Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Mother, Myself

"What the daughter does, the mother did."  Jewish Proverb  

If I said that the last couple of days were challenging for me, it would be a massive understatement.  Darling daughter got sick on Saturday.  It started with a sore throat followed by a low-grade fever.  On Sunday morning, she threw up the Motrin that I had given her for the fever.  She slept most of the day.  In the afternoon, the fever reached 103 degrees, and I dragged her kicking and screaming to Urgent Care.  She was miserable.  She hates throat swabs.  She was dizzy and a bit incoherent.  We got a wonderful nurse who was gentle with the throat swab.  The minute the nurse was gone, the daughter threw up all over the exam room.  There was no wastebasket for me to put in front of her, and I had to hold her up because she was dizzy, and I had to hold her still and hold her hair back.  The doctor walked into the room to find a scene straight out of a horror movie.  They rushed us into another exam room.  An antibiotic was prescribed.  The doctor gave us an "Emesis Containment Bag" - the technical term for barf bag - with bright red and black biohazard signs emblazened on it and sent us home.  

I spent the majority of Sunday night sleeping in the living room by the daughter just in case she needed to get up and became dizzy.  She managed to keep her antibiotic down that night, thank goodness.  By the time yesterday morning rolled around, I was pretty much a walking zombie who bore an uncanny resemblance to Medusa.  The daughter got up and drank some water and immediately threw up.  

I got my son ready for school.  While waiting for the bus, the son got his bike out of the garage and rode it up and down the sidewalk and driveway.  Just before the bus came, he hit one of the last remaining patches of ice and fell ripping the knee of the last good pair of jeans he owns.  The knee was badly scraped and bleeding.  I would have to drive him in to school.  

Twenty minutes later, after getting the daughter settled down, and the son's knee cleaned and bandaged, I drove him to school.  I had to turn in yearbook payments yesterday, so I walked in to the school with my son.  We had to wait outside for a minute before the bell rang.  We stood next to a woman who is a recess monitor at the school.  My son, who is one of the most amiable and outgoing kids you will ever find, saw her and said, "Hi Recess Monitor!"  She got an annoyed look on her face and said, "Well, if it isn't 'Mr. I-Didn't-Do-It'."  I watched her smirk and look very proud of herself.  

Now, I know that my son works hard to cultivate his reputation as a troublemaker.  He is not an angel by any stretch of the imagination.  But lately I noticed that he has been getting sent to the guidance counselor's office for relatively minor infractions of the rules at school.  I volunteer at school, and I see reports on the other students for far worse offenses, and they get off with mere warnings.  Things were becoming very clear to me as I stood looking at the Recess Monitor from Hell.  

I have a temper that I can usually keep under control.  But from time to time, it almost seems like there is a "clutch" in my brain that disengages all control that my brain has over my mouth.  This was one of those times.  After taking a second to consider what the repercussions would be if I lambasted this woman, I decided that her smirk and her weird hairstyle were my welcome mat to a temporary insanity defense.  With my left hand on my hip, my right index finger pointing and searing eye contact, I looked at her and said, "Lay off my son."  I didn't recognize my own voice.  I scared myself.  

And then the bell rang.  The Monitor looked as if all the blood had drained from her face.  She put a protective arm around each of her daughters and hurried them into school.  I told my son to have a good day.  His brown eyes looked like they were dancing.  He saw and admired what I had just done.  He gave me a smile and wave and dashed off to his classroom.  

As I reached the school office, I looked up to see the Monitor walking down the hallway and looking back over her shoulder at me.  I gave her a look that said, "Yes, I'm still watching you."  

I felt exhausted.  Before 9 am, I had been thrown-up on, bled on and nearly in a smackdown with a woman who is larger than I am.  When I got back out to the car, I caught my reflection in the rearview mirror.  I saw my mother staring back.  My mother is a rollercoaster.  You simply never know from minute to minute whether she's going to go along at a leisurely pace or throw you around a curve.  Sometimes you can feel yourself chugging upward just before a freefall.  And you're turned upside down quite a bit.  But in all our years together, she has been my biggest defender.  

I remember being a little girl with thick glasses and unruly hair who used to get picked on at school.  And I remember my mother getting in my face and saying, "My kids are the best damn things that ever walked the earth.  Now get out there and stand up for yourself."  She simply could not understand why I would ever let other kids intimidate me.  I remember being frightened in new situations, and my mother would get in my face and say, "You've got two legs and a mouth, don't you?  Use them!"  My mother is brash and direct and doesn't have a subtle bone in her body.  Patience was not her strong suit.  She is a force to be reckoned with.  

I have a memory of my Mom that I treasure.  When I was in fourth grade, she bought me ice skates and took a friend and me to Lake Park to skate.  The problem was, I had never been on ice skates in my life.  I couldn't even stand up.  Mom had been watching me from the car.  She strode out onto the ice and picked me up.  My friend was skating circles around us.  Mom pointed at her and said, "Just do what she's doing."  Then she lit a cigarette and held it in the air with two fingers of her left hand and her right arm crossed in front of her.  It was as though she thought she could make me skate by sheer force of will.  Don't think about things - just do them.  There is a line from one of the "Star Wars" movies that always reminds me of my Mom.  Yoda is teaching Luke Skywalker to be a Jedi, and he says, "Do or do not . . . There is no try."  My Mom, the Jedi Master.  The force is definitely strong in her.  

I have so many good memories of my Mom when I was growing up.  She taught me to embroider.  I can still see her taking a dishtowel and using a round cap from a pill bottle and a pencil to draw a bunch of grapes for me to embroider.  She would buy me paint-by-number kits and we would paint together for hours.  It was my Mom who would hold up math flashcards and drill me on them.  It was my Mom that I would call and cry to when things would go wrong.  And she would always tell me that "You might as well laugh through grief as cry though it."  She knocks me down and straightens me back up.  

A few years ago, I wrote my Mom a letter on Mother's Day.  I typed out all the reasons why I felt she was a wonderful mother.  In 20 minutes, I had typed two pages full of reasons - single spaced.  I mailed it to her.  I was so proud of myself.  I was sure she would love it.  She called me after she got it.  She told me she wanted me to sign it and have it notarized because she didn't believe that I wrote it.  But I know that she liked it.  If you are looking for hearts and flowers from my Mom, you are "barking up the wrong tree" as she would say.  

They say that God chooses a mother for each baby that is born.  God finds one that is perfect for us and who will give us everything we need.  There have been times in life when my relationship with my mother made me say, "Lord, what were you thinking?"  But now that I am a mother, I am surprised at how wise she's always been.  She instilled a strong sense of self in me.  Whenever someone tries to knock me down in any way, there is this part of me that is like a punching bag with sand in the bottom of it.  It takes the hit and comes back full force.  

I feel in a strange way that the altercation with the Monitor has earned me some "Mom stripes".  My son knows that I've got his back, and I am also a force to be reckoned with.  

My mother would be proud.  

"The formative period for building character for eternity is in the nursery.  The mother is queen of that realm and sways a scepter more potent that that of kings or priests."  Author Unknown  

"The tie which links mother and child is of such pure and immaculate strength as to be never violated."  Washington Irving  

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