my mother calls, she speaks in 20point Impact Bold font and
punctuates each statement with a fantastic sense of urgency:
is ya Mutha! The lady who gave you birth! Backwards!”
identifies herself just in case I don’t recognize the voice. I
was a born breech during the pre-ultrasound era and the creation of
the epidural. She reminds me of this fact about every third phone
call. I’m 48.
Mum,” I say. “What’s up? Is everything OK?”
7:15 AM. I’m rearranging tables and chairs in a school library
with the bitterness of a wedding coordinator forced to collaborate
with a carefree vendor. Important details about the training
that I must run have not been delivered: the schedule, number of
participants, the need for an LCD projector etc. Regardless, the show
must go on, so I roll up my sleeves and get to work. Until my
getting a snowstorm! On Friday!
Tuesday. When I’m delivering a workshop, my mother knows
to call only in the case of an emergency. An emergency has
defined as a circumstance that demands immediate medical attention:
if you are lying on the floor and can’t get up. When the
stove is on fire and 911 does not pick up. Macy’s One Day
Sale is not an emergency. Aunt Carol’s bingo victory is not an
emergency. If Entertainment Tonight headlines the story, it
not an emergency. Her voice rings on:
Go to the grocery store! As soon as possible!
New England weather forecast is about as accurate as a lottery ticket
purchase, especially during my mother’s formative years when
weather satellites had yet to be launched into space, let alone a
human being. Power outages were almost certain and endured
weeks, inspiring the entire community to pummel the grocery store
with a maniacal, Y2K mentality. With each forecast of inclement
weather, Mom recounts the Laura Ingalls Wilder lifestyle she
endured: boiling water to bathe, sleeping near the wood
reading books by candlelight. Without a doubt, even Elsa of Arendelle
would have frozen during a New England blizzard, so I breathe through
her apocalyptic tone and listen to her advice.
some milk and bread before it's all gone!”
stream of teachers trickles into the library, armed with cups of
Dunkin Donuts coffee and a barrel of resentment. It’s
President's Day, a blurry federal holiday that shuts down mail
delivery and the tax collector but enables local schools to prop open
doors, should they choose. As a result, some teachers are forced to
attend class while the students are dragged to household appliance
sales. Therefore, I needed to end the conversation before the crowd
ate me for breakfast.
Mum.” I reassured her. “I’ll hit Market Basket on
my way home. Gotta go.”
mother raises her voice one octave higher, if that is possible.
the love of God, Maureen!
sound exhausted! Stop running around like a chicken with its head cut
off! You’re going to get sick!
a moment, my breath is taken. Without a reflective filter, my mother
provides me with consistent, explicit feedback on self-improvement
alongside an occasional psychic zinger. It’s
as if the umbilical cord that once connected evolved into an
intuitive energy that she taps whenever she wants to read me. I
haven’t told her about my cancer diagnosis, but if I continue
to talk, she’ll wiggle into my head and I’ll no longer
have a secret to share.
Mom. I’ll do that. Gotta go. Bye. I’ll call ya later.”
A couple teachers catch the tail of our conversation, and their eyes
tell me we share something familiar.
That was my mother,” I admit. “Has anyone else received a
phone call from Mom or Dad about Friday’s storm?”
Cheeks are flushed with smiles as hands poke the air and our feet
find common ground.
dad keeps reminding me to check the woodpile, as if it’s going
to sneak away in the middle of the night.”
YOUR LAUNDRY DONE BEFORE WE LOSE ELECTRICITY,” exclaims another
I’m gonna be bottled up with my teenagers, I need to hit the
liquor store!” The room hums with laughter.
I think we all could use a 3-day weekend.” I agree. Heads nod
as I’m accepted as part of “we.”
was my mother who taught me to play nice in the sandbox, especially
at work. She ran a preschool program and delivered cookies and milk
to the children so teachers could take a coffee break. The
cookie lady, they called her.
the teachers so they won’t eat the students,” Mom
advised. So I did. I’d spend hours poring over each
presentation, customizing slides to meet the needs of each
spend too much time preparing for work.” My husband noted. But
at the end of the training, the teachers applauded and it meant the
world to me.
directed, I stop at the grocery store on the way home. It’s
evident that mothers across New England called their adult children
and instructed them to pick up provisions before the impending
snowstorm. The milk and bread aisles appear to have been pillaged by
Vikings, and customers storm registers like U2 fans at a ticket
transform into Michael Jackson splurging a gift shop, whizzing down
aisles and tossing items in my cart without strategy or financial
consideration. A rotisserie chicken, arguably the best
innovation for mothers since the innovation of birth control, is
tossed into my basket. For $6.99, the beloved bird will do more dead
than it ever did alive. I add potatoes, a bag of salad and a
bottle of wine then…Voila! Dinner. For a moment, I ride a wave
of rock star euphoria. Until I’m stuck.
