Page's Turn

A Mother’s Day--and Night

May 5, 2010

I’m asleep, but feel a presence hovering next to the bed.

“Mommy, I threw up,” my youngest daughter says before I can open my eyes.

It’s everywhere: the front of her pink Hello Kitty nightgown, in her stringy blond hair, behind her ears. “Can I sleep with you, Mommy?” she asks, pale and shaking.

“Oh, honey, let’s get you cleaned up,” I say, not knowing where to start.

Stripping her down, I decide a shower is our only option, given the situation of the matted down hair. After toweling her off, putting on fresh pajamas and peeling soiled sheets off her bed (she’d had spaghetti and meatballs for dinner), we head back to my room. I put some towels on the pillows, just in case this bout has some staying power, and strategically place a trash can next to the bed.

“Am I going to throw up again?” she asks before drifting off to sleep.

“I hope not, sweetie,” I try to reassure her—and myself. “But it’s okay, I’m here. Mommy’s right here.”

Moments later, the heaving begins and I race to raise the wastepaper basket closer. I reach for her hair, holding it back.

Holding back her hair. It’s what we do as mothers. Of course there’s more to motherhood than caring for a sick child, but at this particular moment, I’m a mother through and through. Gone are the usual doubts about my ability to be a good parent, the ambiguity over whether or not I’m cut out for the job. To be sure, those doubts will return, but for now, my need to nurture has kicked into action. I feel needed, not needy. 

 A child with the throw-up bug, despite the clean up involved, can be pathetically adorable. They’re weak, compliant, apologetic—if only temporarily. And you’re their hero— if only temporarily.

I remember my own mother holding back my hair as I hunched over the toilet as a child. My mother wasn’t an effusive, huggy kind of mom (Dad was the hugger), but when we were sick, she was there, nurturing us back to health with saltines, ginger ale, and hair holding. When I stayed home from school, Mom would prop me up in their bed while I zoned out on “I Dream of Genie,” “Bewitched,” or “The Brady Bunch.” That’s what I still want—even in my 40s. Even when I know it’s no longer possible.  Many of my friends, mothers or not, say they, too, want their mothers around when they’re sick. And it seems the feeling can linger long after a mother is gone.

While the need for our mothers never permanently fades, at some point, our mothers begin to need mothering. That’s what happened with Mom and my grandmother in the years before she died. Driving more than four hours every two weeks to visit, Mom would take 95-year-old Nana on jaunts through their old neighborhood, talk to her about grandchildren and great-grandchildren, help bathe her and brush her thinning hair. Seeing them together, I realized how much my grandmother needed her daughter to mother her. But I also wondered if there was a voice inside Nana that still wished for her own mother. And I wondered when it would be my turn to start mothering my mother. Our roles are constantly shifting.

It’s close to 4 a.m. and Katherine’s battle with the stomach virus has reached a cease-fire. She says she’s feeling much better and might be able to have a few sips of Gatorade. “I’m okay, Mommy,” she says softly. “I’m okay.” 

This time, she’s the one reassuring me.   

 


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Of Mice and Motherhood

April 27, 2010

I discover the decaying carcass while cleaning out my desk. The putrid smell is unmistakable. I let out a shriek and lurch back, knocking over the chair. My 9-year-old daughter, hearing the commotion from downstairs, yells, “Mommy, Mommy, what happened?” 

She runs upstairs to discover me jumping up and down, waving my hands in the air as if I’m at a Baptist Revival. “It’s a dead mouse! It’s a dead mouse!” I squeal.

“Ewwww,” she says. “I knew I smelled something.” 

“Didn’t I tell you there was a weird smell,” my older daughter, 13, chimes in after emerging from her room. “You need to get it out of here.”

“I can’t. I can’t touch it,” I whine like a three-year-old, er, 43-year-old.

 Here I’ve been divorced and living on my own for five years. I’ve prided myself on putting up the Christmas tree alone. I know the ins and outs of my home’s heating and plumbing system (well, more than before). I search the house when things go bump in the night, thinking I’ll knock out any intruder with my police-grade, heavy duty flashlight. I shovel my sidewalk on snow days. Basically, while I’m a woman who still relishes mani-pedis, I’ve manned up over the years. 

Just not when it comes to mice.

I want to be a good role model for my daughters, to show them that women can do things on their own--no need for a knight with a shining mouse trap. Women are perfectly capable of discarding dead rodents, thank you. But this is a clear case of my expectations--and theirs-- not meeting reality.  I long to be the roaring lioness, but I’m acting like a scared-y-cat.

As I  jitter about, clenching my fists, chanting, “I can’t, I can’t,” my third grader locks her steely blues eyes onto mine in an attempt to pull me from my hysteria. “Face your fears, Mommy. You can do it. Face your fears and pick it up.”

“Why don’t you face your fears and pick up the mouse?” I reply maturely.

