In Praise of Difficult Mothers

You can tell Mother’s Day is close. The stores are selling products that “tell Mama she’s special,” and restaurants are booked solid for Sunday. On the internet, there are quizzes and surveys about famous and unknown moms celebrating those fabulous, strong, nurturing, maternal women. And I think that’s great. But it leaves a lot of us out.

The Truth about Some Moms

The truth is, many of us were raised by women who didn’t meet the expectations made on Mommies. Who weren’t naturally maternal or nurturing, no matter how many children they raised.  Moms who hated some of the roles they were stuck in. I’m talking about Moms who fought personal demons while raising their children and didn’t always win.  Difficult Mothers.

Tomorrow’s celebration is a minefield for the moms and adult kids who fit into this category, but it doesn’t have to be.  Because Difficult Mothers also leave legacies for their children to share

  1. A Unique Set of Survival Skills.  Lots of Moms teach their kids how to walk, make their beds and ride a bike.  There’s nothing unusual about that.  But some kids get, shall we say, more esoteric lessons.  Like mixology instruction for toddlers.  Or how to recognize the warning signs of an emotional break-down.  How, and when, to call 911. How to look after yourself and your siblings when Mommy can’t.  I’m not saying these are great lessons to learn and, in a perfect world, no kid would know them.  But this isn’t an ideal world and sometimes the weird things these kids learn,  enable them to live long enough to become adults.  And that’s the name of the game.
  2. Resiliency.  If you land in the mud long and often enough, you start to see the funny side of falling down.  That’s my belief.  And kids with difficult moms are used to situations that, at least metaphorically, end up in the mud.  So they learn to roll with the punches.  Lose that scholarship or job opportunity you wanted?  Start looking for another one. Drunks crashed your wedding or your vacation’s rained out?  Folks, it ain’t the end of the world. The funny thing is, once enough time passes, some of those embarrassing family moments become great stories in the family mythology.  And every child of a difficult mother I know is blessed with a sense of humor and collection of stories.  Yes, sometimes they end up laughing through tears, but it’s still laughter, a blessing in life.
  3. A greater understanding of humanity.  I’m not saying every great humanitarian is an adult child of a dysfunctional family, but I am saying that being able to see your parents struggle first hand is to realize being an adult isn’t easy.  For some folks, it’s downright hard.  And recognizing that in your own family, makes it easier to see when other people are fighting uphill. Maybe that gives you a bit more empathy, makes you a tad less judgemental than others.  You know that love is perfect, but people aren’t.  And you learn that it’s okay to ask for help when you need it.
  4. They taught us that being flawed doesn’t mean you didn’t try. Sometimes, it takes a lot of time (and therapy) to see this, but most parents are doing the best they can with the world they inherited and cannot control.  My Mom (bless her) became a traditional wife and mother just as her culture devalued that stereotype.  She heard that, as a woman, she could (and should) do more, get more, have more in life. And, as a people pleaser (just like me) she tried.  But no one told her how to accomplish all this or what costs and pitfalls came with each of her choices.  So, things weren’t always easy at our house.  She still loved my sister and me, but her personal unhappiness and discontent were mixed in with her affection. And, as kids, we couldn’t sift through those conflicts. At first, we blamed ourselves for her deep-seated, negative feelings. Then we blamed her for ours.  A long time passed before any of us got to forgiveness.

So, as the difficult child of a difficult mom, I’d like to suggest we change one thing about Mother’s Day. Instead of thanking Mom once a year for her super-human abilities, let’s acknowledge the frailties inside us all, every day.  Let’s make it easier to say (and hear) “I was wrong” and forgive each other for mistakes we’ve all made.  We don’t need our moms to be Donna Reed or Lorelai Gilmore for us to love them.  They don’t need us to be perfect, either.  We can all settle for being difficult if lovable human beings.

A Possum ate my Internet

I know this post is late and this excuse sounds weak but my story is absolutely legit, and it started last Friday when Darling Husband asked for the new WiFi password.

