Mother Wit

I didn’t notice my mothering until this moment:  I was nine years old, and my mother had gone back to work full time since her youngest baby, my little brother, was in school full time.  I felt adrift, and I’d called my grandmother to bring my cold lunch to school that I’d forgotten – again.

She arrived to the school office, making a scene.  Grandma always made a scene: She of the infamous hour glass figure and bedroom eyes. She was so beautiful that even I could understand why my grandfather would steal off with her in the heat of strawberry picking season to marry her. The landowner he picked for- her father -wasn’t looking.  She stomped wet leaves off her high heeled boots, and brushed her wavy black hair back from her eyes.  She handed me the lunch and said in her South Louisiana accent, “Michelle.”  I stared up at her, as silent and plain as she was outspoken and colorful. “Minou….Do you know that Grandma loves you?”

I was confused for a moment.  Did she mean her, or was she talking about my other small and cuddly grandma? I thought it over…All I really knew that she knew of me is what I’d overheard her tell my mother the hippie, “You’ll have to watch that one. She doesn’t have much Mother Wit.”    But, it appeared that she had decided to love me, knobby knees on pencil legs topped by coke bottle glasses because my mother wasn’t available.  I nodded yes, thanked her for the lunch and the love, and went back to my classroom.

I saw my grandmother every day from then until I left for college.  She came to my house after school each day so that we wouldn’t be home alone. Never mind that there were three of us, and we wouldn’t exactly be alone. Grandma was there, talking.  She told us we looked “sharp as a skeeter’s peter” when we dressed well, and that we looked like “the cat been suckin’ on it” when we didn’t.  We knew, thanks to her, how to tell if someone was “crazy as a road lizard”. She came on Saturdays to tend the garden, and on Sunday we saw her at church.

She was everywhere.

And she learned me my Mother Wit.

She couldn’t whisper even when she tried. She let me eat dessert first, because nothing can come before fresh strawberry shortcake. She trained me how to snap green beans and how to spit watermelon seeds.  And when I was older as she was teaching me to press sheets soft enough to make you believe you were sleeping on a Jasmine scented bayou, she taught me to “never, ever sleep with a man who wears his watch to bed.  Means he has someplace else to be.”  Every time she left me, she said, “Grandma loves you.” Then she would grab my face, and plant a big fresh-from-the-Avon-lady kiss in the middle of my forehead.

She called me on the telephone only twice a year. Once on the birthday we shared, at the crack of dawn.

“z’at Michelle?” She’d coo into the phone. I’d smile and I think she could hear me, because she’d say, “Happy birthday!”

I’d say, “Happy Birthday, Grandma”.  And then she’d get off the line, because phone calls are expensive – even local ones.

The other time she’d call was Christmas morning.  She’d sing the blues in her husky voice.  “Merry Christmas, baby.  You sho’ll do treat me nice.” It was mother. But more Grand.

One Christmas day, I had to call everyday Grandma in her hospital room.  “Merry Christmas, baby.” She rasped.  “You sho’ll do treat me nice…”  I got off the line, like I should, and went down there, even though she’d told us not to.  Once we skid into the room she said, “I don’t want no more surgeries. I’m tired now.  And it’ll be so good to see my mother again.”  That shut me up, and instead of arguing, I put a thick French braid in her glorious hair.  She said she didn’t want to look a mess when the doctors came by.  And she told me to go look in her front hall closet for my Christmas present.  It was an afghan she’d finished knitting just the week before.  “That’s for you, Michelle.  You throw it on, you – when you get cold. You keep cold.”

Grandma died that night, and I’d been orphaned.

Our birthday came six months later, and I woke up early, to no call. I sat in the center of a perfectly warm albeit crappy apartment wrapped my Afghan and thought, “Grandma loves you.”

Today, when I see my daughter lean her head forward to get a kiss in the center of the forehead from my mother, I know that Mother Wit is at work.  It’s something she can’t learn from me –  And, it is Grand.

My mother and my daughter, cuddling.

My mother and my daughter, learning.

