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A Story About a Mother


My mom was 21 when I was born, but she could have been 16. I was her little dollie. She hated for me to get dirty and gave me baths at least 4 times a day, changing my clothes each time and making sure my hair was curled and never out of place. She loved putting ribbons in my hair and patent leather shoes on my feet. I remember twirling frilly skirts from the earliest of ages. I still twirl frilly skirts.

My mom didn't have the best time as a new mom since my dad liked to hunt and was raised in a typical Cuban way of "you, woman, you stay home and raise the kids and I, the man, will do whatever I damn well please." It was rather shocking for mom to be left alone with one, and quickly two little girls who hollered a lot (I hollered more than my more docile sister... surprising, I'm sure).

3000 miles from anyone she knew and living in the California desert, she got pregnant and had yet another child before they got orders to Orlando, a mere 400 miles from some family in Miami. Her life finally brightened.

I remember mom's day to day life of drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking about diets. I remember her struggling to do exercises with the lady on tv (in leotards, no less) and yacking with the neighbors on the telephone that had a party line of 6 people. (Do any of you young-un's even know what a party line is?!) All of us kids in the neighborhood walked to school together, played together, knew every detail about each others' lives (or so we thought) and many of us dated and ended up marrying and having kids with each other.

Mom got a job when I was in junior high and I remember her falling asleep under the sunlamp several times (loooooong before tanning booths & tanning spray) and not being able to sit down, but having to work in her polyester uniform all night long.

Our relationship with mom became endless scribbles on notepads - crayons, pencils, pens, markers - anything handy was fair game for writing the "Need $20 for band" notes. No "thanks" or anything. Just the command. What a brat I was. Mom's notes in return said things like, "Turn roast on at 4 and then throw carrots in at 4:30. Eat at 5:30. Love!" Mom kept those notebooks for years, all dog-eared and stained. I wish I had them now.

I've written about mom's issues with mental illness and suicide attempts. We'll skip that part. Suffice it to say it had a tad of an impact on my life and relationship with her.

Mental illness runs like a chased bunny rabbit in our family. From grandparents that killed themselves to alcoholic and drug addict great-grandparents and grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings, we could erect an asylum and keep the census at capacity with slick ease. Every shade of mental illness presents itself in the annals of my family, too. We have us a whole lotta depression, but sprinkles of schizophrenia, plenty of bipolar disorder (but rarely any mania, usually with hypomania presenting as normal behavior) and the ever-popular child and spouse abusers with and without violent tendencies. Oh, and let's not forget all the eating disorders that are possible, either. We have all those, too. Doesn't it sound like fun?

My mom used to hide her keys from herself. We continually were on the search for mom's keys. It was a constant mission. When we were going to go somewhere, from the time I was twirling my skirts, I began looking for mom's keys to the car. We'd find them in amazingly strange places including in the back of the freezer behind the hamburger meat (where the placenta would be in my freezer now) or in her lingerie drawer under the maribou lined crotch-less panties. The only limitations on where we were to look were 1. either in the house 2. in the yard in the grass 3. in the car 4. in the trunk 5. at the neighbor's house (which neighbor's house was anyone's guess). You can imagine that once I was in charge of my own keys I put up a key holder next to the door in every home I have ever lived in. It is the FIRST THING I put up when I move into a place. (so far) I have never lost a set of keys in my house. Ever.

I lose other things, though. The can opener. The salt shaker. Words. Chunks of time.

Remember, too, how funky my mom is - that she loooooooooves gangster rap music. I am not lying and those of you that know me have seen her license plate and seen her email address and know I am not lying. My nearly 70-year old mother sings gangster rap word for word and rocks like kids in their teens. It is surreal and looks like computer animation. Someone should make a video of her. I swear they should. I made her cry once because I told her Tupac Shakur wasn't a poet. My daughter (bride-to-be, mentioned below) told me I was never allowed to make grandma cry again, so I no longer argue with her about rap music. I just sigh and give a sallow smile.

One of my daughters is getting married in less than 2 weeks. My UC daughter. (Keeping this on-topic, althought this will eventually find a topic, I promise.) When her fiance started learning about the family, I made sure he knew about the looooooooooooooooooooooong history of mental illness in the family and that he might have to visit his future wife in the cuckoo house one day. He said his family was weird, too, and I had to clarify the difference between Uncle Ned and wearing a Superman cape at all Thanksgiving dinners and having to take psychotropic medications for the rest of your life to keep from carving one's arm up like that holiday's turkey. He nodded, saying he understood. Still not sure if he does. He might not yet.