Now, some would think that’s a reasonable question, given that I’m the closest thing we have to an IT department. (Terrifying thought!) On the other hand, as the household IT rep., I never change the passwords without warning. So if Darling Husband suddenly can’t access the ‘net, there’s probably a bad reason why.

No Wi-Fi

There was. Two of the three green lights on our Wi-Fi has changed to blazing red. The WiFi had power but the landline phones were out. And our internet link was dead.

Forty minutes of hold music and recorded questions on my cell phone later, and our internet provider pronounced the diagnosis. Our WiFi was dead. They would ship us a new one over the weekend. In the meantime, we’d have a nostalgic reminder of life in the pre-internet days.

Listen, I like to joke about being tied to technology, but I had no idea it was true. Okay, I couldn’t stream movies or shows so, I decided to pay bills…until I remembered my bank stuff was all on line. I couldn’t write on the blog, I couldn’t read my magazines, or catch up with the news; I couldn’t even get the weather forecast. Re-reading downloaded books worked until I ran across a word I didn’t know. Automatically, I tapped the screen before remembering the Dictionary was an on-line feature. I’m not dependent on the internet, I’m addicted!

Monday’s good news was the replacement Unit arrived. The bad news was, nothing changed. I pulled out the cell phone, spent another 30 minutes negotiating recordings and hold music until a Real Person at the Internet Provider said I (sigh) needed a technician’s visit. Could I be home on Tuesday? Was he kidding? I’d have been home if it meant missing my own birthday.

The Real Source of the Problem

As a rule, I like technicians. They’re usually smart, practical, good-humored people and this guy was no exception. With his meter and tools, he cheerfully climbed through the weeds and verified the electronic signals were getting to the outside of our house. Then he began tracing the lines.

Evidence of the Crime!

And there was the source of the problem. A Cat-5 wire had been cut. No, not cut, ripped apart, bitten right where it went under the house. The technician opened the door to look into the crawlspace.

And, just as quickly, he backed out. “Found your problem”, he said, and pointed with his flashlight. I poked my head in and, there in the corner was one of the biggest possums I’ve ever seen. At least 5 pounds, he was, and filling the space between the wall and first joist. Staring back at me. And hissing.

Now I have a healthy fear of possums. Some of them are rabid and they all have teeth. So, the three of us retreated to our neutral corners (me, the tech, and the marsupial) and reconsidered our various options. Finally, new Cat-5 wire was hung, well out of Perceval Possum’s reach. But this has taught me a lesson.

It doesn’t matter if I was raised pre-World Wide Web; I’m a citizen of the virtual universe now. I can’t exist without the darn thing. But I also exist in a universe with unpredictable weather and wild animals. And sometimes they take precedence. So, for all of you who are sick of hearing excuses, I apologize. But honestly, once a possum eats the Internet line, there’s not much else a person can do.

Spring is a-coming in (loudly sneeze, atchoo!)

Some people say they can tell when winter goes; it’s when their joints stop aching. Others tie the season’s change to the return of tornados or baseball games. Not me. The weather and the fortunes of my beloved Royals are too unpredictable for me. No, I know Spring has arrived when the pollen appears.

First there’s nothing…

It’s the oddest thing: for months, whenever I go outside, all I see are unending acres of naked branches. The days get longer but the branches stay bare. Then one morning, everything is covered with a fine, chartreuse layer of pollen (trust me, that’s not a good look on a burgundy Jeep.) The cars get washed but more pollen falls. And my nose starts running like Usain Bolt. Of course, all of this pollen happens outside. But signs of Spring follow me indoors. Because the pollen has brought Allergy Season in its wake.

When did that thing bloom!

