My Favorite Catholic

Watching Les Misérables With My Parents

January 7, 2013

* My fiancé is a member of the Producer’s Guild, which sends him screeners of movies often still in theaters, much like SAG. Just a note to say that’s why we were watching this on DVD at home, not in a movie theater, which would’ve silenced this entire conversation and woulda been a darn shame. *

LAURA: Okay, guys! Let’s watch Les Miz!

DAD: I LOVE THIS SHOW.

MOM: Who is that?

LAURA: Hugh Jackman.

DAD: Who?

LAURA: Hugh Jackman.

DAD: WHO?

LAURA: He’s Wolverine. And he’s like 30 pounds lighter, oh my God, he looks skeletal. Still hot though. But skeletal.

DAD: WHO IS THAT?

LAURA: Russell Crowe is better than I thought!

MOM: I THINK HE SOUNDS NICE.

DAD: WHO IS THAT?

MOM & LAURA: *IGNORING*

*TIME PASSES*

ANNE HATHAWAY: I dreamed a dream in time gone byyyyyyy…

LAURA: *SOBBING*

MOM: *TEARING UP*

DAD: WHO IS THAT?

*TIME PASSES*

MOM: How does Jean Valjean make a living? Honestly.

LAURA: He was the mayor! He made some good investments?

MOM: But now he’s escaping and he doesn’t work. How does he have money? HE DOESN’T WORK.

LAURA: I hope Javert commits suicide earlier than usual because he can’t sing.

DAD: MASTER OF THE HOUSE! LA DEE DA DEE DA! OH MAN, THOSE TWO ARE CHARACTERS!

*TIME PASSES*

MOM: Who wrote the music for this again? Andrew Lloyd Webber???

LAURA: *punches Mom in the face, throws her out the window* BLASPHEMYYYYYY!

*TIME PASSES*

DAD: WHO IS THAT?

LAURA/MOM: Cosette.

LAURA: She is worse than Russell Crowe. I can’t stand her voice.

MOM: Me neither.

DAD: Who is that?

MOM/LAURA: COSETTE.

LAURA: The little girl!? He saved her and now he’s her father.

DAD: THAT BLONDE LADY IS THE LITTLE GIRL CLAUDETTE?

LAURA: Dude, you have seen the musical at least 3 times.

DAD: I NEVER KNEW IT WAS HER.

MOM: Why on earth would he just be living with a young blonde woman? THIS IS A STORY ABOUT GOD.

*TIME PASSES*

LAURA: *CRYING ALL THE TIME*

DAD: (twenty minutes after the sewer scene) WAIT. HE SAVED MARIUS IN THE SEWER?

MOM/LAURA: …

MOM: Who did you think he was carrying in the sewer?

DAD: SOME GUY.

LAURA: Dad, you are missing major elements of the story.

DAD: WELL I GET IT NOW.

MOM: You see why I get upset with him!? He has no idea what’s going on.

DAD: I KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON. HE SAVED THE GUY FOR CLAUDETTE.

LAURA: No one in this movie is named Claudette.

DAD: ANYWAY NOW I KNOW HE SAVED HIM.

*TIME PASSES*

LAURA: *SOBBING SO HARD SHE CAN’T BREATHE*

DAD: Man, everyone died.

LAURA: (wailing) I KNOWWWWWWWWWW.

DAD: EVEN THAT LITTLE GIRL! THEY SHOT THAT LITTLE GIRL.

MOM/LAURA: What?

DAD: THE LITTLE GIRL ON THE BARRICADE!

MOM/LAURA: That was a boy.

DAD: HE HAD LONG HAIR!

LAURA: You need to work on your assumptions about traditional gender roles.

MOM: HE IS A BOY.

LAURA: His name is Gavroche.

DAD: Garbage? (pronounced ‘Gar-bahge’)

LAURA: Yes. Fine. His name is Garbage. The little boy on the barricade.

MOM: SEE WHY I GET UPSET WITH HIM? HE DOESN’T GET HIS HEARING AID UNTIL MARCH. HOW CAN I LIVE UNTIL THEN?

DAD: I CAN’T BELIEVE GARBAGE DIED.

LAURA: *CRIES FOR THE REST OF THE EVENING*

Fin.