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Somewhere Else

I admit there are obvious advantages to working from home, as I do.  There are two school aged children in my basement this very moment painting and listening to people their age sing pop songs. They’re yelling along, full of smoothies and grilled cheese sandwiches, as though there is no tomorrow.  Happy as clams.

You know what they’re going to want to do when that playlist is over?  Listen to it again, help me Jesus.

Pleasant, but so dang repetitive.

This is my life as of late:

#FeedthedogDropoffthegirlExerciseWorkfromhomeofficePickupfromschoolCookClean

Or sometimes it’s like this:

#FeedthedogDropoffthegirlExerciseconferencecallmeetingPickupfromschoolCookClean

This dog ALWAYS wants to eat

This dog ALWAYS wants to eat

How many times can a person be expected to do that before they kick out a window or something?

I understand that routine stabilizes children, and helps people to get more done every day.  Routine takes care of the little stuff so that the mind is free from clutter and able to be more creative.  Exercise routines lead to better health. I’m just saying that I may not be cut out for it.  Planning ahead of time, instead of making me feel secure, makes me feel all… squirrely.

I don’t want to know what I will wear the next day before I go to sleep, I don’t even want to know how I will wear my hair.  I resent making appointments too far ahead of time in case I’m otherwise occupied when that appointment actually comes around. But I do it, for the stability for my kid and the head room for myself. And then, I feel like I’m trapped in a cage looking for the nearest exit.

When I was a girl I had a map of the United States where I’d color in new states as I visited them.  My goal was to have them all colored in someday.  I was thinking that America is a big, beautiful place, and I wanted to see all of it, at least once.  I did pretty well as a child (probably because my parents thought it was a good goal, and invested time in making sure that we saw the good old USA).  And then I grew up, visited all of New England, and my mental map coloring stopped at the 46th state.

That map has stayed in the back of my mind though, and when it came time for my husband and I to plan our annual anniversary getaway, I got kind of whiny. “I want to go somewhere ELSE. (Whine, whine, whine.) I can barely stand it anymore… Let’s go somewhere else!”  I was heard, and he got online and booked a trip to the last place in continental America that I haven’t been.  The Pacific Northwest.  He’s never been there either and we are glad.  We’re going to see new vistas and meet different people from the people we already know. Maybe we’ll watch the guys at Pike Place Fish Market throw stuff, and take a lighthouse tour or drive along the Pacific coastline.

Maybe.

It depends how I feel when I get up in the morning, which will not come until I decide that the time is right.

There are children in here, with the rainbow lamp Nonna sent.  They're probably wanting to eat...

There are children in here, with the rainbow lamp Nonna sent. They’re probably wanting to eat…

Thanks for vacations.  Amen.

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Skinny Fat

I am currently ensnared in a state of Skinny Fat.  Normal amount of pounds, too many of them made of fat- not alarming yet, but worth my attention.  I have no excuses. Gym memberships, perfectly paved roads, good sneakers… what gives?

I have worn probably every size from here, a well filled out medium/baggy large, to baggy small since being an adult.  And let me tell you, well filled out is a much safer place, in my mind.  When I was very thin, people would tell me I looked great, which always caused me to look at them sideways.  How could I look great?  I rattled around in my clothes, cheekbones jutting out of my face in a skeletal fashion.  That isn’t great.

I felt afraid among the super slim: vulnerable, as though any stiff wind might knock me over.  And no matter how skinny I became, my hip bones were still the same width apart.  I was wide and terribly small at the same time. Skinny left me feeling weak, and my sickness showed.  A man, who seems rather random from this vantage point, broke off dating me because he wanted a “healthy mom” for his children. I was certainly in poor health, but dang.

I had splitting headaches from the moment I woke up until I fell asleep for the night.

My legs ached, pin and needling me from the tips of my toes to my hips.  My fingers were almost always numb, sometimes curling uselessly into loose fists in their ineffectiveness.

During The Sick Years, I would pray, and my prayers were promises.

