And quite possibly again, and again, “this is the recipe of life said my mother, as she held me in her arms as I wept, think of those flowers you plant in the garden each year, they will teach you that people too must wilt, fall, root, rise in order to bloom,” writes rupi kaur (lower case is her preference).
The neighborhood where I grew up was cloistered, it was mid-week, a day when none of the moms on Strawberry Park Drive had access to a car. Bottles of fresh milk appeared on the porches before dawn, along with neatly folded newspapers on the driveway, the men drove off at eight, and the mail arrived by noon. These daily occurrences were as predictable as the sun, except on Sunday, when God almighty commanded a day of rest for the milkmen, Daddy’s, and postal carriers.
Aside from Friday morning, when my Mom got up early to drive my Dad to work, the women were stranded, as if imprisoned on a remote island, with an indoctrinated fear of the water. Change was on the horizon, but as we know the process is painfully slow, especially when fear is involved.
Late Wednesday morning, as the women were gathering at Betty’s house for coffee, Renee (my BFF) and I hatched an ambitious plan. We wanted to stay at my house, without the troublesome Christine, a spoiled three year old, whose greatest failing in life was an annoying mother. And the fact she cut the hair off my favorite doll last month, when I was in the bathroom, and then hid the evidence under my bed. Children can be ruthless.
Like many five year olds, Renee and I were astute observers, it didn’t get past us how our own mother’s subtly avoided this pair, shifting dance classes, and bunco groups so their paths wouldn’t cross.
This morning, as we watched Christine skipping alongside her mother, heading to the neighborhood coffee, we literally begged for a reprieve, “can we please stay here and play with our dolls?” The need for community must have been strong, as the coffee was getting underway, they gave us a pardon.
Adorned in their cast off heels, fancy slips, and clutch purses we lied to our mothers, promising to behave, with no intention of doing so. I believe this adequately sums up the intangible intention of ones entire life. If coloring outside the lines is forbidden what else can you do?
Our sense of purpose was still developing, but we knew how to fake it, because we watched our moms cram themselves in these tight suburban boxes, with few real diversions. This shared reality was about to explode from internal pressure, I call it the human emetic, one that arcs across the world.
“Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials.” Meryl Streep
With the tasty medicine in hand we divvied up the spoils, ingesting the soft pink tablets one by one, as if knowingly numbing ourselves to the very experience we were trying to emulate.
When our mothers returned from coffee they were horrified to find an empty bottle of children’s aspirin laying on the bedroom floor. They searched our purses, questioning us as they hunted in drawers, under the bed, in our pockets for the missing pills. I remember the look of concern etched on their young faces, their voices beseeching us to tell some version of the truth, anything to alleviate their guilt.
As if a practiced gymnasts, attempting a difficult landing, we stuck our story, “the babies ate the pills,” which was true, they were just looking at the wrong ones.
When I think back to the times I left my offspring unheeded, I cringe, aware that luck was on my side, with a few notable exceptions…
Not two decades later, the phone became a direct line to my sanity, but unfortunately it was connected to the wall by a rather short cord. (It wasn’t my finest moment, but I have been known to toss a handful of chocolate chips across the kitchen floor, allowing me five more minutes of phone time, as the children scampered for the tasty treats.)
At the time, we lived in Kansas, deeply nestled in the quaint suburbs of Overland Park. The neighbors would have been appalled with this rather uncouth tactic so let’s just keep that tidbit to ourselves.
Our homes were these huge mausoleums, entombing the occupants, due to unsuitable weather conditions that persisted throughout much of the year. I now understood how isolated my mother must have felt all those years ago. My girls, three and two years old, were playing quietly in the basement playroom (for alert parents quiet is like a siren), but I intentionally ignored the alarm, in lieu of the phone.
Unbeknownst to me my older daughter had filled her sister’s sippy cup with wallpaper remover from a bright red bottle which I regrettably left out. After an enjoyable chat with my sister I called the girls up for a treat. Kelley looked a bit green, which gave me pause, but I cheerfully handed her a popsicle, hoping it would pass.
This is when she projectile vomited across the room, simular to that of Linda Blair in The Exorcist, which certainly got my attention.
In a complete panic, I called poison control, half expecting my children to become wards of the state. Clearly I was an unfit mother, but they informed me that wallpaper remover was simular to dishwashing liquid, not lethal, and since she already threw-up there was nothing more to do. They suggested I store the remover in a safer place. If only I could store all the dangers on a higher shelf?
“Motherhood is the strangest thing, it can be like being one’s own Trojan horse.” Rebecca West
Helen whispers to my panicked mother, “I have ipecac at the house,” carrying us in their arms, they ran towards something that promised to reverse this insidious situation. Wise were these women, Helen took me into one bathroom, and my mom took Renee in the other, as one never listens her own mother.
Apparently my Mom was able to convince Renee to take the medicine straight away, she came bolting down the hall like a true friend should, screaming, “don’t take it, don’t take it, it will make you sick.” Indeed it did as our dear mother’s heroically drew the poison out of us.
Working in or out of the home is irrelevant, we have more choices today, but raising children remains wonderful in theory, difficult in reality, impossible to perfect. It forced me into the role of caregiver, fierce protector, warrior, healer, sage, but most importantly one who loves unconditionally. Once a woman’s heart is activated in this way it is impossible to reverse, these roles expand, taking in the needs of not only their communities, but that of the world.
The solution I’m in search of is not ipecac, or baby aspirin, but empathy for a world in the throws of labor, pushing heroically towards something yet to be born. As rupi kaur so beautifully pens, “The necessity to protect you overcame me, i love you too much to remain quiet as you weep, watch me rise to kiss the poison out of you, i will resist the temptation of my tired feet, and keep marching with tomorrow in one hand, and a fist in the other, i will carry you to freedom – love letter to the world.”
I’m Living in the Gap, desperate for company, drop in anytime.
Notes to self: If need be you can wash dishes, remove bugs from the grill of the car, and erase temporary tattoos with wall paper remover. Who knew?