Archives For mom

Butterfly Kisses

August 27, 2016 — 1 Comment

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Me and my mom, October 2013

I was in a group one time when we were all invited to share why we were grateful for our mothers. I could hardly believe how unabashedly sentimental folks got. Why, the things they said about their moms were worthy of a Hallmark Mother’s Day card.

My favorite was the guy who told us about getting “butterfly kisses” when he was little. He described his mom lifting him onto her lap, putting her face very close to his, then blinking so their eyelashes would touch. This from a grown man who had built his own house with his bare hands. Butterfly kisses.

There really is something about moms and how we feel about them. As the most primal relationship we will ever have in life, she is quite literally our life line in the beginning. But then as we leave infancy, we start teasing out our own identities, celebrating our separateness, and triumphing in our new ideas and opinions. But she’s still our life line. No amount of two-year-old swagger can negate this fundamental reality.

I got a little too big for my britches once when I was about three. I kept ignoring my mom’s instructions to stay with her while shopping in a department store, being more interested in playing underneath the dress racks. But my mom got weary of chasing me down and decided to help me learn an important lesson. She “hid” until I noticed she was gone. When I finally realized she hadn’t come looking for me in a while and looked up to spot her, I got a little panicky. (She was watching the whole time, so I was never in danger.) It worked. I determined never to let her get out of my sight again.

Because mom is critical to a child’s well being.

This truth became even more evident one day when I was in about second grade. I came bursting through the front door and made my usual beeline for the kitchen.

“Hi, Mom! I’m home!”

Something about the way she answered led me to suspect something was amiss. When I walked through the kitchen door, I saw she had her lower leg wrapped in an elastic bandage and propped up on a kitchen chair.

“What’s wrong?”

“I was sitting here at the table writing letters and my leg fell asleep. When I stood up and started to walk on it, I twisted my ankle.”

“But it’s going to be okay, right?”

“Well, it hurts a lot right now. I can’t walk on it at all.”

A torrent of questions flooded my mind: If Mom is unable to get around, who is going to take care of us? Who will fix us dinner? And where in the world is DAD?!! Having no context for a badly sprained ankle and how this thing might go, I was plunged into a sea of insecurity and worry. I slowly walked out of the room, feeling disoriented, I wondered what it all meant.

It wasn’t long before she needed to go to the bathroom, which meant a trip upstairs. She had already figured out she could get around by rolling on a task chair she used for sewing. But when she got to the staircase, she had to turn around and go up one stair at a time on her bottom. That was it. My world was officially unraveling. It was clear to see that my mother was functionally disabled and that life as I’d known it was now over.

Fortunately, my high anxiety didn’t last all that long because Dad eventually got home and took the helm. The details of what happened from this point elude me, but apparently we did eat a meal, did some homework, got our baths, and went to bed – all without incident. And apparently the injured ankle healed in the normal time frame. However, I never forgot how devastated I felt as my imagination ran amuck. The thought of her being taken out of commission and not being able to care for us had absolutely rocked my world.

Eventually, I got a little older and began to believe I didn’t need her so much. After all, I was getting to be pretty mature, you know. I mean, not too much longer and I’d be learning to drive. The high water mark of this wave of denial came about the time I packed a steamer trunk and a couple of suitcases and got on a plane to go to college in California.

Curiously, from that very moment on, I’ve been returning to – albeit, at a glacial rate – a level of knowing how truly vital my connectedness to my mom is that rivals my early childhood. Obviously, I no longer depend on her for the practical support I was so concerned about when she got injured. Nowadays it’s just emotional support I yearn for. How aware I’ve become of this phenomenon in the past several years surprises me.

I was with Mom just last weekend. We’d been out and about all afternoon, then returned to her house for a snack before I headed home. As we were in the middle of a good conversation, I noticed this impulse I kept having to tell her stuff, hoping and waiting for her affirming comments. It was sort of like a verbal variation of handing her my pictures to put up on the fridge.

For cryin’ out loud, Linda, grow up. You don’t have to be the center of attention here. Why don’t you just try listening to her stuff and celebrating it. Like an adult.