Lord, when you heal me, (somebody told me to pray as though it were already done.  I thought it would be a good idea to incorporate any kind of mojo I could conjure…) I will walk everywhere I go.  I’ll park at the edge of every lot, just to use my amazing legs.  I will take good care of the body you’ve given me.  I will dance.”

I wasn’t only praying for healing, though.  I visited doctors, and naturopaths, and chiropractors. I changed my whacked out bar food diet. I walked every day, although I would always cry on the way home. It was so tiring, walking just two miles, that I would go extra early so that I could have a nap before work.

There were times I was so exhausted that I would lie on the floor between meetings to avoid fainting.  One day a colleague saw me lying on the floor, and said, “That’s bad, isn’t it?”

I told him yes, and he said, “Well, I don’t want you looking lazy if someone comes by.  I’d better lay on the floor with you.”  And he did.

I still love the guy for that.

We talked over departmental goals as though nothing was wrong.  Someone did come by, and because the entire meeting was on the floor, she joined us without even mentioning where we were sitting.

Walking back to our hotel that night, my colleague asked me if I wanted to hail a cab.  “No.”  I told him.  “I’d better walk.  I’m going to walk until I fall down.”

And so, what keeps me from the gym these days, now that I fight Fat back on a daily basis?  The idea that I am healed and it will last forever?  Thinking that I’ve had my share of pain and will not be asked by the Universe to go back?  I think it is a short memory.  I think that once the dust of hard times settles, it is simplest sometimes to pretend that everything is always alright, and always has been.

Not so.

I remember the sick years, and I remember my promises from them.

I will dance the new year in.

Skinny or fat or skinnyfat, my body is amazing.

Thanks, amen.

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Ho Ho Hell

I’m told that my great, great grandmother used to tell her kids that it’s important to celebrate life, so it doesn’t just pass you by.  Her children believed her, and celebrated EVERYTHING, right down to the change of season.  Then, those children married people who also celebrate everything.  And a couple of generations later, you’ve got us-my family.  We’re a celebration inbred tribe of the most holiday finding, merry making, everything’s-better-with-a-live-band batch of people you ever met.

Every day is SOMEONE'S  birthday.  Might as well celebrate...

Every day is SOMEONE’S birthday. Might as well celebrate…

Five things to help you survive stopping in this holiday season:

If you can’t hear it from outside, you’re probably at the wrong house There will be people parked up and down the block carrying pans, or presents or bottles of liquor.  Just follow them and the sound, and you ought to be fine.  And if you think it’s loud from the outside, wait until one of the kids takes your coat. It will be the last time you hear yourself think until you go home. There will be a theme of some kind once you’re inside; a Cook Off, karaoke, send off, welcome home, birthday celebration, ugly sweater, Seventies. Be ready.

Dinner is at two o’clock   It’s a ridiculous time to serve lunch, and far too early for supper.  Sure, we’ve tried to have holiday parties at other times, more convenient times, but tradition keeps winning out and people keep showing up for two anyway.  Just, we eat at two.  If you walk in after, you will be the butt on the jokes for at least the rest of the season.  Because you couldn’t remember what time’s dinner.

Have a few words ready We’re going to circle up and hold hands. Someone will make an announcement because they’re having a baby/moving/ got a new job/ left their fundraiser on the front table and you should stop over there and help send someone to DC. Or New York City.  And then, we’re going to pray.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t believe or haven’t been to church since your first communion.  Know a prayer, in case an elder passes the honor of blessing the table to you.  If you don’t know one, please think of something- for our sakes.  They’ll pray for you and we could be standing there for hours if you say something crazy like you don’t know how.  Let us eat.

Find a spot There will not be a place set for you. If you find a seat at a card table, be glad you’re not sitting on the hearth or on a step, and be prepared to give that spot up to anyone who’s older than you.  There will be no such thing as personal space.  You will have a baby on your lap at least twice.  You will be kissed, hugged, and pet. Someone is going to sit with you in a chair that is made for one person, or use your legs as a backrest while they sit on the floor in front of you.