Seriously, the halls of my office sound like the waiting room of an ENT specialist or some old TB sanitarium. Cough, cough, hack! Cough, cough sneeze! Colleagues swap home remedies and OTC meds on their breaks. Tissues and cough drops are in everyone’s desk. We’re all trying to stay healthy but, as a group, we sound sicker than we did during the cold and flu season. Nevertheless, every one of us, chants between sneezes and bronchospasms, “Don’t worry, it’s not contagious; it’s just allergies.” We know. We all have allergies.

Why can’t I sneeze like a lady?

Unfortunately, allergy season, is just another reminder of my mom’s expectations of femininity. See, Mama managed delicate, light, little sneezes. “A-tissue, a-tissue” she’d say, and then she’d reach for a tissue. So dainty it was downright cute! Not me. My sneezes build up a surge of momentum that slings my head back in recoil wheneverone of them leaves the building. Aaatt-Choo!! Att-CHOO! ATTCHOO! (That’s another problem. My sneezes travel in packs. Every allergy season, I risk getting a good case of whiplash.)

Still, I’ll take Spring with its upper respiratory troubles, over Winter anytime. Spring is the season of hope, of warmth, of new life, even life that clogs up my sinuses. So, open up the windows, plant stuff in the garden and sing a hymn to May. I’ll join you….once my decongestant kicks in.

Miss Anxiety of 1953

I have an Inner Critic that goes In and Out with Me.

I call her Miss Anxiety of 1953.

Introductions, Please

By now, everyone’s heard of their inner child. It’s the spirit of the person you were as a kid, innocent, hopeful and kind. Well, if that’s not too New-Agey for you (and I hope it’s not) some of us contend with other inner spirits that aren’t nearly so pleasant. Judgmental, tactless, critical types that appear out of nowhere and torpedo your self-esteem. A friend of mine refers to her internal bete noir as her “Inner Mean Girl”. But, after due consideration, I believe mine has a different personality. Folks, meet Miss Anxiety of 1953.

Miss Anxiety?

Miss Anxiety, 1953

Miss Anxiety has been my constant companion since grade school and she has lot of concerns . Back then, she worried every morning that I’d be late for school. Or I wouldn’t be liked if I didn’t shut up. Or people would laugh if I tried to swing at a baseball. Later she worried when boys didn’t like me. She worried if one of them did. These days, Miss Anxiety worries about my salary, my marriage, my hair length and don’t get her started on the subject of my body! (Seriously, don’t let her go there. Even during the three weeks I wore a size 5, Miss Anxiety still fussed about my upper arms. She’s a perfectly toned size 1 and there’s simply no way to please her.)

Miss Anxiety has a similar obsession with rules and her Code of Etiquette is from the Eisenhower Era. No wearing white pants, except in the Summer. No wearing white shoes ever, they make your feet look big. Speak, sneeze, sing and laugh so softly no one can hear you and then apologize for the noise. Silence is the hallmark of a true lady. And the only acceptable way a lady asserts herself involves a candy that’s two mints in one. (By the Way, I never aspired to ladyhood, But Miss Anxiety hasn’t given up hope.) And as she is a title-holder herself, Miss Anxiety is hideously competitive. She agonizes over every teeny error I make, and every time I’m not chosen. According to Miss Anxiety, unless I succeed in everything, I’ll never succeed I Anything !!

So why did I quit fighting her?

Miss Anxiety
Miss Anxiety, 1953

For years, I loathed and feared Miss Anxiety, and opposed her at every turn.. I yelled back at her and ignored her. But She wouldn’t leave, no matter how hard I tried. Then, instead of yelling at her, I decided to listen. And I realized something incredible.

Miss Anxiety doesn’t hate me. She’s not trying to make my life miserable. Like my grandmother and mother, she worries I’m going to miss out on some great opportunity. So, she continually fusses at me. And when she thinks things may go wrong, she sets off alarms.

So last week, when I got stressed and Miss Anxiety began raising her voice, I listed to what was frightening her. And I responded.

It’s not given to understand what role we each play in the Grand Design. But we all have our parts. And I’m content to know I will play mine.

Turns out, that thought made Miss Anxiety pretty happy too.

