Friday, April 30, 2010

On Understanding my Mother

One of my most vivid memories from childhood happened when I was about seven. That fateful Saturday morning, my siblings and I found ourselves crisscross applesauce on our lovely green linoleum floor, sitting too close to the television and spellbound by the misadventures of “Tom and Jerry,” despite the fact that none of our chores had been done. I say spellbound because somehow we missed the urgent warning of the most reliable look-out we ever had — a squeaky floorboard conveniently located just to the left of our Mom’s side of the bed. Faster than we could hit the “off” button and dash to our respective stations pre-equipped with cleaning props so we could feign being perfect children at a moment’s notice, Mom appeared in the family room. She took a split-second look around at the disheveled house and back at all three of us – the seemingly carefree perpetrators of the chaos— and began a ten minute tirade about how much she hated the television, how dare we watch it before our chores were done, and why weren’t we bothered by the fact that we had to clear a spot to sit down in the mess, and so on. In short, the woman lost it— but no one could have predicted what came next.

Because it was then that she stopped yelling, and her face changed from a frustrated, angry woman on the edge to that of an inspired artist just before she stops staring at her canvas and creates a masterpiece. With an eerie calm and purposeful determination she walked to the sliding glass door leading to our backyard and slid it open. Then she danced through the minefield of toys with the agility of an Olympic athlete to get to the old-school television we owned at the time, complete with side consoled speakers and heavy green picture tube. And with what I can only conclude to be the super human, adrenaline surge of urban legends describing mothers lifting automobiles off of their children, my petite mother picked up our huge television, limped with it over to the door and handily threw it out onto our concrete patio while we watched it smash into a million pieces. At the time I remember thinking, “My mom’s a nutjob.”

Now that I’ve been married for nearly 14 years and have two boys under the age of seven, I finally understand. The poor woman was experiencing the only time in her life when the “temporary insanity” defense would hold up in court. I am that woman. Okay – so I haven’t totaled any household appliances, (although somehow I think hucking the flat panel would be a little less cathartic) but I’ve had my share of retreats to the car for a scream that would put most Freddy Krueger films to shame. I’ve slammed doors, I’ve yelled, and I’ve definitely cried. And then there are those days when the man I blame for my suffering walks through the door and finds me with my keys and purse already in hand and I have little more strength than it takes to squeeze his shoulder and whisper, “movie,” before I screech down the driveway.

The other day that same man and I caught the tail end of a sitcom called “In the Middle.” As the husband is putting his arm around his wife he says, “Honey, for such a small woman, you pack a lot of crazy.” I’ll just ignore the fact that my husband stopped laughing long after I did. Because when I’ve spent a day listening to my six and a half year old speak only in the third person, or hours putting tiny chewed-up Operation board game organs back into their respective slots, or being forced to walk into a grocery store with a Cameron-induced yogurt stain the size of a scaled down map of Europe, I think of that day when I was seven and it makes me feel a little less crazy. And while I know I’m doomed to listen to my children regaling stories of my temporary trips to the “left of center” at family reunions for the rest of my life, I’m finally ready to give my mother the gift she’s surely been waiting for since I had my firstborn.

So Mom, here it is: I get it. I’m sorry. I take back all the under-my-breath curses I uttered when I found that you’d stacked dirty cereal bowls on my dresser after repeatedly asking me to wash them. I’m no longer mad that you didn’t replace that poor TV of ours for three years. And I’m sorry I cut the hair and ripped off the head of the original Barbie you’d had since your childhood – you know, the one that would have had you and Dad living “la vida loca” somewhere tropical and fabulous right about now.

Thank you for teaching me that it’s okay to lose it once in awhile as long as you fill in the rest of the blanks with big love, unending cuddles and “president of the fan club” levels of cheerleading. Thank you for allowing me to survive my childhood. And most of all, thanks for taking it out on the major appliances. (Fist bump) Respect.