The woman I thought would never die, did.
When I was ten, there was a girl in my class who had no mother. I don't remember anything about her other than that. At the time, I couldn't imagine anything worse.
I realize that a ten year old losing her mother is a tragedy. A 51 year old losing her mother is the ordinary course. Illogically, I feel orphaned. There should be something between tragedy and ordinary, and whatever it is, it's painful.
For most of my adulthood I worked hard to maintain a healthy separation from my mother. I sometimes over reached in my efforts, in ways I'm sure she found hurtful. I needed a reprieve from her intrusion, her enabling, her self destructive lifestyle. At the thought of her permanent absence, I only imagined relief.
Now I only miss her.
One of the many things she did that drove me crazy, I now admire - she lived her life exactly the way she wanted to, with no explanations or apologies.
And, here's the kicker - she never expected explanations or apologies from me either. And I can assure you I owed her some. Everyone raise their hand who shouldn't apologize to their mother.
That's what I thought.
My mother didn't come from a generation that sat around talking about their feelings, and she didn't. Ever. To my great annoyance. But now I realize she lived what she felt. No words necessary.
I knew she loved me and she knew I loved her. That's what it comes down to in the end.
But, I find myself in a mother-free limbo.
Where is my place in the world without my mother? Besides, next?
I'm still a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend, a writer.
But now, I'm no one's daughter.
Who do I call for a quick, invigorating tussle?
Who can I count on to disagree, disapprove?
Who has to love me even when I'm a jackass, a shit head?
And who has to always open her door for me?
When my mother died, all those certainties went with her and I'm adrift, feeling like a real grown up, responsible for myself without her as a safety net. And she could be the greatest safety net ever.
I don't believe death makes us better than we were in life. So, as much as I loved my mother I'm not about to elevate her to sainthood now that she's gone.
To say my mother was a saint would be an insult to her memory.
She was no saint. She was a card carrying human being with all the flaws and frailties that membership requires.
She was complex, hard to figure, often difficult.
But she loved everyone she knew the best way she could, with no hesitation, and she gave everything.
I didn't always agree with the way she went about it.
I didn't think she made the best choices.
We didn't often see eye to eye.
I didn't understand her.
But there's a hole in my life where my mother used to be.
Some things you don't know about till you experience them. Raising boys is one.
We have two sons and one and a half grandsons - 14 months old and still in utero, due in December.
Now's the time.
There're things I wish I'd known so I could've passed them on to our sons when they were younger, so I'm gonna get started on the grandsons now.
These are things only your grandma will tell you...okay...probably only if your grandma is me...some little known gems, and some tried and true oldies but goodies.
Rules to live by:
1. Never wear bangs. Ever. Under any circumstances.
I'm not sure how this happens.
Is it a hairstyle that won't stay where it's supposed to?
Are the bangs unintentional? Blown down by the wind, lack of styling products, short forehead?
Who knows? Who cares?
Any haircut that might result in a bang situation should be off limits.
2. Capris pants aren't for you. No, not even in Europe. No, not if you're gay. If you have a penis, capris have no place in your wardrobe.
Gingham is off limits too. I know, 007 wore it. With his toupee.
Think about it.
3. Even soccer moms have tattoos. Sorry, the "I'm cool cause I have tattoos" ship has sailed, especially for you.
You'll have to think of something else.
And no, not lip rings or those platter sized earrings. By the time you're old enough to have those, grandpa will have them.
Maybe you can vote Republican, join the Tea Party. That'll show us.
4. Learn to cook. Odds are your wife won't. If you have a life partner instead of a wife...he probably won't either.
5. Money still talks. There's been quite a shift since the 2007 recession. We've returned to a simpler way of life. Less focus on things, more on the spiritual.
It's all a fake out.
Nothing is more attractive than a financially secure man. It's just not politically correct to say so.
I'm not talking Bill Gates wealth necessarily, although that kind of uber money isn't a dating detriment, I can assure you. I'm talking about a guy who knows how to save a buck, invest wisely, work hard.
The number of zeros differ, but the principal is the same. A safety net is a turn on.
Poverty is only romantic in novels and politics. In real life, it sucks.
6. Don't be cheap. This seems to fly in the face of #5. It doesn't.
Investing wisely means finding balance. Don't stop living for today because you're too worried about tomorrow. You can do both.
There's more than one way to invest. You gotta invest in your personal life just like it was a mutual fund.
It's all a matter of degree.
