Before my weekend is officially over (and thank god for once, because Valentine’s Day is our stupidest holiday), I want to come and just quickly write something about my mom. She loves reading when I write about my dad, but after my last entry, she wanted to make sure I know she was watching me when I wrote about the boys and the shed. She said what actually happened was it was a cold day, so she stayed inside with my baby brother and watched me play from there. She says it was just one boy (why do I remember two? I distinctly remember two, Mom) and that he was a minister’s son (what?! those ministers’ sons, I tell ya). She told me she saw him take me behind the shed and she got alarmed and ran outside to see what was happening. When she got to the shed, he was trying to unzip my snowsuit. When my dad got home from work, she told him what happened, and he walked across the street and unleashed on the minister.
I was raised by two really good people. Neither were perfect which I’m sure they’d both agree is true (no one is) (okay fine, maybe Oprah), but I was raised in a house where there was a lot of love. I think I was a bit too sheltered (thus my naivete about people) but my mom and dad made very conscious decisions about how they were going to raise children together. Also, we were so vanilla we made actual vanilla look like chocolate. I mean, we put the nilla in the vanilla.
Can I tell you a story about my mom? (Mom, I was waiting until after you died to tell this story so you couldn’t fact check it, so if I get anything wrong, you can tell me all about it on our long long road trip down to Disney this spring.)
When I was growing up, I had a little fluffy black dog I loved with all of my heart. Her name was Sassy and I was wholly responsible for her existence. We owned her mother, Muffin, who was a Llhasa Apso that peed on everything (EVERYTHING). This was in the days before Bob Barker started using Wheel of Fortune to encourage responsible pet ownership, so we didn’t think to spay Muffin. She went into heat just at the same time a little boy French poodle stray I named Pierre was hanging out at our house. My mom kept telling 7 year old me: DO NOT LET MUFFIN OUTSIDE WHEN PIERRE IS AROUND. But wouldn’t explain exactly why I shouldn’t do that – she just gave me some vague thing about girl dogs in heat and it wasn’t a good idea for them to be around boy dogs. So of course you’re not surprised that one Saturday when I got up early and everyone else was asleep, I let Muffin outside while Pierre was around. I mean, Muffin clearly had to pee. What else was I supposed to do? She peed on EVERYTHING, at least this time she wanted to do it outside.
I had such an valuable sex ed lesson that Saturday morning, let me tell you.
Several weeks later, my dad woke me up in the middle of the night so I could see the fruits of my inability to follow directions. Sassy was the last to come out, the runt of the litter. I think she almost didn’t make it, actually. At any rate, we ended up deciding to keep one of the puppies and gave Muffin away to two gay hairdressers who went away on vacation and left her with a dog sitter. While they were gone, Muffin peed all over their brand new expensive couch. They came back and were all, “WTF?!” And we shrugged our shoulders and went, “You wanted pedigreed, this is what pedigreed does.”
We chose to keep Sassy because, well…she was Sassy. You’d talk to her and she’d “talk” back – whining, barking, growling, whatever. She was a handful for a little runt, but she had a big personality. She was my friend, from the time I was 7 all the way til I was half-way through college. Animal friends see us through some of our happiest and saddest and brightest and darkest moments. If only they had opposable thumbs and could talk; I’m pretty sure the world would be a friendlier, more peaceful place.
The only problem with animal friends is they never live long enough – animal friends teach us about letting go and losing loved ones and how to say good-bye, and if you get a lot of animal friends in your lifetime you will have to be okay with doing this a lot. Sassy got old. Her eyes had cataracts. She was losing her mind – she couldn’t remember eating, peeing, pooping. She’d forget where she was. And just generally, she didn’t feel good. You could see it.
I have a hard time letting go of things and people I love. I am nostalgic, and I am prone to holding on to things far past their expiration date because familiarity comforts me. I mean, my family will tell you stories about me hugging our old station wagon and weeping when we got a new car. So when my mom told me it was time to do the right thing and let Sassy have some peace, I did not take it well. Which made my mom have to do the right thing for Sassy…without totally cluing me in on what was going to happen.
