Sunday, May 13, 2007

This One's For You, Mom

For the last few years Mother’s Day has kind of been a problem. When I was younger I did all the standard things – flowers, candy, handmade goodies – and was always gratified by the response I got from my mom. But things have changed, not on her end but on mine. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m a mother myself and have a better understanding of how treacherous the job can be. Maybe it’s because I’m 1600 miles away. Maybe it’s the realization that there aren’t enough flowers in the world for this woman who has given me so much for so long. Whatever the reason, I come up empty handed on Mother’s Day lately. Nothing I think of is good enough, and what ends up happening (to my chagrin) is that I am left with no gift. (Unfortunately, so is my mother). No flowers, no See’s candy, nada. This year I started early and still have nothing. To borrow one of my mom’s pet phrases this just won’t do. It’s my favorite line of hers, unless she’s using it on me. Then it doesn’t do much for me.

I wracked my brain for ideas, but what I kept coming up with were these little vignettes from the past that showed so many of my mother’s facets. I kept remembering all these stories that we swore would be funny someday. I took a peek at the mental images that have cracked me up for years. I cautiously examined the times that had been so hard for us from the perspective of an adult. And as usual, I sidetracked myself from my original purpose. It’s one of my specialties

First, there were the Flower Child times. This is when she and a bunch of her friends painted hands and feet and “Love” and “Peace” all over our red VW bug named Miranda. I took one look and refused to be seen in the car. She dropped me off around the corner from school for years until the paint faded. This was the era where for Halloween one year she dressed me in a handmade purple pinafore complete with a ruffled apron. She tied a ribbon around an empty butter box, hung it around my neck, and told me I was going as Mother Nature. This was about the time she pulled me out of public school in Highland Park and sent me to a private Montessori, because, as she so nicely put it, I was a little naïve for the homegirls and my mouth was about to get my butt kicked. Our house was always full of musicians and writers and artists, and my mother would laugh when one of them would chant the mantra “Marry a doctor. Marry a lawyer. Whatever you do, don’t marry a musician. “ (Editorial note one year later: HELLO! Did I see filmmaker on that list? Should they not have said all creative types in general??)

Then there are all the car stories. Oh my god, are there a lot of car stories. First was the time she tried to kill me in Miranda. We were living on the top of a hill and had a long curvy road that lead to the street. As is only fitting for one of our car stories the car wasn’t working right. (Just wait; I’m only getting started with the busted car stories). So when I was around nine or ten she taught me how to pop the clutch and steer the car just far enough for her to hop in and take over. One day I lost control of the car and headed straight for the neighbor’s swimming pool, watching my mother in the rear view mirror as she ran screaming after me. Then there was the time in Lake Tahoe where all of a sudden smoke started spewing from the dashboard of her car. “Mama,” I said,” The car's on fire.” “Well”, she calmly replied. “Maybe we should get out.” Speaking of smoke, there was the beater she bought me when she was living in Wofford Heights that caught fire three times on the two mile drive down the hill to Lake Isabella. That was the car that we limped into LA the back way because we knew it would never survive the Grapevine. Once we hit county limits the car gave up the ghost with an impressive sounding explosion, and the memory of my mother is indelible as she shrieked at the car and kicked it’s hubcaps with all her might, softly lit by the smoke from the engine. And speaking of the Grapevine, there was the day of her thirty ninth birthday when we were moving her to her new home in Sonora. After a crappy year of trying to salvage her marriage to my first step-father, she’d decided to leave. Well you know there’s going to be car trouble in here somehow. The only sound louder than the carsick German Shepard in the backseat was the noise the clutch made when it completely went out. On the uphill side. In a borrowed van. In a rainstorm. When we somehow got off the road she went to the back hatch to look for tools and when she opened it a big box of her favorite clothes fell out right into a big mud puddle – opened side down. I watched the entire thing in slow motion and, god forgive me, I laughed until I cried. Even now, all these years later, I’m howling at the mental image. Can you imagine how funny that WASN’T to my mother? I can’t believe she didn’t kill me right there.