But as much as I wanted to, I couldn’t stop the impulse.

Because no matter how old we get, we still love butterfly kisses from our moms.

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Celebrity Interview

February 28, 2014 — 2 Comments

Hey, everybody! Just because it’s Friday, and just because everybody’s worn slick by Winter 2013-14 (and there’s more wintry weather in the forecast), and just because we like you guys…

Today’s post is a Celebrity Interview!

But who?

One of the royals, perhaps?

kate middleton

A star of stage or screen?

tom hanksanne hathaway

An outstanding professional athlete?

lebron james

Or maybe someone off the Billboard charts?

buble

Nope. None of the above.

We were fortunate enough to engage someone much more relevant to you, the faithful readership of Zero to Sixty in Five!

Today’s Celebrity Interview is with that Star of the PTA Stage, the Queen of Loveliness, the Slam Dunk Winner of the Oatmeal Brigade, and the “author” of the Author!

None other than…

[drum roll…]

Mary Anne!

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When we contacted the mother of Zero to Sixty’s Blogsmith in Residence regarding an interview, she graciously agreed to answer our questions. She wasn’t sure she’d remember all that much, but would give it her best shot. Any concern that she wouldn’t remember enough to provide a good interview was unfounded: she waxed eloquent on topics across a spectrum.

So, without further ado…

ZTSIF: It must have been a challenge to get a family of seven off to work and school. What was your typical morning routine?

Mary Anne: Well, you get up — when you don’t want to. (Laughs). I’ve never been a “it’s-fun-to-get-up” kind of person. But once my feet hit the floor, I was awake. I’m just glad I had kids before snooze buttons on alarm clocks!

Then I probably headed downstairs to make coffee and — this was before microwaves — get some water on the stove for a pot of oatmeal. Then I would begin waking kids. Some were easy to wake up, some weren’t. I remember you as being easy to wake, right?

ZTSIF: I think so. Until high school.

Mary Anne: The kids didn’t eat breakfast all at the same time because time in the bathroom was staggered. I can’t remember what I fixed on school days other than oatmeal. If I had eggs, I usually scrambled them. And toast. I served biscuits mostly at dinner. You know, the big deal was eating dinner together.

ZTSIF: How did you learn about school cancellations on snow days?

Mary Anne: I don’t really remember. Did we have any snow days? Do you remember any?

ZTSIF: No, not really.

Mary Anne: I’m not sure they cancelled school very often because of snow. You know, people didn’t just walk into their attached garages and get in a car and never have to walk in the snow. Everyone had galoshes and you were expected to get out in it and walk. But I’m thinking there must have been some snow days. We probably listened to the radio for cancellations.

ZTSIF: October 2013’s post “Crime and Punishment” makes a reference to the popular child rearing guide, Dr. Benjamin Spock’s “Common Sense Book of Baby and Child Care”. What was your reaction to Dr. Spock’s advice? Did your pediatrician recommend the book?

Mary Anne: No, our doctor didn’t recommend it. I don’t think I ever read the whole book, probably only excerpts in magazines. But I didn’t like it. He didn’t believe in disciplining children, and I always believed children should be disciplined.

I always enjoyed being a mommy. There were just so many things to do with children. You could study dinosaurs together (even though I didn’t really like dinosaurs all that much) to help your child do well on a school project. Or you could turn an orange crate on its end and find enough empty food containers to set up a little grocery store. Or you could sit everyone around the table and give each of them a needle with a different color thread and have them sew “X”es on the toes of their socks so they could be sorted easily when the laundry was done. There was always something to do together. Remember the winter party decorations when we put the pipe cleaner figurines on top of the little mirror “lake” and sprinkled fake snow all around it on the table?

Years later, when I was working outside the home, it would always make me feel sad when I heard women come in to work and say, “I’m so glad it’s Monday so I can get away from the kids for a while.”

ZTSIF: Do you remember the incident with the Brach’s candy display and making a certain young shoplifter go back into the store and return the candies?

Mary Anne: Vaguely. I knew that it needed to be a lesson. I’m glad you learned from it. That’s not anything you want to fool around with.