Work hard, but take vacations.
Save some, spend some.
Chicks like gifts. They just do. So, you'll have to buy them.
Wining and dining? You betcha.
And, never, ever make a girl you're dating pay her share. This is another of your Mimi's politically incorrect views.
A lot of women will say that a man carrying the dating financial burden alone died with Lucy Ricardo. Well, watch and learn. See who gets more dates. The guy who splits the check or the guy who, without fuss or fanfare, pays.
I still love Lucy.
7. Never underestimate Flower Power. Buy them. Pick them. Hell, even grow them. Give them.
I've never known a girl who didn't love flowers, or the thought of flowers.
Even just one flower does the trick.
If you give them for no reason...you're in.
8. It's all about the apology. Shit happens, and odds are, it's your fault.
Most of the stupid shit you're gonna do you won't be able to take back.
The apology afterward is all you've got. It better be good.
See #6 and #7.
9. Courtesy is not out of style. Opening doors, pulling out chairs, giving up your seat for the elderly, giving a hostess gift, and writing thank you notes are the signs of a gentleman.
Have some class.
10. Starter dates are better than starter wives. Don't marry the first girl you sleep with. Don't marry the first ten girls you sleep with (if you should be so lucky).
Make your mistakes before they're permanent.
Before you have kids you can screw up.
35 for a man is like 20 for a woman. Live it up.
And for God's sake, don't marry a woman because you think she's gonna be a great mother. She's not gonna be your mother. She's gonna be your wife. A fully formed woman who should know how to act like one.
And no woman worth her salt is easy to get along with a lot of the time.
I just threw that last one in for free.
11. Respect your parents. This has fallen woefully through the cracks.
They brought you in and brought you up the best way they knew how.
You owe them. Not vice versa.
You treat your mother like crap, your life will not be a happy one. I promise you, my friend.
You think you can take on your old man? Try it and good luck to you.
So, remember their birthdays, Mother's and Father's day, and holidays. Just buy a card for Christ's sake. They really mean it when they say they don't need presents.
They just need you to NOT act like an entitled, obnoxious, rude little asshole.
12. Man up. I saved the best, most important one for last.
Get your balls out of your mama's purse and act like a man.
Get a job.
Take care of yourself.
Take care of your family.
Be a good friend.
Be a responsible, contributing member of society.
And if I ever see you crying during any sporting event...we're gonna have words.
When my oldest was born, my mother came bearing gifts. Not for the baby, but for me. A pair of brown polyester trousers and a 3-pack of underwear. Those HUGE kind that double as a shirt. In fact, you don't really have to wear any other clothes, you're all covered.
Mom said, "Now that you're married with a baby you'll need to stop wearing jeans and dressing like a kid."
Never mind I was a kid and she was wearing jeans paired with a puff painted cat sweatshirt. I got the message. You're judged by your outfit. This is a concept I still struggle with, particularly as I get older.
Not long ago, hubby and I attended a work shindig - his work. I'm a writer, we don't have shindigs. Unless you count group therapy.
We had to travel there so I packed a way cute dress that I'd bought last December and still hadn't worn.
That's what a great wife I am. I make sure I always keep a stock of way cute stuff to wear whenever duty calls. I know, I know, I'm a trouper.
Anyway, last December was...a while ago. Perhaps...a few pounds ago.
I remember when I tried it on it was a hair snug. "I'm gonna lose a few pounds right after Christmas so it'll be perfect by the time I wear it."
Turns out that standing up while eating doesn't burn as many calories as I thought. Wine apparently doesn't count as a fruit either.
I realize I'm not gonna get much sympathy here as I am not a big person. But, I will say that as a small person, five pounds is a whole size. Menopause is no respecter of persons. After a certain age...thick frequently turns up in your body description.
And too tight is too tight no matter what.
I was dismayed to discover that the way cute dress I'd packed for the shindig resembled a sausage casing. I might've doubled up on the Spanx but then I'd never have gotten the dress on.
You know you've got problems when the girdle actually makes the dress tighter.
Anyway, after I tugged, yanked, sucked in, and spanxed my way into the dress I looked myself over in an, unfortunately, full length mirror. It got me thinking...
Maybe the dress wouldn't have been right even had it been, well, bigger. I'll admit, the oxygen getting cut off to my brain might've influenced my thought process.
Still. Those brown polyester pants and chin hugger underwear popped into my mind.
Am I dressing too young for my age?
