the people who had been rude, hateful and spiteful were merely working on their own stuff.

Maybe the bosses were jerks because of how they had been treated, and not anything I had done.

Maybe the reason someone hurt me wasn’t because I was unworthy – but their own feelings of unworthiness.

Maybe, just maybe, the only reason I was in the situation to begin with, was so I could learn a lesson and how to forgive later.

I thought about my list, and wondered…if any of the people on there had forgiven me.

I hoped they had; not for my sake, but for theirs.

Because once you experience how it feels to quit carrying those hurts around, you hope whoever you may have hurt can feel that way as well.

Again, it’s a process.

I am sure there will be new opportunities to forgive, people will hurt my feelings, I will get upset, and new names will be added to the list.

But you know what?

I’m going to forgive them, too. After all, it’s for me – not them.

 

Sweet victory

There comes a point in every child’s life when they have a very startling reality revealed.

It has nothing to do with where babies come from, either.

It’s the harsh truth that – as much as it pains me to say this – I am not perfect.

Cole made it almost 11 years before the illusion he had of me, his mother, being perfect and flawless was shattered.

Realizing Mama is not perfect is more devastating than other truths we find out in childhood. I remember the day I realized my own Mama wasn’t.

I was only four, but it was life changing nonetheless.

Granny was far from perfect but she considered herself a limited edition, so her flaws were part of what made her unique.

That, and she’d just as soon slap you silly if you told her otherwise.

But my son thought I hung the moon and the stars and was right about everything.

If I said it, it was gospel. He believed what I told him – he knew I wouldn’t lie to him and if he heard me utter anything to his daddy, he took it as truth.

Mama could tell him something and he would tell me he wasn’t so sure.

“Nennie said she has scorpions that fly. Do you believe her?”

I shook my head.

“She thinks everything is a scorpion. And she thinks everything flies. She is also fairly certain one of their cats is trying to kill her.”

She may not be far off on the cat.

Since the first time I realized Mama was not perfect, I have learned to accept that sometimes, Mama was wrong.

Sure, she was right about somethings – the ex, for one – but some things she was horribly wrong about.

Like that Lancome powder she keeps trying to give me that makes you all shimmery.

No one, unless you’re an extra in a show with vampires, needs to shimmer that much.

Just like she was wrong in the ‘80s when she wore parachute pants with high heels.

So while I love my Mama, I am very aware that she is not perfect.

My child, however, was still living in the fairy tale of me being perfect.

“My Mama said if you do that, it will explode and your brain will melt,” I heard him saying on the phone one day. “And she’s the smartest person I know, so yeah, I wouldn’t do it. Your brain will ooze out your eyeballs.”

As long as I was instilling fear into the elementary crowd and avoiding impending explosions, I was doing my job. And, they believed me.

I was still perfect. I was still right.

Being right was kind of my thing with Cole.

I told him if he touched the gas heater, he would get burned.

“What did I tell you?” I asked. “See – I was right! I am always right!”

I cautioned him on various and sundry other things, all ending with me being right.

“How do you always know what is going to happen?” Cole asked after another brilliant example of my omnipotence.

“Because I am always, always right.”

Oh, oh, oh, how those words can come up and bite you in the tater when you least expect them or want them to.

We were out running errands when we decided we needed to run through a drive thru for ice cream.

I was happy to see coupons for free ice cream in the dash. And Lamar gets on to me about not cleaning out my trash when I exit the van – I just saved a few bucks by being lazy.

See how right I was?

I gave our order and told the clerk we had coupons for the ice cream but not the smoothie.

When she gave the total, it was a lot more than just a smoothie.

“Something’s not right,” I said. “That’s too much.”

“Maybe Daddy got a bigger smoothie?” Cole suggested.

“No,” I said. “I think they are overcharging us. They overcharge you in the drive thru.” The scene from the “Lethal Weapon” movie with Joe Pesci played through my head.

“Leo Getz was right,” I muttered.

“Mama, they are not doing it on purpose, it was just a misunderstanding.”

“Oh, no, it wasn’t,” I said convinced.

“Mama-“

Lamar cut him off.

“Cole, don’t question your Mama about money; she can take a glance at a buggy and tell you how much it will be. If she’s saying they messed up, she’s right.”

“I am just saying it was a mistake. They aren’t doing it on purpose,” he said. “You think they are doing some horrible crime against you personally. They are probably a very nice person. And it is a simple mistake.”

How dare this child attempt to reason with me.

Lamar drew a sharp intake of air.

“Cole, I am sure it is not a mistake. I am right – just you watch.”

My child didn’t miss a beat. Where do you think he gets his dogged stubbornness and relentlessness from?

“It’s going to be an honest mistake – and they are going to be a nice person — and I am going to be the one who’s right. Not you.”

Lamar shook his head.

“He’s just a child; remember that.”

I turned around in my seat and looked at my precious monkey in the back of the van.

“What?”

He lifted his chin.

“I’m going to be right.”

“We’ll see.”

I don’t want to get into specifics. It was not only an honest mistake, but, the young lady told us she’d see us Sunday at church. I felt like a heel.

“How’s your ice cream?” Lamar asked.

“Delicious,” Cole said. “It tastes like victory.”

The little stinker was right. And we all knew it.

Sour lessons and sweet victory.