ZTSIF: The post “The Porch, Then and Now” (October 2013) describes the front porch on your home in Indianapolis. Talk to us about front porches.

Mary Anne: Before air conditioning, people sat on their front porches. If you had a spare moment, you headed for the porch. You got to know your neighbors, you said hello to people who passed by — it was just friendlier.

It was air conditioning that made the difference — everybody went inside. People started using decks — more for picnics and parties, maybe. I think people probably did more relaxing on porches than they do now on decks.

ZTSIF: Tell us about the accident to the porch.

Mary Anne: Two young guys — high school age — completely lost control of their car and ran it right up into the yard and into the corner of the brick porch. Your dad and brothers were gone — together, I think. It was a spring or summer mid-afternoon and you had just been outside playing about a half hour earlier. You could have really been hurt, and I was maybe rattled for a couple of days, but not too long. Life goes on. Fear didn’t grip people like it does today.

ZTSIF: Zero to Sixty in Five has portrayed you as someone who loved dressing nicely and accessorizing. Do you remember the orange corduroy dress mentioned in “The Queen and the Groupie” (September 2013)?

Mary Anne: Yes. I liked it. I can’t remember where I got it — your dad might have bought it for me. I always felt sharp in it. Which is funny, because I don’t really like orange. Which makes me think your dad probably did get it. A few years later I went to apply for a job, and I wore it. For some reason a photo was taken, either before I got the job or after, and I’m wearing that dress in it. I could probably find that picture.

Your dad also bought me a black and white plaid taffeta hostess gown. It was really meant for a woman entertaining in finer surroundings than we had, but he always enjoyed me looking good. Even when I was in my 70’s, he’d look at catalogs and pick out pretty things for me. He really enjoyed doing it.

ZTSIF: What were your thoughts while washing, combing, curling, or braiding your daughter’s hair?

Mary Anne: I know the reasons I did it: I wanted you to look cute; plus you were an extension of me, and our family, and I wanted you to look nice. But what I was thinking about while I was doing it? (Laughs.) Probably what I was going to do next! Or wondering what your younger sister might be getting into while we were doing that! There was always a lot going on in a house with that many kids.

ZTSIF: Well, it’s been a delightful interview. The management and staff at Zero to Sixty in Five thanks you for your willingness to share your reminiscences with our readership and we wish you a very pleasant evening.

(G’night, Mom!)

The one-day wonder

February 25, 2014 — 1 Comment

They say it’s important for young people to discover activities and interests that truly engage them and encourage them to be their best — so they can “express their personalities and make unique contributions to the world.” My mom hadn’t read the research supporting this assertion* — she seemed to just understand it intuitively. The woman single-handedly introduced me to more stuff that I could get excited about than you could shake a stick at. One of those things — which I’ve mentioned before — was sewing. I learned to love sewing. (An earlier post: All Dressed Up and Somewhere to Go).

Her teaching style was sort of hands-off, for the most part, because I have no recollections of her hovering as I worked. Of course, that may have had something to do with her caring, not just for me, but for four other siblings plus a big household. All that notwithstanding, whenever I hit an impasse, she was always available to explain the procedure thoroughly and/or demonstrate it, making sure I really understood the concept. This instruction continued for several years, and I gradually increased the level of difficulty with each project, with her providing my safety net all along the way.

Then one day…

…she apparently thought I’d mastered enough skills to recommend my services to a professional. For real. She did. I was about fourteen when she announced that a local woman who did repairs and alterations for a dry cleaners had agreed to let me work for her.

Say what?!! Me?!! But I’m just a kid!

“What kinds of things will she want me to do?”

“I don’t know… maybe replace zippers, mend ripped seams, sew buttons back on, hem skirts and slacks… things like that.”

“Think I can do it?”

“I wouldn’t have told her you were available if I didn’t think so.”

A couple of days later I walked to the woman’s house after school. Her manner was polite, but not at all warm or friendly, which added to my nervousness. I guess she considered this a business relationship. She escorted me to a sewing station in a small room behind her kitchen. Then she pulled out a large stack of cut pockets that I was to sew together using a French seam. (Folks probably don’t pay a lot of attention to the insides of pockets, but you won’t find any cut edges on either the inside or the outside of the pocket on a quality pair of trousers — hence, the need for a French seam, which encases all seam allowances.) She didn’t seemed all that convinced when I indicated I could do what she was asking.

