Well, guess what. I've had just a little, itty bitty, momma meltdown. Or maybe it was a daughter one. Because I can be as impatient with my own mother as with my kids, longing to shove her arthritic feet into her shoes rather than wait out her act of independence as she struggles with the long handled shoehorn; we can be as late for another doctor appointment, as I can be late getting my boys to school when they insist on tying their own shoes. I mean, of course they should tie their own shoes. But which can take hours....
And what mother-slash-daughter has hours? I don't, not when, after toppling the boys out the car door at school, I have the hour drive out to my mother's, to take her, after doctor appointments, slow-motion food shopping, as she can spend hours in front of the cat-food shelf ("They won't eat anything with chicken, and they don't like Friskies...."); before I can unload her groceries, bags of cat litter and Cat Chow, to then drive 80 mph to pick up the kids from after-school care without being charged the $15 late fee penalty.
But as mothering as I can be around my mother, I can be childish around my own children, as on the brink of my itty bitty meltdown; I had just called my mother as I do every day, always grateful that she actually answers the phone so I don't have her fallen, immobile, staring unblinking up at the ceiling.
Then she started to complain about her new eye-glasses; she wished she'd gotten those other frames, ones she'd left on hold at a some other optician's....Thankful she's upright and mobile, I want to hang up.
And I did. To pick up beside me an abandoned pile of knitting-in-the-round, a tangled mess that I proceeded to rip off the needles. My breathing was as shallow as when the boys fight and I'm trying not to yell.
But no one was fighting. The house was calm. Peaceful, actually. You could have heard a my $5 CVS fountain trickling if the batteries hadn't died.
My 8 year old was nibbling a cheese-stick. He took up my tangled discarded knitting clump, saying, "Hey, this is really cool." He'd never seen me knit before. Probably because I don't.
"No, it's not," I pouted. "It's stupid."
He looked shocked and confused. "Stupid" is a word he loves and I discourage vehemently.
I wasn't kidding. I stared him down, daring him to challenge me, as only he would ever dare me.
He gave me one last look before going out the door with Daddy and his brother to Home Depot for a fun wood building workshop. Not the more typical daring or defiant look I am more apt to get. A quizzical, even frightened, look.
That did it. Instead of cleaning out the refrigerator or putting the laundry in the dryer, instead of changing the bed sheets as I hadn't in two weeks, I crawled into the bed myself, trading my sneakers for comfy fleece socks – in the company of my beloved iPad (if only it had fur and purred), a bag of chips, and a martini with five olives. So you should know, it was 4 o'clock, near cocktail hour, if there is still such a thing in the real adult world, when you sip cocktails in cushy swank cocktail lounges, if not amongst dirty bed sheets.
So I munched, sipped, nibbled olives, surfed, Pinned, Twittered, and plugged my ear pods into Prince – "Purple Rain" came on. It sent me reeling. Back to college where, with a good friend, late one night after a party, drunk, we lay out under a cherry blossom tree.
I could feel the dew in the grass seeping through my shirt. The tree had been in full bloom – I was staring up through those pink petals, a brilliant, iridescent contrast against a pitch black sky, and thinking the big questions my boys now do, about what lies at the edges of that great expanse. What might be the biggest and what is the very smallest thing in the whole universe?
Back then, unhindered yet by any real responsibilities, I'd been free to indulge in such unanswerable questions and in the crazy of lying under a cherry blossom tree until we were shivering with cold. I'd been free to be careless. Carefree.
And back then as well as now, there of course had been people who loved me. And their love has made them need me, for which I am grateful. Who doesn't want to feel needed?
But as a mother, and now as a daughter to an ailing elderly mother, I am needed in ways far more fundamental; there are the very young and the very old now, who depend on me for their daily survival. As empowering as that needing can be, it can be constricting. It can leave me breathless even in a quiet house where the otherwise meditative of knitting can make me as tense as tackling tax forms.
That night of lying out in the dewy grass, as daunting as the future might have seemed, crazy had been a rite of passage. Twenty-odd years later, that cherry-blossom-tree crazy for me has morphed into retreating between dirty sheets with a bag of chips, a martini and Purple Rain, a deviant from the expected – no longer a rite of passage, and the reason later, my concerned husband stuck his head in the door.
He took in the empty bag of chips and the big water goblet that had to serve as a martini glass since we didn't own any. "You
. . .ok?
"I'm good," I said, plucking one last olive from my empty goblet. I'd sipped slowly, enjoying how the olives bobbed around, faceless fish oblivious to the dry world beyond their watery sweet martini one.
Hubby wasn't quite convinced. "Really?"
"I'm great. Really."
He didn't venture any farther into the room. "Feel like takeout tonight?"
I find comfort in how well after eleven years of marriage he is able to read me. That for the most part, at least my role as wife seems clearly defined, though I wonder what the heck I must look like to him at the end of some days, in stained shirts (no longer from newborn spit-up but my own sloppy dribbling-toothpaste-coffee-and-cookie-crumbs ways). Then I remember what he can look like to me, in his "comfy" clothes of torn T-shirts and twenty-odd year old ripped college sweatpants.
For what it's worth – which finally is quite a bit – I woke up the next morning feeling like, if not quite a new, at least a better, person. I was happy to cuddle with my children on the couch in that snuggling sleepy quiet time. I was happy to finally put the molding laundry into the dryer. I even anticipated changing the now crumb-filled bed sheets.
And I was happy to call my mother and assure her that she had made the right choice with her frames. Because although I am mired in responsibilities I certainly didn't have back then lying under a brilliant pink tree, my responsibilities now I would never renounce. I couldn't even if I wanted to. They are as ingrained in me as my own need to kiss my boys behind their ears as I have ever since they were babies. As my own need to reach out and kiss the top of my mother's head, her hair thinned, when I must leave her sitting on her bed to take off her shoes, before my long drive back home.
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