Are You My Mother?

In the classic children’s picture book Are You My Mother? a newly hatched bird falls from its nest and wanders about asking that question of a kitten, a hen, a dog, and a few inanimate objects. He is clueless about his own identity and terribly lost.

You may have been nurtured by a mother possessing all the perfection of Caroline Ingalls or struggled through childhood with a parent who took lessons from Hamlet’s Queen Gertrude. For most people growing up in Mom’s kitchen fell in a more safe and boring middle ground with measured opportunities to learn about yourself and the world. A place where Mom, trusted adults, books, television and other kids helped answer questions whether insignificant or intense.

The maker of peanut butter sandwiches, enforcer of daily tooth brushing, comforter of physical or emotional injuries, was just a woman who happened to be older than you. She wasn’t gifted by the gods with amazing knowledge, a graduate of a secret parenting program, or anywhere near perfect. She didn’t know why 9/11 happened, how to stop social injustice, who to call about global warming. Her job was to make sure you felt loved and protected, often difficult work in an imperfect world.

Discovering that your mother has a masters in labor economics, hides a bag of bodice busters in the closet, holds strong feelings about mutual funds versus annuities, was married before she met your father suggests a richness in this woman’s life that has nothing to do with your existence. This is the school where she learned the mirepoix that flavored every scold, joke or counsel.

Even when the person who mothered you becomes too old or fragile to cook a really good dinner or read a favorite author without help, there will still be unknowns to explore in the woman who taught you to fake burp, to connect cables on a sound system, to ask your boss for more responsibility, to speak in many voices so your child giggles as you read Are You My Mother?.

 

Reprinted from cynthiakraack.com May 9, 2015

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Mom’s Inspiration

For years, my mom had a clipping stuck on her refrigerator with a magnet.

moms-resolution

Although it was in a semi-public place, the clipping was a private message for her, not a directive for the family and friends who might see it.

Mom knew she’d be in and out of the refrigerator numerous times a day. She probably hoped that by putting the clipping right there she’d be forced to notice it. At least once a day, she’d really see the words and be reminded of her intentions. Every day, she could rededicate herself to the effort of becoming her best self.

As a visitor, I saw it often but never thought too hard about it. They were her goals, not mine, and Mom wasn’t in the habit of preaching about her values or goals.

But when the clipping turned up in a box of Mom’s things that my sister had saved, I realized how much her example has influenced me. I, too, regularly rededicate myself to the effort of being my better self.

I make New Year’s resolutions (often the same ones about health and writing – they’re still good, because I frequently stray from my goals). Throughout the year, I also take stock and evaluate whether or not I’m living the life I want to live. For example, I might ask myself: Am I too bizzy with household tasks that don’t matter? Am I letting other people’s agendas overtake my own? Can I be more tolerant and easygoing and let go of irritation faster? Am I pushing myself creatively? And more.

My refrigerator is bare. Unlike Mom, I keep my resolutions and inspirations in journals or in the Notes app on my phone where I see them often. When I reread my intentions, I’m pleased to see that I’ve followed through on some. Others, not so much. But I’m easy with myself – effort counts. I’m a work in progress and I just need to keep trying.

Mom’s clipping lists five goals. I love that she circled the two that were most meaningful to her. As her daughter, I can tell you that most days, she nailed them.

Pondering Easter Traditions

Growing up, Mom was the creator and keeper of Easter holiday traditions. She helped us color eggs, and after we were asleep, she hid the Easter baskets. Each one had a name in it so the four of us wouldn’t fight. She made sure we each had the same amount of candy and eggs. She bought my sister and me Easter hats, dresses, shiny patent leather shoes, gloves, and spring coats. My brothers had dress shirts, pants and ties. It was always too cold for the summery clothes we wore to church. But every year she lined up the four of us next to the tulip garden for a photo. Year after year, she made ham, au gratin potatoes, fruit salad, and Mimmie, my grandmother, brought coffeecake. It was work, but all I saw was the joy Mom took in those traditions.

My husband, sons and I don’t live close enough to be a part of my parents’ celebration and our own observances are hit or miss. When my sons were young, my husband and I traveled to his parents, and I bought the Easter clothes and candy and sent the greeting cards. We all went to church despite my ambivalence about Catholicism.