Humans & their Weird 5Ks: Tales of Molly the Dog

I’ve got to tell you, as a dog, I love humans, but I really don’t understand them. Take Les, the female human I live with. She spends hours each day tap-tapping words onto this little screen, when she could be petting me. (That’s how I learned to use this thing, sitting in her lap and watching her tap.) Les says she wants to write books someday and tapping stories onto the screen is good practice. But she’s so slow! She’ll type forty words, then take most of them out and spends an hour rearranging the rest. Then she gets discouraged and takes a bath. That’s where she is now, soaking in the hot water and stressed cause she’s having trouble telling you about the 5k. So I figured I’d tell you about it while she’s in the tub, and then she can take a break from tapping on the screen. But I’ve got to tell you, a 5K’s just one more proof of what I’ve always known: Humans are weird.

What the heck is a 5K?

That’s all Les talked about for days at a time, the 5K, the 5K, the 5K. That she was going to a 5K. That she had to prepare for it. That she was taking me with her, which is great, because I like going places with Les. And when she told me to get in the Jeep Saturday morning, I thought, “Oh, now I know what 5K means; it means we’re getting breakfast at Jack’s. Cause that’s where we always go on Saturday mornings. Boy was I wrong this time!

We drove and drove, right past Jack’s, and we didn’t stop for breakfast at all! Instead, Les kept talking about how I had to sit down, how I had to behave, how I was going to make new friends at the 5K. That ride went on forever. When she finally stopped it was by some sort of park, but was I allowed to play then? Nope, she snapped the leash onto my collar.

Pretty soon I saw lots of humans around, all wearing what Les calls exercise clothes. Most of them friendly but I was still waiting for this wonderful 5K to start.

Folks you know what a 5K is? It’s a bunch of humans driving for hours so they can run or walk on the ground. Not even the ground! Every human was moving on asphalt! Some of them were moving faster than others but none of them were doing what I call running. Not like when I race Les’s Jeep up the driveway. And most of them weren’t even going that fast. I couldn’t see why Les calls this “exercise.”

Now when I run, I run and I’m good at it. But Les was on the other end of that leash. So I decided if she wanted a “work out” I’d give her one. Between you and me, I pulled her through that 5K with her on the back end of the leash. Les is a good human, as humans go, but she sure needs to pick up her feet.

Humans aren’t the only ones who 5K

I will say I wasn’t the only dog in the group and that was pretty good. I like living with Les on the mountain but there aren’t many dogs around here. Not that I can hang out with. But there were lots of animals walking their humans on that path and I exchanged sniffs with quite a few of them. Never as long as I’d like, sorry to say. Humans may not have anyplace particular to go on a 5K and they sure aren’t going there in that much of a hurry but they don’t stop and visit either, like dogs do. They just keep going forward, pulling on that leash as if they’re in a slow and steady race to go nowhere.

Funny thing is, for all that slow and steady moving, by the end I was getting hot and tired. And Thirsty!!! For some reason, we ended up back where we began and the first thing Les did was fill my travel bowl with water. She’s nice that way. Then, all the humans stood around and made noises at each other (you know the way they do) while I laid on the pavement. See, there’s another way humans are weird. They get themselves all footsore and tired but will they lay down on the ground to cool off? Nope.

Well, dog’s aren’t that foolish. When we’re hungry, we eat, when we run, we run and when we tire out, we lay down and sleep. And I did, all the way back home, even though Les stopped half way and got me breakfast. I didn’t really want it but to be polite, I ate the ham she got me. And I ate her breakfast ham too.

See, I figure, we’re all in this life together (even cats) so we need to help each other out. Les keeps me warm and fed and dry and she keeps me safe during those loud thunderstorms. She looks after me. So, I look after her. I meet her Jeep when she drives toward the house. I flatten out the sheets on her bed. Heck, if she needs me, I may even go on another one of those 5Ks with her.

But trust me, Humans are Weird.