So, when I heard tell that said fiance made a comment that our family was "weird," I bristled. Weird? Excuse me? How so?

Well, see, the baby girl child likes to wear fairy wings. Yeah, she is 20 years old, but so what. She's my kid, after all. In fact, the bride-to-be wears fairy wings a lot, too, but that's besides the point of this story. So, bride-to-be considered having baby girl (maid of honor) wear fairy wings down the aisle at the wedding, but thought the conservative Christian in-law family might crap too stinky, so decided to get her the wings to wear at the reception. She got the wings to match her maid of honor dress and called to tell me how HUGE they are and they are gorgeous and she can't wait to surprise her fairy sister with them and that she found a place that might allow her sister to wear a new pair of wings all the time so she could just live in wings every day if she wanted to. I was touched and wiped a tear. Not lying.

So, that very day, I sent bride-to-be a picture of her fairy sister with her boyfriend that I'd taken on the beach at sunset - the very same one I put here on the blog a couple weeks ago. This is when the "weird" comment comes into play.

Fiance says, "Your family's weird," because we have a fairy child and she's gonna wear wings at the reception (so big she's gonna knock people over with them apparently. Gonna make for some dandy photographic moments, if you ask me). In defense, bride-to-be says, "YOUR family's weird!"

I had to gently explain to dear daughter that calling names like "weird" opens the door to more name-calling and to please refrain and that if he is thinking we are weird NOW, what the hell is he going to think in 10 years? I asked her to use some other words like "quirky," and "colorful," and "adventurous." She just laughed and said we were, too, weird.

She said his mom called three times a day with sports score updates. Yikes!

So, I'm at Nordstrom's and I am looking for clothes for the wedding. Her colors are chocolate and raspberry, but the bridesmaids are wearing latte and a lighter pink. (This really is going somewhere, I promise.) Not wanting to look like a bridesmaid, I am lost as to what color to buy - chocolate brown or latte... what color belt... or a scarf... a sash? something for my head? a hat? do I not wear her colors at all? Do I look like a drag queen altogether? Or do I dress like a Southern Baptist? I dial the bride-to-be. She is my Consultant-In-All-Matters (most of all when it comes to her wedding). She doesn't answer. I call again, leaving a message. Where the heck is she? She always answers.

I grab dresses, go the dressing room, try them on, ask my partner what she thinks (she barely looks up from the video poker she's playing on her Treo) and dial bride-to-be again. No answer. Crap. I pick the dark chocolate brown because it is so flippin' tight I won't have to wear a bra and is off my shoulders and will terrorize the Southern Baptists by baring my tattoos. We migrate to the scarf section. I flit through all the choices and am disturbed I can't find what I want. I call my daughter again. No answer. I am getting huffy now. Leaving nasty messages on her machine.

"Where ARE you! I am having an OUTFIT CRISIS and I NEED YOU! Will you PLEASE call me back NOW so you can HELP ME!"

And I go search out the saleslady who wants to sell me everything (and does) because partner is sitting playing on the Treo and will just hand over the credit card when it's all said and done and she knows that.

She helps me find a beautiful pink silk sash for my belly (my gooshie belly kind smooshes out and needed a girdle, but I can't find one in my size... where's that corset when I need one?!) and then we found a cashmere Pashmina to cover my shoulders during the service in the church. I got some lovely crystal bracelets and earrings to match the sash and all the while I am punching bride-to-be's number over and over. Is she in a car accident? Did she fall off the face of the earth? Where in god's name is she?

Finally, as I am poring over the Pashminas, I think, "groom-to-be!" and call HIS phone!

"Hey! I am having a HUGE outfit crisis... can you PLEASE ask bride-to-be to PLEASE call her mother NOW so she can help me NOW? Thanks so much. See you soon!"

About an hour later, my daughter calls laughing her head off, telling me she was painting something or other in the yard for the wedding and had her phone in the car. She said, "Mom. Remember that weird discussion? Well, you just sealed our family's fate." I was confused. She said, "Mom. You called groom-to-be's phone with an OUTFIT CRISIS! That ranks up there as weird!" I pouted and whispered, "Not to me." She laughed and said, "Not to me, either, mom. Not to me, either."