Ladies, someone is going to ask to try on your shoes. They’ll then walk away from you in them, because there’s a full length mirror in another room.  We all wear the same size and love shoes more than is probably normal.    Sorry.

Eat Someone who likes you is going to bring you a plate full of food. It means they like you. Have at least a bite of everything you’re handed. It means you like them back.    Unless you’re a kid. Then being handed a plate of food means you’re on the list of people who spill things and aren’t exactly to be trusted.  If you can, bring home an entire container of leftovers and while you pack it up, say something about how you just can’t live without more of it later on. It’s a compliment, and you win.

Almost Christmas is almost as good as Christmas!

Almost Christmas is almost as good as Christmas!

Best of luck and happy holidays.  See you at two o’clock!

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It’s Not God

I don’t want to write about race.

But it’s all I talk about these days with anyone, including God.  I’m beginning to bore myself.

I once told a friend that God and I were on the outs at the moment.  I said, “I’m so pissed I can’t even talk to God anymore.”

You know what that joker told me? “It’s okay.  God understands.  God loves you enough to understand your anger, too.”

I near ‘bout split my pants, like a cartoon character with smoke rolling from her ears, face changing colors. The nerve.  How dare you understand…don’t understand!  Do something.

Instead I sighed, “I used to be an activist”.

Can you ‘used to be’ anything?  Can you stop caring when your calling is no longer easy or fun?  Mmm, that’s probably another post.

 But doing something was my specialty. I trained others to do their thing as well.   I lived and breathed Getting Things Done for America.

In any case, I spent the better part of every day pushing for inclusion and diversity for at least a dozen years.  It was exhausting, I worked myself near to death, and then I moved on, the way people do.  No big deal.  Except, coming to understanding with people from all different backgrounds beliefs and experiences changed me in some fundamental ways.   It makes you believe things you didn’t think of before.  Like, I believe in “judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character”.

I really do.

diversity

 While I was getting things done, I  met people who were nothing at all like me, and worked with them or played with them or both.  And I withheld judgment, even  when we weren’t actually getting along in the day-to-day drama of getting things done. Not once did I have occasion to say, “We could be cool, but we just don’t have enough in common.”  Not once.  Because I learned that we all have so very much in common.  That human-ness that makes us misuse the free will God allows and use it to hurt others is the primary thing we  share.  Free Will.

It’s not God letting me down when things go crazy, as they most certainly have. It’s more obvious now than ever that things haven’t changed much since the Civil Rights Movement because of smart phones, and Ipads, and social media. It’s mankind.  With our ridiculous insecurities, fading hairlines, car notes, fears and fragile egos.  That’s not God.  That’s us.

Thanks, amen.

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The Bitch Is Back

My bitch came back over one simple word.  Adoption.

I took my dog to a dog park where a lady, let’s call her “Redjacket” asked me when I’d adopted my dog, seeing as how we were kind of new to the clique. I am not a Dog Person- hell; I’m barely a people person.  I just looked like a dog person because I was at a dog park.  I have a dog and I like her, and that is all.

Lucky in the park

My dog has a comfortable life.  She has  shelter, companionship, a good vet and a kennel. Treats. Toys.  She is groomed and trained and sung to sleep each night.  Pretty good for a dog, if you ask me. She is happy.

What she is not is adopted.

So Redjacket asked me when we adopted our dog, and I told her we’ve had her for about a year.  Redjacket encouraged me to adopt another, as a companion for the first.  She, by the way, had three dogs in tow.

“Get a pet for the pet?”  I laughed. I thought we were joking around.  We were not.

“She is not a pet.” Redjacket fumed. “She’s a member of your family.  You make promises when you adopt an animal.  She’ll need a pack.”  She went on like this for a while, stressing the importance of responsible pet adoption.  I nodded, and smiled, or maybe winced, and kept an eye on my dog, which was chasing in a circle after hers.