We all know those women. Saggy knees, baggy arms, spandex mini dress. Ack.
Then there's the snowflake sweater, navy knit trousers (yes, there's a difference between pants and trousers and it's not good), serviceable Easy Spirit flat shoes kinda woman. Double ack.
Isn't there something in between?
Does age appropriate dressing equal frump?
I set out to re-vamp my wardrobe.
I started with jeans. Sorry, Mom.
"I want some jeans that don't show my butt crack," I said to the 16 year old salesgirl at Nordstrom. "Those are for kids. I'm getting older, you know."
She looked me over with that, "You don't have to tell me, sister" kind of face. She announces, "I know just the thing. You WILL LOVE them."
I head to the dressing room with a few pairs of decent looking jeans. I noted the brand name stamped in leather on the back - NYDJ. Never heard of it.
I pull them on. And keep pulling. They stopped somewhere around my armpits. The zipper was about 3 feet long. Another version of those underwear.
I creep out of the dressing room, hopeful no one I know sees me.
"Those look darling on you!" 16 year old crack smoking salesgirl says.
"Are these pants or a jumpsuit?" She hasn't noticed I'm not wearing my shirt. No need.
She stays mum, a dental ad smile glued on her face.
"What does NYDJ stand for anyway?"
"Not Your Daughter's Jeans." She chirps.
I look in the mirror. Nope, they're not; they're my grandma's.
I put the jeans back and bought some longer shirts.
Most of my peeps are at that age. Which means their parents are at that age.
So, like some of you, I've had the opportunity to hang out at various old folks homes visiting parents or grandparents. Considering how old I am (although I hate to) I guess I should think of something else to call them since I'll be moving in before you know it. And me living in an old folks home just isn't right.
I'm already rambling...
Anyhoo, I've observed that getting old mostly sucks. But, there are some things that are kinda cool about it, and the closer I get to the golden years the more I want to look on the bright side. Like...
You can be in a wheelchair, have a tracheotomy, be hooked up to an oxygen tank and roll yourself right out to the patio (usually called something like Serenity Garden or some other creepy crap name), and smoke. No one judges you. Okay, there's probably some judging. But, you could give a shit.
You could give a shit.
Don't want to brush your hair? Fuggedaboutit.
Cut your toenails? Nah. You like 'em that way.
Take a shower? Not this month.
Cheat at bingo? Be my guest.
Turn the TV volume up to 500? Have at it.
It's carte blanche, baby.
Teeth and underwear are optional.
The first works well for my mom. She only wears half of hers. The uppers. I think they help keep the cigarette in her mouth while she's rolling around Serenity Garden in her wheelchair looking for her oxygen.
The second worked well for my dad. He was married 8 times. Any no underwear situation was good news for him. Perked him right up. The last time I saw him, a few weeks before he died, he was trying to pick up on his nurse. I think she had on underwear, but who knows what goes on after 4 pm.
You can try to pick up on your nurse.
Or, anyone that tickles your wrinkly, demented fancy.
My husband was a hot commodity visiting the home. The ladies loved him. He's handsome, well under 90, and is still ambulatory. You can imagine the crowd I had to fight off, so to speak.
In the Alzheimer's unit one little old lady told me, "If I was thirty years younger, I'd give you a run for your money for that guy."
Another asked, "What's his name again? I think we used to...you know..."
Everyone expects you to nod off mid-everything. How awesome is this?
Wife yapping? Nod off.
Kids bossing you around? Nod off.
TV turned up to 500 with Jeopardy on? Nod off.
You can see the convenience.
You forget a lot of stuff. Or, so you say. This is a particular favorite of my mom's.
"I only lost $35 at the casino," she'd brag.
"You mean, $3500?"
"No...I don't remember that..." she'd say, nodding off.
Violent outbursts combined with threats of physical violence are considered cute and it's possible they hand out shivs. I passed a tiny, way old lady hobbling along the hallway with her walker. She told her slightly younger companion, "If he comes near me again, I'll cut him." I laughed for a week about this. Thought it was adorable.
White Out is a budgeting tool.
I'll go to my grave insisting on the genius of this nugget.
My dad balanced his checkbook with White Out. He'd sit at the kitchen table, bent over his dog eared bank statements (who knows how old) with the White Out brush poised over his check register.
He'd mumble, "That's not right," and white out the ending balance. Then he'd write in the one he wanted.
Wish I had thought of that.