I must have put together a couple dozen full pockets and another couple dozen half pockets that afternoon — more pockets than I’d ever seen in one place at one time, that’s for sure. They would eventually find their way into men’s trousers as replacement pockets. The extent of damage or wear on the pockets would determine whether a whole pocket or a half pocket was needed.

When I finally finished the last one, I got up to go inform my new boss I was done. We both returned to the sewing station, and she inspected the new pockets.

“This is good work,” she commented.

“Thank you.”

Then she said that was all she had for me to do that day and she’d call me when she wanted me to come back, so I headed for home. When I got there, I filled Mom in on everything: the task I’d been given and how I’d gotten the pockets all done, that she said I’d done a nice job, etc. And it hadn’t been too difficult, after all. I had demonstrated that I was capable, which left me wondering what the woman might have me do next: shorten a hem? take in a waistline? rip out a zipper?

Several days passed. No call. Then one afternoon, I walked through the back door and Mom said she’d called. Oh, boy! But then I heard the rest of the story: turns out, she didn’t want me back. Said she couldn’t afford to pay me by the hour because I worked too slowly. But to be sure and tell me that the pockets I had sewn were the best she’d ever seen.

lkd at sewing machine b&w

At the Singer, a couple of years after my one-day job (perhaps the only picture ever taken of me while sewing, which I did a lot)

Well, color me confused. Being brand new to this employer/employee thing, I imagined that my priority should be to demonstrate I could do quality work. Why didn’t somebody tell me she would also have an interest in efficiency?

So there you have it. A classic “good news-bad news” story: the good news — and I was really proud of this — was that my work had passed muster with a professional alterations seamstress; the bad news — I wouldn’t be making any money beyond the amount she paid me for that one afternoon. In a way, though, I was relieved: she was a little too taciturn for me to relax around. But who knows? She might have warmed up over the long haul, had I proven a suitable understudy.

About ten years later, I did earn money with my sewing — I just put out a shingle and did things on my own terms. I don’t think I ever really bothered to calculate how much I earned per hour, although by then I had gotten much faster than I was as a kid of fourteen. I mostly liked the oohs and aahs that inevitably came when I presented customers with their finished garments: a skirt that was now just the perfect length, jacket sleeves that didn’t cover their knuckles, or a custom fitted dress.

Several years after that, we had begun our family, so the shingle came down. And from that point on, all the sewing I did would be for love, not money. Most recently, my daughter-in-law showed me a picture of her idea for my little grand daughter’s costume, and, once again, I did my thing.

Say hello to Bat Baby.

Bat Girl

[ * Research on this subject at: Search-Institute.org/Sparks. These guys have great ideas and resources for supporting kids and the communities they live in.]

I was almost six years old when my mom went to the hospital to have my baby sister. In her absence, Dad must have done a fine job taking care of the household, as I can recall no major mishaps or catastrophes. The three of us kids were well fed, had taken our baths, had clean clothes — the works. I figured that when we piled into the car and went to pick up Mom and the new baby, she would be pretty impressed. Well, except for one thing…

My hair.

Since my two brothers had crew cuts, they were in need of no special attention. My hair, on the other hand, was a little longer than shoulder length at the time, and I generally wore it in a pony tail, pigtails, or braids. Braids must have been trending at the time, because the morning Mom was being released from the hospital, I remember Dad sitting me down on a hassock in front of his chair in the living room. He combed out my hair, parted it neatly down the middle and proceeded to braid each half of my head. He was very methodical and knew the steps to get it done. But what Mom could have finished in about two minutes took him forever. I remember aching to just forget the whole thing.

But I think I understood that this was a matter of pride: he would want Mom to see how seriously he’d taken his extra responsibilities while she was away. So I sat still and refrained from grumbling. When he got part of the way finished with a braid and realized he needed to start over, I groaned silently. This happened more than once. When he was all done and I looked in the mirror, it was clear that this was not a standard-issue pair of braids. These had more of the “loose and casual” look. But braids they were, and I thanked him roundly for making them, considering how determined and unflagging his efforts had been.