man clogs the aisle as he contemplates a box of cereal with the
scrutiny of picking out an engagement ring. I’m tempted
to ease his pain by flipping a box into his cart but consider that he
may be performing mathematics while grocery shopping, as my mother
used to do. I would rather spend the rest of my days trapped
the waiting area at the Department of Motor Vehicles than perform
mathematics while grocery shopping. But Mom computed prices
with 4 children swinging from the cart and a $100 budget to feed a
family of 6 and purchase laundry detergent. With the utmost
respect for appraisal in action, I navigate around said shopper and
towards the register with thoughts of laundry dripping in my
alarm sounds in the task control center of my brain as I line up
groceries on the conveyor belt. Visions of empty drawers and
overflowing laundry baskets glitter in my head, warning me to perform
mathematics. I divide the sum of hours left in the day by the number
of outstanding tasks: GONG! There’s not enough time left in the
day for laundry: I’m a losing contestant in my own game show.
My frontal lobe kicks into problem solving.
you sell underwear?” I ask Dave, the cashier. His cheeks fire
red as if I just asked him to take off my underwear.
not for me,” I clarify. “It’s for my daughters.
They are seven and nine.” I throw their ages to desexualize the
shakes his head while avoiding my gaze. The Mrs. Robertson's paradigm
playing out in his head annoys me because he probably thinks Simon
and Garfunkel design office furniture.
He reports to the register.
wine costs twice as much as the chicken but this does not bother me
because I’m taken aback by Dave's visible distress over my
underwear comment. It’s a reasonable question, I tell
myself. The store sells everything from pig’s feet to
windshield wiper fluid and I bet I’m not the only parent who
would prefer to shell out 8 bucks on a 4 pack of panties to avoid a
late night of laundry. Dave, I decide, is underpaid, uptight, and
does not have children. Disappointed but not defeated, I grab my
groceries and head to the car. Next stop; parent-pick up.
takes more effort to smuggle a child out of the former Soviet Union
than to sign a child out of the after-school program. It’s not
just because the front desk, AKA CheckPoint Charlie, requires picture
identification and signature before releasing a child. It’s the
social expectation that I must engage in conversation about topics
and people that I feel tepid about at best. I don’t care whose
kid still can’t open a juice box and know it's a matter of time
before my cancer headlines the parent pick-up report. I'd
the architect who designed an after-school care program with a
tendency to worry about events that have yet to occur shuts off by
the drumming of little feet on the linoleum floor. A little
girl pours into the open arm of her mother, having just escaped
Nazi-occupied Austria by crossing the Swiss Alps. I notice my
daughter is glued to a UNO game, her little fingers pressed white
around the cards, as if she bet the house. Sienna lifts a fraction of
an eyebrow to signal my presence, which is trumped by the importance
of her card game.
think it’s great that your girls are so independent,”
says the mom of #REUNITE. She plants a kiss on top of her daughter’s
French braids and wipes away an imaginary wrinkle from the back of
her dress. At 5:45PM they could be leaving for a Christmas
you,” I say and fake a smile.
Mum…can I stay and play another game of cards?”
Sienna hollers from the card table, appearing to have just stepped
out from a Les Miserable casting call. Team #REUNITE slithers away
just in case we have something contagious, and maternal worth
crumbles under the pressure of social judgment.
I snapped. “Let’s go.” I pull Julia from a
Dodgeball game and we pack our collective exhaustion into the
At the end of the school day our brains are full, stomachs empty, and
we’re tired of being nice to people. So as soon as the
seatbelts click into safety, a squabble erupts.
looking at me like that!”
what?” Julia replies, feigning innocence.
know!!” Sienna spits.
black Volvo XC90 carrying #REUNITE cuts in front of my Ford Escape
and I applaud myself for resisting the urge to flip her the bird,
because it’s critical for a mother to model civilized behavior
in front of her children.
we please not be the crazy family in the school parking lot.”
My request falls on deaf ears as a slap echoes from the
Sienna hit me,” Julia reports.
Julia was making fun of me,” Sienna counters.
turn on the radio, knowing that even the magic of music cannot drown
out the fire brewing in the back seat.
were making fun of me in your head,” said Sienna.
so now you’re psychic,” said Julia.
could be, I think. Her Nana is.
dew of a memory appears. I’m
packed in our Ford
Ranch Wagon, the
model that lacks the
paneling side of the LTD Country Squire, with
my sisters and brother, ages 4, 8, 9, and 11. While
it’s a crappy car and underpowered, there’s a way, way
back with rear facing seats and a big screen view of all things
behind us. No one sits in the way, way back on this day; we're on the
didn’t put enough ice in his glass.
you retarded? he had snared. “What kinda wife doesn’t
know to put ice in a glass?” Steaming with contempt, Biff
wriggled the wedding band off his index finger and displayed it on
the windowsill over the kitchen sink, chalking my mother’s name
truth, we were to blame. It’s a tall order to replenish empty
ice cube trays while catching dripping needs of 4 young
Our cups were full but at times, the ice cube trays were empty.
