Monday, February 06, 2006

In Which I Apologize To My Mother, Sort Of...

As surely as the sun will set in the west and rise again in the east and the tides will rise and fall and so on and so forth, you probably have some issue with your mother. Doesn't everyone? And I think it is likely that if you are (or were) a girl, your issues are greater than your brother's are.

I am no exception to this rule. Between my experiences with my mom and listening to my friends, I've come up with a theory; a theory in which the act of giving birth plants a time-bomb in a woman's brain. At some point, somewhere down the road, she will go crazy. Her ability to reason will shoot straight out the window and never return. And, personally, I think my mom's bomb went off fairly early.

In my house, growing up, there was a set and distinct hierarchy. My father ruled the roost and his word was law, but he worked nights at *a really big tire company* and during the day when he wasn't asleep, he had an electrical contracting business on the side, so the day to day running of the household fell to my mother. My mother stayed at home and ran herd on my brother and I. My brother was her clear favorite, while I was daddy's little girl.

Looking back, I wonder if this arrangement came about because my mother never knew her father. My grandparents divorced when my mother was a baby, and her father had no place in her life. Her only memory of him is when she was 3 or so years old, she walked down a dock to where he was waiting for her, with a puppy named Penny. That's it. As a teenager, I nagged incessantly to meet him, with my father backing me all the way. When my grandmother called to tell Mom that her father was dead (Grams had seen the obituary in the paper), Mom's reaction was relief that Dad and I would finally get off her back about getting in touch with him. So, Mom had (and still hasn't) no understanding of the relationship between a father and a daughter.

She and my dad were married for seven years before I came along, Dad was the first person to really be hers, and I don't think she had any conception (and who does, really?) of how a baby would change their lives. My father (as fathers do everywhere) immediately decided that the sun rose and set in my eyes, and any time I was less than pleased, he went into full panic, must-make-it-better-RIGHT-NOW mode. As an example, we have several rolls of film - now slides - that my father took of my eyelashes when I was a baby. He remains convinced that no child ever had such long and angelic eyelashes.

And so, my brother was my mom's. I spent a fair amount of time as a child being punished for his offenses. Even if she admitted that he had done it, I, as the older child, should have been looking out for him. When he nearly cut his thumb off, trying to turn a cardboard box into a train at about 6 years old, I at nearly 8 was the one to wake Mom and Dad. I was also the one to get grounded for not taking the knife away from him. (I was using the huge kitchen shears and working on the engine of the train, and I had told him not to cut his fingers off when he got the knife from the block.)

One of our biggest disputes came about when I was around 14 years old. One of my greatest treasures was a tea set that my grandmother (my mother's mother)made for me. She did fantastic projects in ceramics, and this tea set was a child's dream. Cream colored with tiny pink roses and ceramic, it included the tea pot with a lid, four tiny cups with saucers, four dessert plates (the perfect size for easybake oven treats), the creamer and the sugar bowl with a lid. As a child, I had the Fisher Price kitchen - with the accompanying pots and pans and such. As a teenager, I no longer wanted those things in my room so I packed them carefully in boxes and put them in the attic. I included my tea set with those pots and pans (the same ones my mother had played with as a girl).

Mom has always made it clear that the house is hers and we existed there on her suffrage, and she told me that she wasn't willing to let me keep anything in her attic. As a typical teenager, I was horrified at the idea of having to keep baby toys in my room, where my friends could see them when they came over. It ended with an ultimatum - if I left those things in the attic, she was taking them to Goodwill. Given that most of those things were hers anyway, I didn't believe her, and I left them where they were. I came home from school one fine day shortly thereafter to her gloating news that those boxes were now in the hands of those deserving children who would appreciate them.

This led to a confrontation that had Dad and my brother both fleeing the house, and Mom and I not speaking for several days. The loss of that tea set has been a bone of contention for years, especially as my grandmother's arthritis progressed quickly and she had to give up ceramics.

The years passed and other, more serious events have taken place to drive a wedge between us. To this day, when I go home for holidays, I stay at my aunt and uncle's house, and only visit my parents. But through the years, the tea set has remained. As I got older, I mourned its loss more and more, and Mom professed to have no memory of getting rid of it. Indeed, she was sure that she wouldn't ever have done that... and the merry-go-round circles again.

So I called home last night to check in and see how the 'rents were getting along, and Mom told me that she has been hard at work, cleaning out my brother's room. This will be her craft room when she's done.

Growing up, I was jealous of my brother's room 'cause it was so neat. Mine was slightly bigger, but he had a built-in desk and a nifty closet that extended in steps over the stairs and, best of all, a tiny door that led to a small attic over the kitchen. This was a window to another world, the most perfect fort ever and the source of my ongoing envy. For Scott, as a child, it was a night-time source of terror as our old house creaked and groaned and more than one morning found me stepping on him when I climbed out of bed to discover him asleep on my floor. (Given that to this day, I sleep like the dead and would have been completely unaware of his arrival and we were very young, I still don't understand why he always curled up on the floor instead of climbing into the other side of my double bed.)

At any rate, Mom's been busying herself lately by cleaning out the detris of the ages from his room in general and that closet in particular. At the very back, lodged in a corner, she found a box marked 'knick-knacks.' It turns out that opening that box was much like Christmas morning, in that she found all sorts of things given up years ago as lost forever. This includes a portion of her Fenton collection, several horse statues (and if I'm not mistaken, they're the ones that I got grounded for breaking - we'll have to see) and, wonder of wonders, my tea set. She says she didn't find the pots and pans, but she hasn't gotten to all of the boxes either. So, my tea set is back from the dead, and I can't wait to get it back from her.

And, I'm sorry, Mom for believing you when you said you gave it to Goodwill and since you remain emphatic that you don't remember the argument or its aftermath, I guess we'll leave it at that. And if those statues are the ones that you told Dad that I destroyed to get back at you for something, I'll swallow hard and turn the other cheek... again... and let it go because it has to be enough that you overplayed your hand several years ago and Dad and I are fine and Scott and I are fine and bringing it all up again won't do anyone any good at all.

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