When we greeted both Mom and baby sister, I was just sure she’d notice my droopy braids and say something. Or maybe she’d just give me a knowing look, from one insider to another. But she didn’t. Apparently, their irregular appearance hadn’t fazed her one bit.

Once again, in my cluelessness, I would miss the real deal and merely perceive the obvious. Sigh. What my dad had actually communicated in that act (which I unfortunately experienced as mild torture) was a care and concern far beyond the call of duty. He wanted to present his children to his wife in fine form — no second class, half-hearted attempt, but an all-out effort. I think he hoped it would say how much he loved her, how much he appreciated all that she did for the family, and how devoted he was to us children, as well.

At the time, though, I figured Mom’s silence was because she was just caught up in the excitement of coming home with the new little bundle and didn’t notice. But reflecting on it now, I’m persuaded that she, being savvy to his motive and intent, and understanding the extreme patience that would have been required on his part (this was a man with hands as thick as two-by-fours, attempting to manipulate little strands of fine hair into a semblance of a braid!), deemed it a tender tribute. Her appreciation of his loving gesture would quell any mention of the sag in my hairdo.

And so I spent the rest of the day with my hair just the way it was; I, for sure, wasn’t going to mention it if she hadn’t noticed. But the next morning I headed straight to her bedside, comb in hand, eager to get things back to normal.

My head never felt so good.

Pigtails

tailor-logoPTA

When I was a first grader at School #47, my dad was elected president of the PTA. I thought this was pretty heady stuff: getting extra attention from my homeroom teacher, seeing his name in newsletters and announcements that went home in book bags, and feeling like our family was at the center of what was “happening” at my school.

One memorable event the PTA sponsored that year was to stage a comedy revue. My parents were in several of the skits which I remember them practicing at home. Mom was to do a Phyllis Diller routine about stuffing a turkey for Thanksgiving, and she and Dad were to do a send-up of a popular talk show. There was another skit my dad would be in with the principal of the school. Dad was to play the part of a very near-sighted tailor and the school principal was to play the part of a customer who would come for alterations to his suit.

My parents may have noticed I had some reservations about their scripts, because I remember them assuring me that their lines were indeed funny and not to worry — the audience was going to love their schtick. Apparently this explanation alleviated my concern, because I remember really looking forward to the show.

On the night of the big event, I had a front row seat. (I was doubly excited because it was yet another occasion to dress up.) The skits went just like the rehearsals at our house and my parents had been absolutely right: the audience roared with laughter. My mom was especially hilarious describing the disaster she had created in her kitchen in an attempt to wrangle and truss a turkey. Then came my dad’s piece as the nearly blind tailor. He came out on stage with a tape measure hanging around his neck and very thick glasses. Mr. Snyder entered the “shop” and began to explain that he wanted his suit pants shortened. My dad got down on his knees, began measuring and talking a mile a minute in an attempt to convince his new customer he was just the man for the job.

Mr. Snyder stood there while his pants were being “fitted” and my dad reached for his sheers. Mr. Snyder wasn’t able to see what was happening below as my dad began snipping away. The pants legs got uneven and, in an attempt to make things right, he feverishly kept shortening one, then the other, until they were half way up the man’s calves! And, as predicted, the audience loved his antics and filled the auditorium with gales of laughter.

The evening was a huge success. Some days later, however, I could be found sitting out on the front porch writing to Mr. Snyder.

“Dear Mr. Snyder,” my letter began, “I’m sorry my dad cut your pants too short.”

Unfortunately, I had never seen the men rehearse the actual cutting part of the skit and so I was mortified by what my dad had done. I was also scandalized that the audience had laughed about it. I couldn’t believe my dad would actually ruin the suit of our school’s head administrator. Right there on stage. In front of everybody! That they had, no doubt, found an old suit at a thrift store just for the gag never entered my thinking, and consequently, the “joke” was completely lost on me. The letter was my attempt to do what I could to make amends.