Over the years, the old ways had begun to seem hollow instead of joyful. I told myself that it was better to lighten up and let go. We would invent new traditions and keep the day simple.

In the last ten years since my father-in-law died, we have stayed home. Now that Mom is gone, I feel even more unmoored from Easter customs. I have quit pretending to be an observant Catholic. Easter is a low-key affair. No church. No dress-up clothes. My sons and husband are relieved. None of the four of us likes ham, so we make a big Easter breakfast instead. Mimmie’s coffeecake is the one thing we always have.

FullSizeRenderWe have gone our own way and simplified our celebration, but sometimes I wonder if I’ve let too many of the old ways slip away.

Keeping up those rituals tied us to generations of family who did the same things—put on new clothes to symbolize renewal, ate special rich food after a period of fasting, and came together as family because that’s how you strengthen bonds.

What remains in our minimalist Easter ritual is that my family of four spends the day together, eating good food, talking and laughing. There is little history or religion in our day, but I believe our celebration has what’s essential: it strengthens our ties with each other.

An Onion In My Sock!

white_onionYou know that bad cold that is going around? That one that doesn’t go away? Yeah, I was in the throes of it when I was told by an employee that if I put an onion in each room of my house, it would suck the toxins right up. The person swore that they hadn’t been sick for years. Every six months or so they throw the old onion away and put a new onion in its place.
As soon as she left my office, I Googled, Can onions cure a cold?

After work I went directly to the grocery store and bought a bag of large white onions.

Antonio and Crystel were skeptical. They asked me what I was doing as I was carrying a bowl with an onion into their bedrooms. I said, “Oh you’ll forget it’s even here.” Antonio hasn’t. He swears he now sees little flies around the house because of the onions.

onion-remediesI need to Google, How to convince a 12-year old boy to believe an Old Wives’ Tale.
I wanted to do this onion business right. I worried that the bowl might be too small for the large white onion. Maybe the onion needed to have space between its outer skin and the bowl to work. And, should I take the sticker off? Would that hurt its effectiveness?

My constant deep cough almost drove me to the next step – cutting the onion into slices at bedtime and placing the slices into the heel of my socks.

I didn’t go that far. I was afraid the smell and not my cold would keep me up all night. Jody had already moved to another bedroom.

cartoon_illustrations_of_wellknown_old_wives_tales_640_35While waiting for the onion to work, I looked up other Old Wives’ Tales.

Don’t swallow gum or it will stay in your stomach for seven years. I swallow gum, always have. I don’t know if it has remained in my stomach. Jody can get back to you on that one, if she has an autopsy done after my demise.

Don’t make silly faces or it will make the silly face permanent. My mother used to tell me not to snarl, because it would be permanent. It was permanent all through my teen years.

Shaving makes the hair grow back thicker. I don’t know about this one. I shave once in the spring for my spring cut, mid-summer for my summer cut and that’s about it.

Nosebleeds are a sign of sexual arousal. I got a nosebleed at Tae Kwon Do. I was punched right in the nose by a guy.

Knuckle cracking causes arthritis. I’m cracking my knuckles just thinking about this. So far, so good.

The-Magic-OnionIt’s been two weeks. I still have an onion in every room of my house and one in my office. I have a slight cough. I haven’t seen any flies.

The onions will have to go at some point. But, I just hate to toss them. What if it’s true and that’s why I’m a little bit better?

In Praise of Middle-aged Sons

On Sundays, they escort their mothers to church and take them out to lunch afterward.

They pick up bread, milk, and the exact brand and size of mayonnaise their Mom wants and let her give them a coupon and the exact change.

Although they could finish a repair project more quickly without their father’s help, they try hard to smile when Dad supervises the work.

They sift through piles of Medicare statements and become wise in the ways of copays and explanations of benefits.

At their Mom’s house, they change light bulbs, program her cell phone, and write up a cheat sheet since she won’t remember how to use it.

They bring tins of homemade cookies, flowering plants, and companionable conversation.

After agreeing to be power of attorney, they spend countless hours balancing statements and paying bills.

As they sit at her bedside and spoon applesauce in their mother’s waiting mouth, they try not to dwell on the role reversal, because it just makes them sad.

They don’t talk much about the losses—they just shrug their broad responsible shoulders and go back to the office or go home. They don’t think their efforts are anything special–it’s just what they’re supposed to do.