While she prattled on, I thought of the day my brother came home.  My sister and I got all dressed up, and went to an office downtown with our parents. We all went into a little nursery where we met him, also dressed up.  He was only six weeks old; his black wavy hair brushed down around his ears.  He was lying on his back, gazing at a mobile, until I walked over and put my hand through the slats of the crib to touch him- our new baby.  He turned his head and looked me in the eye.  And then he grabbed my fingers.  I felt like he knew he was my baby brother as sure as I knew I was his sister.

Suddenly, I couldn’t take it anymore.

“Animals aren’t adopted. People are.”

And then, I was a Bitch. Me AND my dog.  And now, when we see that lady at the park, and our actual bitches run to cavort, Redjacket and I look the other way.

My brother was adopted.

My dog was not.

He is family.

She is A PET.

The dog doesn’t play a trumpet, or hold my hand when I’m scared or sad.  Because she’s a dog.  Off the furniture, eating dog food, and sleeping on her blankie – where pets belong.

Fine. I’m a Bitch.  I can live with it.

November is National Adoption Month in case you’re interested in supporting a child as well as many support their dogs.

What?

Thanks, Amen.

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September 11th

I used to walk to work in the days before September 11, 2001; to clear my head and stretch my legs before sitting in a cubicle for hours.  I walked on that day, too.  First thing, as always, I checked the sky, and this one was perfect.  I headed out down my street singing a little bit under my breath.  There’s a blue sky, way up yonder… there’s a blue sky over my head… there’s a blue sky way up yonder, that’s a cover for my bed. 

I picked up random litter from my yard, said good morning to that one lady who walked her dog with the painted toenails. It was, by any account, a perfectly normal day.  My only blip was that I was training people who were moving a massive book of business from Minot, North Dakota to Hartford, Connecticut and as I walked I reviewed which button to click when.  Mindless, but it seemed crucial at the moment.  It was not.

World Trade Center

After opening the training, we took a coffee break.  All of us drifted to the atrium of our building, a lovely place that housed 3000 Financial Services employees about 100 miles from New York City, where the world was ending.  By the time I got to the bank of televisions they kept near the traders, the first tower had fallen.  Many of our colleagues worked there and where I’d been going for several hours a week, twice a week, earlier that year. None of us cared about what button to click when, and couldn’t have remembered if we’d tried.  We never went back to training that day, because we were sent back to cubicles in case we had to evacuate the building.  No one worked though, we watched TV from somewhere in that beautiful building; the trading floor, the gym, the barbershop…until it was decided that we might also be a target and they sent us home.

We watched TV there, too.

There was no work for some time after that.  People huddled in their homes and apartments, wondering if we were next.  If we went out, we kind of stocked up on canned goods and bottled water, totally unprepared for a war on American soil or a lockdown, or an evacuation, or any break in our everyday lives.  There was not a single plane in the blue sky way up yonder.

Then came the day when we went back to the lovely building, tentatively at first, until we were full steam ahead.  People streamed in from every direction until we all stood at the Atrium again.  Four floors of people waiting for our leader to tell us about who we’d lost at the World Trade Center, and who had survived. He stood in the center, our leader, and named the dead and the missing.  When he finished, someone started singing God Bless America- really loud from somewhere on the first floor.  Someone started it up everyone joined in.  We were in tune, and even harmonized and all of the words that we’d been taught in grade school flooded our memories, and we sung our hearts out.  We sung our hearts in.

Everything changed that day, for me. I was suddenly a citizen of the whole wide world – not just New England.  And terrible, weird things could happen, even with blue skies over our heads. I wanted my Momma and a big pot of gumbo with French bread. I wanted to run although there was nowhere in particular to run to, because it could happen anywhere; New York, New England, a field, The Pentagon. Nowhere was safe enough, and I wasn’t the only one who felt this way.

So we heard the news, and sang God Bless America and we meant it in ways we hadn’t before.  On this day I’ll say it again,

God Bless America.

And when you bless us, sir, don’t just keep us from harm. Keep us from harming others.  Help us to rely on our right minds when we make decisions about how to treat our brothers, how to respect ourselves, how to live.

Thanks, amen.

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