So, when bride-to-be was headed to see my dad, who'd already arrived in town, Sunday and my mom, who'd called me to tell me to stop bugging her about not having bought a plane ticket yet ("It's a mother hen, not a daughter hen!"), then told me that my dad's brother had died. (Parents are not married anymore, but have semi-contact with relatives.) I was rather shocked that my uncle had died and no one mentioned it and that my daughter was on her way to a seemingly happy visit with my dad and why didn't he say anything?!? She said she didn't know why, maybe he didn't want to ruin her wedding. Huh?!? I asked when he died. She said two days ago. I was baffled. I told her I needed to call bride-to-be to let her know.

I told bride-to-be that my uncle had died but for some bizarre reason, my dad wasn't saying anything to anyone. Perhaps she could quietly say something to him... "Sorry about your brother." or some such. She said she would and she was glad I told her. She was a few more minutes away and needed to pay attention to the directions.

10 minutes later, I get a call from my mom and she says, "You know. I don't think your uncle died." Blinking, I didn't even know what to say. "What?!?!" "Well, you know, your aunt has such a thick accent, maybe she said he was dy-ING, not dead." I screamed that I had to go, I'd call her back.

I dialed bride-to-be FAST.

"Hello?" "Don't say anything to my dad about his brother. Grandma doesn't think he's really dead." "What?!?" hysterical laughing "Mom!!" "I don't even know how to explain it. Just don't say anything. I'll tell you later."

She hung up laughing so hard I could see tears rolling down her cheeks and I am sure I heard the words, "Weird, weird, weird!!!!" seeping through her guffawing lips.

I was telling the story to my guru childbirth teacher friend and whining that I was destined to follow in my mother's footsteps. I shook my head and sighed that in 10 years I was going to be as crazy as my mom.

She laughed and waved her hand in the air as she walked away saying, "Bullshit, you don't even like rap!"

Nope. I sure don't.

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Reader Comments (7)

Sounds like a normal family to me. At least, what I know of as "normal". Sounds just like my family. :-)

When is the wedding?

October 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAtYourCervix

I just want to say thank you so much for being so open when you write. I know that it's tough sometimes, being so open and allowing others to comment on your life choices and feelings. I am going through hard times right now, and there have been days when it was your words that have sustained me, such as this morning when I read about your family.

I can completely relate. I come from a family tree of insanity, but I don't like to admit this to many people. It scares me to do so because I feel I will be judged, and I fear that people will think that I may be crazy too, which maybe, just maybe, I am. How can I not be?

I used to think that all midwives were some kind of super human beings, and that basically, they were perfect. I geuss it's kind of the same when we think of doctors as being God(Which I have come to realize that they are not). As I have gotten into midwifery and met different midwives, I have come to the realization that they are by no means perfect. In fact, midwives are human beings, with imperfections, just like everybody else! What a shock, huh?

This has been helpful because now I know that I can become a midwife and still be human. It has taken a little pressure off of the top, not a lot, but a little bit. Again, I say thank you.

October 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermidwifery student

This was a great break from studying! And Tupac is was most certainly a poet. I would've cried to hear you say otherwise, too!

October 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenter"Loving Pecola"

My older daughter was over so I read your post to both my daughters and they were impressed with your story telling abilities--
you just have so many interesting things to talk about---


October 14, 2006 | Unregistered Commentermwherbs

Just got home from doctor to get new medication and more estrogen to offset the Topamax eating all of the estrogen from my body and causing me to have terrible menopausal symptoms, the worst of which is this nasty depression, and I LAUGHED OUT LOUD for the first time today! Oh my goodness, we are in the midst of such a family crisis of psychotropic proportions right now, and to see how bride-to-be embraced little sister and her wings was just too sweet.

I have to say, I earned many a $2 in my day finding my mother's keys, and I, TOO, have my keys hanging right inside my door. To this day, she still does not. And my children find her keys when she loses them at my house.........

~Shawna Lee in SC

October 16, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

Since when wasn't wierd a complement or is my family just nuts?

December 12, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAnonymous

When I was in High School I was dating a guy, who I adored or his artistic ability but wasn't really a great guy, and one day when he came to pick me up my Mother lovingly referred to me as a 'mess'. He looked at her horrified that someone like a mother would call her child such a thing. He had missed the love. We still joke about it, more than 15 year later. I am a mess, so is my sister, mom and dad too. We ARE weird. We ARE a mess. Depression runs in the family along with many different other things. (For instance, my Grandmother is such a pack rat she owns 3 homes and can not really get into any of them.) But.... but.... but.... I love us this way. We are us. We are a family and we are perfect in our flaws. I'm such a mess in a completely good way.

Thanks for your wonderful post. In October of '04 I was home, birthing my son. Into a wonderful, glorious mess.

January 22, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJenny

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