“Because you’re the grown-up. That’s your job.”

She has a point. “You’re right. I can do this.”

Yes, we can, I think, trying to channel my inner-Obama, as I march into the kitchen to grab paper towels and a plastic bag. With supplies in hand, I head back to the den where my spectators watch from the sidelines.

“See, girls, Mommy can do this,” I say, folding over four sheets of paper towels. I could pick it up with the plastic bag, but I want a thicker barrier between the carcass and my fingertips. With the dead mouse now firmly in the folds, I grimace as I try  transferring it into the plastic bag. I must have jerked or something, because the next thing I know the tiny stiff body tumbles to the floor, ricocheting off my knee along the way.

“OhMyGod! OhMyGod!” I shriek once more.  “This is so gross! This is so gross!” Why am I always repeating myself?

“Pick it up, Mommy!!!!! You can’t just leave it there,” the elder daughter scolds, as I tap dance around the grayish brown clump. Then she tells me to “calm down and breathe.”

The younger one repeats her “face-your-fears” mantra.

I steel myself for a second attempt. I need to get a grip--literally.

Reach.

Grab.

Drop.

“It’s in the bag!” I whoop. “I did it!” The girls and I prance around the den and I give them high fives with my right hand while holding the nearly weightless bag in my left. I look like a player dancing in the end zone after a touchdown.

You’d think I’d just won the Super Bowl. In my mind, I have.

Taking the bag out to the trash, I feel empowered.  It may seem a tiny feat (with tiny feet) to most, but to me it’s a tipping point of sorts. It’s not that I think men are unnecessary, but I certainly don’t need them for the mice.

 


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Dog Park Karma

April 21, 2010

On a frigid morning in the dog park, I watch my black Lab Angus chase a slobbery yellow tennis ball across the frosty grass. 

“C’mon boy, it’s time to go,” I say after about 17 tosses. My finger tips are turning blue, my knuckles, bright red. He gives me a head fake as I approach with the leash, darting off to run circles around nearby boxwood bushes. I start walking away. He takes the bait and follows, tail wagging like a rudder.

As we turn to leave, a Collie trots across the field, stops smack dab in the center, and squats down low. I notice his owner a few steps away. Hmmmm, he’s not pulling out his bag. The dog finishes his business and he and the owner walk away in tandem, leaving a brown pile in their wake.

“Excuse me,” I call out. The man keeps walking. “Excuse me,” I say slightly louder.

No response. I contemplate chasing him down with my plastic bag fluttering in my finger tips. But who do I think I am, the poop patrol? It may seem gross to non-dog people, but anyone who’s had a dog--or child, for that matter--understands the drill: clean up the mess. I have been known to leave it when it’s in the rough--out of sight and stepping danger. But in the middle of the park? Come on.

This is what I want to tell the dog owner as he vanishes into the woods. Since I don’t have a lasso or bull horn, I stand there in the cold, cursing his rudeness and that of his ill-mannered companion. What if everyone did this? I mutter to myself. Who does he think he is? My lips are tightly pursed and I can feel my face turning crimson. 

And that’s when it hits me. Yep, on a cold morning standing in front of a pile of steaming poop, I have an epiphany of sorts. Where is all this anger getting me? What purpose is it serving? I realize the energy I’m expending on anger could be used for something else--like picking it up myself. 

So I pull out another wrinkled plastic bag and do my part to keep our parks clean. And it feels good. Hey, maybe I should try this more often? It could bring good karma. Treat people as you would wish to be treated. The Dalai Lama, St. Francis, the Bible, Everything I Learned in Kindergarten, The Power of Now--it was all coming to a head in the dog park.  

Angus and I walk home with a satisfied spring in our steps. And I’m determined to spend the rest of the day trying to be good, saying nice things, being cheerful, even when a driver cuts me off on Mass Avenue and gives me the finger. I catch up to him near Ward Circle, wanting to flash my red-knuckled finger. But I remember I’m trying to be good. So I flash him a wide smile and give him a quick wave. He looks at me like I’ve just escaped from a padded cell. No matter. I hold the door for people at Starbucks, deliver food to a homeless shelter, arrive early in the carpool line, knowing my children will be thrilled by my punctuality. 

“Why are you so early,” one says, heaving a backpack over her knees in the back seat. “I’m starving. Can we get a snack?”

I go to bed that night, exhausted from my feeble attempts at goodness. Will I continue tomorrow? I hope I’ll make the right choices. I hope I’ll remember to be grateful--and patient.

Waking up the next day, I race downstairs to start the coffee, let the dog out and get breakfast ready for my girls. Entering the kitchen a foul smell hits me. Angus has had diarrhea all over the kitchen.

All-righty then. Here’s an opportunity to be grateful for small things, like having a fresh roll of Bounty to clean up this mess. 


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