Page's Turn

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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Mom Genes

April 14, 2010

“Mommy, you really need to wear nicer clothes during the day,” my 13-year-old daughter announces from the back seat as we race down Reservoir Road, heading to school.

“Yeah, I mean, you shouldn’t always wear your baseball cap and jeans,” adds her 9-year-old sister.

As usual, in our mad morning dash, I’ve thrown on a long-sleeved gray T-shirt, Seven jeans (not Mom jeans!), black rubber clogs and a baseball cap to hide my overgrown roots. I actually think I look like a hip, urban Mom. And I tell them that.

“No, Mommy, you just look messy and tired,” the youngest says.

“That’s because I am tired,” I shoot back, suddenly realizing this might be my karmic payback for all the years I tortured my mother over her wardrobe.

Almost 30 years ago, this could have been the exact conversation with my mother--although I complained about her head scarf rather than baseball cap. I was forever mortified by her bohemian clothes, particularly when I compared her to my friends’ preppy mothers in their cable knit sweaters and Pappagallos.

Mom had Pappagallos. But, as an artist, she preferred bell bottom jeans with brown chunky boots, macrame necklaces and scarves tied like a pirate. Now, the look would be cool. I guess it was chic then. Unless you were, like me, obsessed with all things pink and green. Wide whale corduroys, Fair-aisle sweaters, turtlenecks with red hearts, add-a-bead necklaces, L.L. Bean moccasins. That was my look, not hers. But I wanted it to be. I even went so far as to lay out the clothes I wanted her to wear for parent-teacher conferences. Mercifully, she would comply. It’s only now, as a mother to two daughters, that I can truly appreciate what I put her through.

Fast forward to the present and it feels like back-to-the future. My 13-year-old is wearing the stuff I wore--except most of it is paired with Uggs. She has sherbet-colored cords, cable-knit sweaters, a striped rugby dress. Everything old is new again. Or is it vintage? Maybe I’m vintage?

“Really, Mommy, you have to make more of an effort,” the eldest lectures.

Is she talking about my wardrobe or my life in general?

Not wanting to hurt my feelings, she adds, “It’s not that you don’t look good when you go out at night. It’s just your daywear needs improvement.”

Daywear? Where did that come from?

The youngest adds, “And maybe you could wear a little make-up. But not too much. You don’t want to look trampy.”

Trampy? Where were my girls getting this stuff? Apparently, they’d gotten it from me. While I’ve shied away from telling them what to wear, over the years they’ve absorbed some my comments about fashion in general.

When my oldest was six, we attended a birthday party. One of the mothers wore a shirt that was a tad on the short side, revealing a slight midriff. My child spotted this, tapped my side and announced in a booming voice: “Mommy, Mommy! Her tummy is showing. You told me that was tacky. Do you see that, Mommy? That’s tacky, right?”

“No, no, Sweetie,” I said, looking up to see the maligned mother glancing in our direction. “I said KHAKI. She’s wearing khakis.” And with that, I pulled her toward a bucket of juice boxes and told her we’d talk about it when we got home.

“You said tacky. That’s what you said.”

Later, I tried to explain, “Mommy does think midriffs are a little tacky, but it’s not nice to say negative things about someone’s clothes--particularly when they can hear you, because that could hurt their feelings. And you wouldn’t want to do that, right?”

“Uh-huh,” she replied, looking vaguely puzzled, as I rambled on about not judging people by their clothes--the old book/cover conversation.

In the years since that midriff malfunction, the girls have formed their own ideas about what looks good. And, for the most part, they’ve learned not to judge the fashion foibles of others. They save that for their mother.

Sitting at Starbucks, enjoying an after-school snack on a recent sunny day, my 9-year-old gives me a dressing down. I’d been in New York the day before in an outfit approved by both girls, but was now in my uniform of black yoga pants, a grimy white T-shirt, and dirt encrusted clogs.

“I’d think after being in New York, you’d come home wearing better clothes than that? Sheesh!”

“I was at the dog park before this,” I say defensively.

“That outfit doesn’t even look good for the dog park,” she barks.

I start to laugh, before realizing my budding fashionista could use a dressing down herself. “Listen, little missy, you need to watch your attitude.” Then I launch into how hard it is to look nice ALLTHETIME when you work from home with kids and dogs.

As if on cue, a friend of mine, a mother of three who has perfected the effortlessly chic look, walks into Starbucks. She’s wearing a floral wrap dress, paired with a light-weight, short-sleeved black cardigan, and metallic sandals with cork wedge heels. If I’m in the DON’TS column in the back of Glamour, she’s a definite DO. And since she works from home, has one more child than I have, AND a dog, she’s completely ruined my wardrobe rap.

“Now that’s how you should dress, Mommy.”

The conversation is hauntingly familiar. There’s no escaping our genes.


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