*I read this at DC’s Listen to Your Mother Show, Sunday, April 28. Thought I’d post it here for friends and family who couldn’t come. Since I wrote it for the performance, it may not translate as well on the (virtual) page…but the videos will be online later this summer!
My mother once told me that when she was a new driver, my grandmother plotted out directions for everywhere her daughter could possibly need to go. The purpose of this was to ensure that the recently licensed teenager NEVER had to make a left turn.
Probably not the most realistic of long term plans.
When I was learning to drive in my Capitol Hill neighborhood, right turn only routes were a near impossibility. But I doubt Mom would have repeated this same tactic anyway. While she did her best to shelter us from the harsher realities of life, my brother and I were also given a great deal of freedom to make our own decisions. At the very least, we were allowed to turn left.
At the time, I didn’t acknowledge this leniency. Instead, I rolled my eyes as I caught the peripheral movement of her foot pushing down on the passenger side brake that all mothers have. I huffed in exasperation each time I stopped just a liiiittle bit short, and she flung her arm across my body like a back-up seat belt. I stared at her with incredulity when she instructed me to put on my left turn signal as we waited in a left turn lane.
“Mom, don’t you think people know I’m turning left? I mean, the big arrows painted on the road kind of give it away.”
“Well,” she said, “use the signal anyway. Just in case.”
My mother knew we needed to chart our own course in life, but that didn’t mean she wouldn’t worry about us.
Over the past 15 years, Mom has had several recurrences of cancer. And it was our turn to worry about her. Each time, she said she would be FINE. She just knew it. And she was. We’ve been very lucky in that. But nothing is ever simple, and she’s had her fair share of left turns to navigate.
One summer, when my children were still toddlers and preschool age, things got a little weird. It seemed like Mom worried about EVERYTHING.
At the time, she was on a round chemo that was particularly rough and was taking various medications to help with the pain. Through previous treatments, she maintained a positive attitude and was relentless in her insistence that we share it. But now, she was filled with anxiety.
“Kate. I want you to make sure that your new stove is anchored to the wall. Is it anchored to the wall?”
“I don’t think so Mom. They just slid it in…but it’s pretty solid. I can’t imagine how it would tip over.”
“Can you check? Just in case. I’m worried about the children pulling down. You know how they like to climb.”
I looked at my very heavy, very square stove; and the teenager I once was rolllled her eyes and sighed in exasperation.
“Okay Mom. I’ll check.”
I tugged on the edges where it seemed my monkeys might find a hand hold.
“Yeah…I just don’t see how they could tip this thing. It’s pretty wide…”
“What about the top? If they climbed on top of it, could they pull it over that way?”
As my mother waited in anticipation of my answer, I wondered how it had come to this. Exactly how many wrong turns had we made to end up in Crazy Town. Well, I thought, since we’re already here…
I put the phone down.
“Mom. I’m putting you on speaker.”
I then reached over the top of the stove and pulled on the far edge of it. Nothing happened. I bent my knees and really leaned into the pull. Again, nothing. I braced my feet against the bottom of the stove, bowed my back and gritted my teeth, willing that behemoth to fall on top of me!
I broke a sweat, trying to severely injure myself with a kitchen appliance.
And as I held that ridiculous pose I called over to the phone on the counter, “Mom. I am trying to pull this thing down with every scrap of strength I have and it is NOT HAPPENING.”
“Well okay. I guess it’s safe. Thanks for checking.”
As it turned out, there was a reason for my mother’s extreme anxiety that summer. With all of her different medications and dosages, things were a bit confused. And her doctors inadvertently got her addicted to Oxycontin.
So she wasn’t just acting a little crazy. She WAS a little crazy.
Thankfully, this was something that could be fixed, and as my brother so eloquently put it, “we got Mom off the junk.” She went back to being her normal, power-of-positive-thinking self.
But we can’t blame drugs for all of our worries, can we?
I myself, once spent months living with the fear that I might accidentally drop my infant son down our apartment building’s trash chute.
I was too afraid to leave him alone while I walked five doors down to take out the garbage. So I’d bring him with me, and clutch him tightly to my chest the entire time. And yes – I do realize now that there were other options…like putting him the stroller. Or – I don’t know – telling MY HUSBAND to take out the trash!
All mothers visit Crazy Town every once in a while.
But in the end it all comes from the same place – this worry.
We just want to know that it’s going to be okay. And it’s so hard, not knowing.
We all live uncertain lives full of risk. Full of left turns.
So we make maps. And try to pull heavy appliances on top of ourselves. We tell our children that everything will be FINE, even though we know full well that there are no guarantees. We tell cautionary tales, and laugh and cry and learn. And just live. Live for the moment and assume that all will be well.
But no matter what, we’ll always send our children those exasperating – often ridiculous – sometimes CRAZY signals of our love and hopes for them.
Just in case.