“I hope you get a new suit very soon,” I continued. “Sincerely, Linda Burns.”

When I finished the letter, written with my very best printing, I folded it up to send to him. It was then that I realized I had neither an envelope, nor a stamp, nor an address. And I couldn’t possibly tell my parents I was doing this and thereby obtain the needed resources — they’d never understand. After all, they were the very ones who had erroneously considered this whole business quite funny. So, hitting a dead end, I did what any seven-year-old would do: I tucked the paper in between the cushions of the glider I was seated on and turned my attention to a comic book. (Follow-through has never been my long suit.)

The letter stayed there for months and months before my mom found it and brought it to me. That was when I confessed to her that my sensibilities had been offended by the whole sordid affair; she gently explained that Mr. Snyder was not upset because had been “in on the gag,” and that I needn’t worry. I could tell by her demeanor that she found my consternation slightly amusing.

Tally another one in the Color Me Clueless column of the ledger. Sheesh. I can’t quite believe how many things my parents said and did that I just didn’t get. As I’ve been writing these stories from my childhood I realize this happened a lot. I’m sure my parents didn’t realize how often, because I didn’t even think to tell them I was confused most of the time. Sigh. The up side to it all: now I’m the one who’s amused as I bring these incidents out of moth balls and appreciate the humor in my cluelessness.

But I never did let my dad help me hem my skirts.

A gem and I

September 23, 2013 — Leave a comment

Last time I wrote about first names. Those given to us. The ones parents wish upon their children.

But there’s the other kind of name that is distinctly not given, yet is, at the same time, a given. It’s the one we inherit automatically, because it belongs to our forebears – our family name.

I think I understood at a young age that last names were sort of etched in stone. Not like first and middle names that were often subject to alteration: like nicknames, or being called “Junior”, or just initials, such as B.J., etc. Last names were more serious and more permanent. An exception being the fourth grade playmate who told me her father officially changed their family name from “Bonesack.” But short of resorting to legal measures, our last names just are what they are.

And for the most part, as a child, I was content with my family name: Burns. One syllable. Easy to pronounce. Easy to spell. Given to little teasing. There was the occasional kid who would come up to me and sing the line “…and it burns, burns, burns…,” but since my family didn’t listen to country music, it would be years before I knew that was from Johnny Cash’s hit song, “Ring of Fire.”

Content, I was. That is, until I met her. She was one of several new kids introduced to my second grade classroom, but none of the others bore last names with such cachet: Jewel. Hers was to die for! Oh, the imagery it conjured! ‘Twas nothing short of dreamy. I recall wishing my last name could be one and the same as hers. A name that would bring to mind tiaras, chokers and solitaires. I mean, a name like that would surely stand its ground with the likes of Tiffany or Cartier!

Mrs. Fisher had assigned alphabetical seating to her students, so my desk wasn’t at all close to Miss Jewel’s. But I desperately wanted to get to know this new girl. I must have thought she was akin to royalty by virtue of having such a fabulous name. During recess, I bee-lined it over to where she was playing, eager to work my way into her good graces. My tactics apparently succeeded because she and I became friends and would spend a lot of time together. Since she didn’t live near my house, we needed special permission to arrange play times after school. My mom said I could invite her over, and she was allowed. We had a ball together, so she came over several more times. I considered it great fun to go to other kids’ homes and play with their toys, so naturally, I expressed my desire to visit her house. But she demurred each time I brought it up. This confused me.

Then, all of a sudden, the good times ended; Miss Jewel left our school.

Her disappearance also confused me. It may have been a new job or an extended family crisis that precipitated this sudden withdrawal from school. But I have since wondered, as an adult, if maybe alcoholism or substance abuse might have been involved. Or domestic violence. Or grinding poverty. Having an incarcerated parent will also create chaos in a household and keep a child from letting other kids “in.”

There were things about my mom’s demeanor when my little friend visited our home that caused me to suspect there was something different about her. It wasn’t anything Mom actually said or did, and I wouldn’t be able to put a finger on it, but her empathy was palpable. Mom may have, on the phone with my friend’s mother, perhaps, picked up on indications this girl was walking a rocky road. But I never figured it out. Probably because I never probed. She was simply my friend and we had fun together.

