Just Wait Until Your Father Gets Home
When my first daughter was born, I made up my mind not to be the kind of mother I had endured, not that my mother was a bad parent. She was just so old-fashioned. In my opinion, she had needed to come out of the cave. She tried so hard to teach me the same set of values and behaviors she had been taught by her mother before. Dear old Mom grew up in the 40's and 50's, while I was attempting to do the same in the 60's and 70's. You see where I'm going with this.
Women had burned their bras by the time I was even starting to need one. Women had already stopped going straight from school to marriage by the time I was just entering high school. When girls my age wore skirts up past their knees, it wasn't because they were out growing their clothes and money was too tight to buy new ones. In the 70's, riding alone in a car with a boy wasn't reason for Daddy to get the shotgun, and wearing lipstick at sixteen wasn't the sign of a budding floozy.
My mother was one of those mothers who said some really dumb things. I used to just stare at her in amazement, wondering where I went wrong. I would review my own half of the conversation trying to figure out where the language barrier had begun to crop up. I could never pinpoint the exact spot where communication began to break down, but for some, unknown reason to me, everything I said was considered to be the comment only a smart ass would make. And if I said nothing, appearing for all the world to be deaf and dumb? I was still being a smart ass.
Looking back over the years, I realize communication was not our strong point even when I was a young child. At about the age of two, I was sitting on the floor of the living room, happily playing with my brand new doll house. Dear old Mom decided I should play somewhere else because there was a giraffe on the floor.
I looked all about in surprise and delight. A giraffe? I didn't want to miss this. Where was it? I couldn't see it. I looked and looked. Nope. No giraffe. Still she insisted I needed to get off the floor because there was a giraffe and I was going to catch cold. I think I got a wee bit upset with her for lying to me about the giraffe, and really insulted by the accusation that I was going to catch a cold. Why would a giraffe on the floor induce me to go chasing after a cold until I caught it? I didn't even know what a cold looked like. But I did know what a giraffe looked like and I wasn't seeing it. I was promptly put in for a nap because I so obviously needed one.
The puzzle of the giraffe and the cold stayed with me for years, until one day I told my daughter she needed to get off the floor. Why? Because there was a draught on the floor and I didn't want her to come down with a cold. It had taken me twenty years to understand what Mom had been trying to tell me.
My mother came from a big family, being the second of seven children. My aunts were a constant fixture at my house, visiting almost everyday. I really liked being around my aunts, especially my Aunt DeeDee who was only six years older than me. She was more like a big sister, really cool to hang out with. She came to see my mother because Mom was her big sister, and little sisters need to get advice on all kinds of things. I was curious about the kind of advice my mother could possibly be giving someone as cool as DeeDee. Then she did it. Mom said another one of her really dumb statements.
I was just standing idly by while they were talking. Aunt DeeDee was talking about some boy she really liked and I wanted to hear all about it. My mother looked at DeeDee, then slid a sideways glance at me, saying, “Little people have big ears.” My beloved aunt looked at me in a sort of, Oh! way, and clammed up. I knew they were referring to me as the little person in question and I was insulted. I did NOT have big ears! My brother had big ears, the kind that stick out like a taxicab flying around the corner with both doors open. But I had little ears and I told them so, which only made them laugh at me. I got sent out of the room. So I went around the corner into the hall and sat on the stairs where I could still hear what my aunt had to say. Mom told her to come out to the kitchen with her because now the walls have ears. What was her preoccupation with ears? By now I wasn't interested in the conversation anymore. I was worried about my mother. I happened to know that not a single wall in our house had an ear hanging from it.
Generally speaking, my mother was an excellent cook. Everybody raved about her skills, and dinner invitations to our house didn't get refused. The problem for us kids was that Mom enjoyed trying to convince us to eat foods we didn't like by appealing to our other senses. My brother was all about being a boy, so she appealed to his need for strength, as in, “It will make you big and strong.” I was always surrounded by books and papers, playing school, so she appealed to my need for intellect, “It will make you smart, because it's good for the brain.” Once she tried to pass turtle soup off as vegetable soup. I was having none of it. The stuff was disgusting and I didn't care how smart it would make me. I figured if it made your insides want to come out of your mouth, it couldn't be good for you.
One day when I was about six or seven, I came through the back door intent on getting a drink. As I headed for the dining room where I heard voices, I was stopped dead in my tracks. I didn't know who was in there with her, but I heard Mom tell him she was going to give him some food for thought. I turned around and raced back outside. No way did I want to suffer any of that stuff again!
Over the course of my youth, Mom made a lot of comments that left me scratching my head. There was the old, “Just wait until your father gets home!” threat. Well, of course I'm going to wait. I wasn't in any hurry to get scolded. I especially loved when she asked me, “Do you want your mouth smacked?” or some other form of being punished. Now, who in their right mind, would ask a kid that kind of question? I mean, if it's an option, well then, no, I don't want my mouth smacked. Did she even need to ask?
Just about every girl who grew up during the 60's and 70's was subjected to the dreaded home perm. I was no exception. I fought. I kicked. I begged. I ended up in the chair with about a kazillion little plastic torture devices clamped to my head. The smell was unbearable and I was not interested in having ringlets hanging down my back. I wanted to climb rocks and trees with my brothers. The end result of my torture was a mass of frizzy, unmanageable wool poofed out around my face. I screamed. I cried. I refused to come out of my room. I was really, really mad and I wasn't about to forgive her for making me ugly. So she tried to appeal to my sense of humility by reminding me that beauty is only skin deep. Did she really think talking about my skin was going to take my mind off the hair?
Everyone has experienced the envy of another friend who seems to be allowed to do all sorts of fun things that we only dream of doing. I was fourteen when a band I really liked was scheduled to play at the local arena. I was dying to go to my first concert. The answer was no, the argument being that I was too young. I had just the argument designed to fit the occasion.
“I'm not too young. Peggy's letting Joni go.” That should convince her. Joni was my best friend and Peggy was her mother.
“Well, Peggy's not your mother, I am.” Now there was a brilliant statement. No kidding, Ma! Otherwise, I wouldn't be here having this stupid conversation, Joni would.
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Joni was my partner in crime for a lot of misdeeds. One day we decided the weather was too, too nice to be stuck inside a classroom all day. We both had excellent grades and rarely missed school for any reason. On a whim, we chose to skip school. Unfortunately, we didn't think about it until we were already there. We put our heads together and wrote a couple of notes that would get us out of school early. We got busted.
Mom was waiting at the door when I got home. At first she didn't seem all that angry about what I'd done. She was more concerned with what had possessed me to attempt something like that. Me, in my infinite wisdom, decided it would be easier to blame Joni since it was her idea to begin with. Mom couldn't stop herself.
“If I told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?” she demanded to know, hands on hips.
Because I hate stupid questions, and because I was embarrassed at being caught, I said the only thing that came to me. “Well, apparently not, because according to you, I don't do anything you tell me to do.” CRACK! I was in shock. She slapped my mouth and didn't even bother to ask me first.
My oldest daughter was about eight years old when I cornered her in the hallway. Her bedroom was a mess even though I had told her twice to get it cleaned up. I stood there, my hands resting on my hips, glowering down at her.
“How many times do you have to be grounded before you'll learn to keep your room clean?” I asked in frustration
She looked up at me with those big blue eyes, chewing her lip while she thought about it. “Ten?”
I knew I had failed. I had become my mother.
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