Our family was going away to visit family for Christmas, and we boarded Sassy and Max (an African Grey parrot we had at the time) as we usually did when we took long trips. When it came time for my brother and my dad to take them to the boarding place, my mom told me to come say good-bye to Sassy. I was suspicious. We’d put Sassy in kennels a lot, and I’d never been encouraged to say good-bye to her. You know how sometimes you kind of know something, but you can’t really admit it because if you do then nothing will be okay for a really long time? That. I spent a long time with Sassy that afternoon and told her I loved her, she’d always be my best friend. I miss her a lot still and if it wouldn’t off track us completely I’d tell you a couple of proof-of-after-life stories about her.
When it was time to come home, my mom got violently ill with a flu. We’d flown, so my aunt and uncle tried to get her to change her plane ticket and stay with them until she was better. The problem was, my mom knew when my dad, brother, and I all got home, we’d go collect the bird at the boarding place but there’d be no Sassy. And she didn’t want me to find out like that.
So. My mother, who has an even lower pain tolerance than me and my own wimpy kid put together, flew home sick. And it was a horrible time to fly. It was bad weather and they had to de-ice the runways and planes over and over to make them safe to fly. Our flight was delayed for hours, we were stuck in an airport for hours, and my mom was so sick she could barely sit up. I remember her lying on the floor or across some waiting area seats, just moaning in misery.
And when we got home, sure enough the bird came back but no little aged Sassy. I was just sad. So so sad. And really mad at my mom! But now, as a mother myself, I see what she did there. And it seems like sort of silly story maybe – little old dog needs to be put down, mom pulls a fake out on daughter in denial, then reveals all at the end. But she flew sick and in pain, because she knew how beside myself in grief I’d be when I found out. Its big and huge to me now, as a mom. This is what mothering is – sometimes you do hard, unfun things so your children will feel safe and loved.
My other mom story is the one where she asked me one day, when I was 6 or 7, what I wanted to be when I grew up. I said, “Oh, just a mommy like you.” And what I said struck fear in her heart. She’d actually wanted to go to college and become a social worker when she grew up, but her parents were old school (and poor) and told her good girls got married and had babies. And that’s what she did. But she didn’t want HER baby to do that, so when that’s what I was aspiring to, she made the decision to go to college. She didn’t know when she’d be able to, but one day she would get her college degree so she could show me I had options. And she did. And now I have a college degree (two, actually).
What I’m saying is that, from my mom? I learned that you parent by example and you sacrifice sometimes. And that you should be specific when telling your children why girl dogs in heat and boy dogs don’t mix well. We do not always see eye to eye (the funnest parts being when she starts talking to me about the state of the nation), but I always know I am loved beyond anything. I was blessed with two imperfectly perfect parents and I hope I’m doing as good a job with Miss M as they did with me.
Tonight, as I put M to sleep, she was mad at me because I said no Valentine candy before bed. According to her, GOOD mommies let their children eat sugar before bed, for dinner, and even for breakfast if they want it. And when Miss M grows up, she promises she’s going to be a GOOD mommy and let her children do that and whatever else they want to do, too. And so I let her know I said the same thing to my mommy when I was her age, and my mommy laughed at me, too. (Because when I laughed at Miss M’s big ideas about good parenting, I was told that was poor parenting, too. Which I also told my mom when I was her age, and then she let out a frustrated scream. Which I told her I also did a lot at my mom when I was her age. And that one day, when she had kid/s, she would understand. Which my means now I am turning INTO my mom, because this is exactly what she said to me.) So the next time we see my mom, she’s going to be quizzed by her child’s child on how good a parent she was and did she also laugh at me when I told her she was doing it wrong? And my mom will probably say: “Yes, she laughed at me, but then your grandfather looked at her and she knew better than to keep on laughing.”
Kids don’t even know how good they have it.
This is the one photo I have in any computer of my mom, you guys. Seriously, even on Facebook she’s that empty female head. I’d call this technologically-challenged, but she lives with a computer geek. So I’m going to go with: my mom’s been working for the CIA/NSA/FBI for all my life, and the enemy is watching her on Facebook.