I currently have friends who are part of the recovery movement. They share the pain of never having been able to invite friends over because they never knew if a parent would be drunk when they walked in the door. Since they couldn’t risk having their friends see the shame of how they really lived, they never, ever invited friends to their homes. Through absolutely no fault of their own, many children find themselves in circumstances that, nevertheless, visit real shame upon them. Some will, with years of demanding emotional work and/or therapy experience a healing of this shame.

Whenever I think about my friend I’m always sad our relationship didn’t last longer. I really liked her. But whenever I think about my friend I’m always glad that her fancy name drew me into cultivating a friendship that I can only hope communicated acceptance and respect. And maybe provided respite from whatever she may have been otherwise dealing with.

Be well, my long ago friend, wherever you are.

kitty-tiara

The queen and the groupie

September 4, 2013 — 3 Comments

I always found it a little humbling to know that when my children were small they regarded me and my husband — their parents — as all-knowing and all-powerful. It’s a little unnerving to think I could have this much influence over another human being, but that was just the nature of it. Little people are so utterly dependent upon the big people’s vast knowledge base, vital resources, and constant assistance in so many, many ways, that they automatically elevate the big people to an exalted status. How, pray tell, could it not be so? I recall that even after the big people explained to me the abstract notion of a divine being who pre-existed matter and time, my parents still retained a larger than life position as the masters of my universe.

An illustration of this dynamic: I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. Not just pretty, but the most beautiful. In fact, she proved this irrefutably one evening as she left with my dad for a meeting at the school. My brothers and I were playing on the floor in our upstairs bedroom, when she appeared at the doorway to announce that our sitter had arrived and that they would be leaving shortly. I looked up from my toys and my jaw dropped.

She was wearing a pumpkin orange thin-wale corduroy shirtwaist dress with a full circle skirt that came down to her mid-calf. The short sleeves sported deep cuffs and the collar stood up at a jaunty angle. Bright lipstick, black clip-on earrings, a wide belt and pumps in black patent leather, with seamed nylon stockings to complete the ensemble. My eyes locked on this image, hoping to take in the full sum of her loveliness before she would turn and disappear down the stairs.

“Mommy, you look beautiful,” I murmured dreamily. In that moment, I actually pitied other children whose mothers, while undeniably loving and kind, couldn’t begin to match her glamour and elegance. That I can describe every detail of the vision to this day speaks to its huge impact on me. And so it was that I spent my early childhood years aspiring to become like her: the Queen of Loveliness.

Then adolescence hit.

What is it about that stage of life that deposits a film on the sterling images we previously held of our parents? They’re the very same people. With the very same behaviors and attitudes. Even the same DNA. But they become tarnished without them having to do a single thing — it just happens. What a bummer.

As an illustration of this dynamic: my mom had this notion that I should grow up with a modicum of elegance myself, so she took it upon herself to coach me on the finer points of etiquette and deportment. I am sad to report that I grew weary of this type of attention after I was no longer a little girl. Weary to the point of chafing. One time she made a discreet gesture in the Kroger store — right next to the celery display in the produce aisle — to remind me to correct my sagging posture. I was mortified and not at all pleased. It had suddenly become clear that somehow, along the way from five to thirteen, my fixation on her larger-than-life status had waned.

For a few years I would struggle with conflicted feelings: I still admired and loved her very much and desperately needed her instruction and wisdom, but I also had a strong compulsion to make my own mark and to not need her. In my immaturity I thought that being myself meant I couldn’t be like her. Regrettably, I pulled away and deliberately chose styles and self-expressions that were pretty far from what she would have chosen, even when it meant creating extra hassle for myself. This pattern persisted until I got married and set up a household of my own. It was at this point that the trajectory began to turn, ultimately 180 degrees (although the arc was pretty wide). Over the years she would gradually, but consistently, reclaim every inch of her lofty stature in my eyes.

Today my heart beats in perfect synchronicity with my five-year-old heart of yesteryear: my mom still reigns as the Queen of Loveliness.

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