When Mom failed to fulfill her wifely duties, Biff took off his
wedding ring to disassociate himself from a loser.
on this day, when Mom took the ring from the windowsill and flushed
it down the toilet. By the power of her own volition, she
packed her children in the Ford
Ranch Wagon and sped down the driveway, kicking the tired analogy
clock on the dashboard into ticking.
didn’t know where we were going but understood we couldn't be
home. Nana’s house was not an option as she perceived marriage
as a sacrament, an everlasting covenant to the church; my mother
would be sent home to make amends. Only an auntie, kin to
spirit rather than blood, untangled from the web of the familia,
could crack the dogmatic shackles of religion and challenge the echo
of our cultural narrative.
Vel, my mother’s college roommate, cut her own wood, grew her
own vegetables, and had a working vocabulary that could take Webster
for a cup of coffee. Pragmatic to the bone, she’s a Rubix Cube
master at problem solving, twisting, turning, aligning creative
combinations until a solution is found.
as long as you’d like,” said Auntie Vel. On this
day though, Mom wouldn’t not leave him. The
phone rang at dinner time. Vel nodded at Mom the same way a
Little League coach informs an anxious player to sit tight on second
base. For 3 consecutive calls, the phone sat on the cradle until
Paul, Vel’s husband, put an end to its wailing.
an instance, Biff’s presence fills the room. He speaks in 16pt
Times New Roman italic font,
letters standing tight and polished with an angle of annoyance, as if
he’s an agitated businessman forced to ride public
transportation. Yet the sound of his voice hypnotizes Paul with the
sleekness of a snake charmer.
Biff’s admits, his word choice was not ideal and perhaps
as angry, but surely
can relate to the pressure of a full time job and supporting a family
of six. After all, Margaret Thatcher is presiding over England, so
his college educated wife can probably figure out how to deliver a
proper glass of water. Not to mention how the Patriots were robbed of
meeting the Vikings in the Super Bowl, especially after Chuck
Fairbanks crushed the Miami Dolphins and Steve Grogan shattered the
Pittsburgh Steelers. What did Paul think about next year’s
season? Within minutes, Paul is a pigeon to Biff’s
breadcrumbs. So Biff decides to take a pass at owning his behavior,
choosing instead to couch his actions in excuses, therefore not
admitting to having done anything wrong at all.
not unusual for men to lose their temper, Paul explained. Personally,
Paul was vigilant about controlling his emotions because his wife is
handy with an ax. Plus, he points out, we didn’t pack for
an overnight stay and the children will not be able to brush their
is more important for their mother to smile,” Vel said,
gritting under her breath.
hours, my mom folded from the reality of not having enough money or a
place to live. Ironically, fireworks lit the sky and Boston
celebrated our 200th birthday from tyranny as my mother packed her
kids back into the car and returned home.
years I marinated in anger, ignorant of the social constructs and
financial hurdles that limit a woman’s access to autonomy.
Resentment towards both my parents clung to me with the stickiness of
Saran Wrap on a salad bowl, and I couldn’t seem to drink it
away or work it away no matter how hard I tried. I wanted my mother
to have the strength of an ostracized
woman who refused to
hand over her baby
for adoption, but all she could do is eat from the plate she was
piercing voice called me back to the present. “Mom, why
are you not doing
use your words,” I said.
it?” Julia says exasperated. “That’s all you are
going to do? Why doesn’t she get a consequence?
If it was me then I would have a consequence.
tired to the bone and my eyelids are heavy with the weight of the
world. The temptation to pull the car over and dump them both
on the side is as rich as the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip
cookies and next thing I know, the car is parked on the side of the
the only passenger above 4ft, I assumed it was me who pulled over,
though I would not confirm this under oath. All I remember is sitting
in the car, not wanting to move, even though there’s an
impending snowstorm and rotisserie chicken just itching to be served.
The car screams in silence.
you have a bad day?” asked Julia.
bad, just long,” I replied.
was terrifying,” said Sienna.
you tell the people?” Julia asked.
which people what?”
the cancer! Did you tell the teachers about the cancer?” .
Not yet,” I said.
have to talk to Nana first.”
she probably already knows,” said Julia.
do ya mean?”
shrugged her shoulders. “Just do.”
mother calls after bath time and does not identify herself, her words
gurgled by tears until they drown in silence. The news of my
cancer had spread before I was able to own it.
I say. “Mom. I’m all right.”
says nothing; her
silence says everything.
mother/daughter bond, buried in expectations, transcends words and
knows no boundaries. It’s
why I go to the grocery store before a snowstorm and worry when my
daughter looks like she just fell off the orphan train.
tears tell the story of unimaginable pain, where the light of a
mother’s love is pinched by a dirty, malignant disease. With
faultless desperation, I want to hear who received a rose on the
Bachelorette and how the toxic combination of alcohol and anger
fueled the breakup of Brangelina. Instead, I just continue to
chant, “I’m OK. I’m OK.”
love, a beautiful and bold poem, left unfinished.
of the message
won't know where to send it.)
story list and biography
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