She moved back to LA right about the time the Film Geek and I started going out. I was happier than I can describe to have her back. The whole time she was up north I felt like I was missing a piece. She made my wedding gown by hand and almost went blind in the process. She was in the waiting room when I was in labor with my firstborn and it wasn’t going well. After three hours of pushing and almost no drugs I told my husband to hand me his car keys because I was going to do a C-section on myself. Well, here comes my mom to poke her head in and see what the hold up is. At this point, knowing that I wanted nothing in the world more than to cry on my mother, he hollered at her to get out. She did, I had the reluctant baby an hour later, and my husband just kept moaning, “Oh my god, I threw your mother out of the delivery room. She’s gonna KILL me.” She didn’t, luckily for him. When I had Surfer Dude, she was in the delivery room with us, at my request, and was the first one to hold him after he was born. It’s funny, because he’s the one who has her light hair and eyes, and he looks so much like her. For the first few years after he was born I was afraid they’d given me the wrong baby and would show up on my doorstep to take him back, because he was so fair. As is usually the case when she deals with my craziness she told me in the nicest possible way to get over it. I still bring it up occasionally, and she’s a little less nice about it now that she’s heard it for so long. Most of her answers now start with “Oh for god’s sake, kid…”

So many memories. The day of her marriage to Stu, the day she got it so right after all. We had a posse on her to make sure she didn’t bolt, she was so scared. The year that the Film Geek taught in Michigan, leaving me in LA with three kids under six. We spent our weekends at Mom and Stu’s house and it was the only thing I looked forward to all week. It was the only haven I had, and I treasured it. Then there were the trips, especially the road trips back to California for the summer after we moved. She would point out all the fabulous sights to the kids (“Look, there’s the Grand Canyon”, “Wow, check out that moose” or “Don’t step on that geyser!”) and they’d continue to fight over the Game Boy and ask when we were stopping and if there would be a pool. The year of Sasquatch’s weak bladder when we pulled over every fifteen minutes so he could pee on the road – for two thousand miles. The trip to Mexico where we couldn’t figure out why no one swam in the incredible pool at night, and ventured out to give it a shot. We got chased back to our rooms by mosquitoes roughly the size of Maui. The trip to Alabama when my grandmother was dying from a massive stroke, where just the sight of my mom got me through. The trip to Michigan when my dad died unexpectedly, when the phone calls to my mom were my lifeline.

She’s the best person in the world at talking me down when I have an anxiety attack. She gives my kids hell for treating me the way they do. She has been known to pull a Terms of Endearment routine when I’ve been in the hospital and not getting tended to quick enough. (“Give her the DRUGS!”) Just last week I picked up my phone to call her and when I pushed the send button there was no dial tone, just my mom’s voice saying “hello?hello?”, because she was calling me at exactly the same time I was calling her. It wasn’t the first time. When I get all hypochondriac-like and am convinced I have a tumor or an aneurysm or testicular cancer, she can talk me out of it, and tell me in the nicest possible way that I’m full of crap. She ignores me when I get on my It’s All About Me podium, but gets mad at me when I let my kids walk all over me. She was brave enough to move away from her family as a single mom to an eight year old, all in the name of making a better life for them. I love that, in spite of considerable provocation, she never said anything rotten about my dad, even though he gave her plenty of cause. The strongest thing she ever said was “Well, we know your father has a head like a sieve.” Now I’ll grant you, she said it a lot, but there’s a lot of restraint there as far as I’m concerned. I love that she barely flinches anymore when she hears the words “Nancy Drew”. One summer when I was visiting my dad she gave my collection to the daughter of a friend of hers who was going to Israel to live on a kibbutz. She thought I was done with them and I almost had a heart attack when she told me after the fact. For years she had a tic whenever she heard the name of the titian haired girl detective. I’m pretty sure I’ve given her a lot of tics, but she never holds it over my head. I could write a book, but it would never do her justice.

I’m sorry I don’t have a real present for you again this year, Mom. In the gift giving department I stink, and I know it. I’m going to start looking right now for next year, so this doesn’t happen again. But for this year would this do?

You’re my best friend
I would do anything (including eating liver) for you
I’m sorry for laughing about your clothes (but you have to admit, it was funny)
I love you more than you’ll ever know

Happy Mother’s Day,

1 comment:

Altaglow said...

Thank you, Pickle. This is right up there on "The All Star Hit Parade of Great Gifts". And, as I rummage about looking for some dry Kleenex, let me thank you for co-starring in this long running, though sometimes spotty, thrilling comedic action-adventure drama. You've brought some great material to the skit so there's no way it could have been done without you. Thumbs up, little buckaroo and Love Always, Mom