Two Days ‘Til Vacation, Not That I’m Counting

July 12, 2012

On the last day of school in June, my mom would wait with the other moms at the end of the street and around noon we would all tumble out of the bus excitedly because SUMMER VACAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAATION!!!

She would give us a hug and then loudly announce to the other moms “ONLY 67 DAYS LEFT TIL SCHOOL STARTS, BUT WHO’S COUNTING?!”

And yes, she kept this up throughout the summer. She even marked the days down on her big wall calendar so that on any given day she would have the correct number.

“53 DAYS TO GO!” my mother would say cheerily to the neighbors.

“Only 42 days til school starts!” she’d happily reassure the mothers she encountered.

She keeps this up despite all of her children being full grown. She just wants parents to know: school will eventually come back around and you can have a break! HOORAY!

Don’t get me wrong, my mother loved us. We delighted her, pretty much all the time. Her goal in life was to be a mother and she completely adored her role.

But: she was also completely honest about what a pain in the ass it could be to have four children hanging out in her house all day every day, usually complaining of boredom. (And trust me, we all could rock the I’M BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORED whine like no other.)

One of the things I like best about the way my mother parented was her honesty about how hard it could be.

It seems to be a very ‘in’ thing now, particularly with blogs I read. Mothers seem to need to admit that life with children isn’t always perfect as it may have once seemed. There’s an insistence to tell it like it is now, that parenting is hard work because I guess long ago, it wasn’t okay to say that? Or show it?

My mom never had that problem.

As someone who very much wants a family one day, I appreciate the honesty. Thanks to my mother, other mothers I know, and countless hours babysitting, you don’t need to convince me that child-rearing is hard work. You also don’t need to convince me that it’s worth it.

My mom’s summer vacation countdown always struck me as funny because it struck everyone else as funny. I understood that she was being silly. I never questioned that she loved me and wanted to spend time with me. It was evident in the way that she genuinely enjoyed being around her children, evident in the way she structured our summers: quite simply, she didn’t.

Two weeks’ worth of swimming lessons were mandatory for each of us.

Cleaning up after yourself and others: DO NOT EVEN TRY TO ESCAPE IT.

Other than that?

Summers are for you to do whatever you please. We never went to camp. We just hung out at home with her, which we all seemed to love to do anyway.

When we could afford it, we’d pile into the minivan for a few days and drive to New Hampshire or Vermont for a few days. But other than that, we didn’t move around all that much.

She drove me to the library anytime I asked and left me alone for hours to read. We ran around the neighborhood with neighbors, took up every invitation we could to swim in someone else’s pool, drove 45 minutes to the ocean after 5pm when parking was free and stayed until the sun went down.

Those are all the things I know to be summer: relaxing, beach, a day trip here or there to someplace new, books, naps, family.

Nothing too strenuous.

No rigid schedules.

In two days, I am heading down to South Carolina for almost an entire WEEK.

This will be my longest vacation in two years.

My boyfriend’s family rents the same house every year and just hangs out.

Awesome for me that they’ve welcomed me along.

Kinda wish I could pack my mom up in a suitcase and take her with me but alas, she’s off with my dad having a vacation of her own.

I wonder if she’s telling the adults she sees how many days are left until school starts up again.

Probably.

I love that.

Snippets of My Mom

June 11, 2012

When I first started writing on my blog, I used it as a way to communicate with my mom because I was at an age where it was really awkward and it was easier to write to her than talk to her.

(This eventually evolved into writing my mother e-mails when we were having a hard time. She would read them while I was sleeping and respond so by the next morning, I could hear her side and then we could have a conversation. Since I had gotten all the hard stuff out of the way in an e-mail, talking about it was somehow easier. To this day, I am still catching up on being able to express myself to others in the moment. I would much rather default to a letter or an e-mail. I also really like when people write me notes. How come no one writes me notes!?)

REGARDLESS.

This blog was used as a way to communicate with my mom. When I went to college, it kept her up to date. And now, I use it less to talk TO her and more to write ABOUT her, but in all good ways and not so teen angsty.

Here are a bunch of blog posts I started to write about my mom and never finished. I almost like them best as little paragraphs!

The End.

I am twelve years old and my mother has kidnapped me and driven me alone in the car to the drugstore. This is because she keeps trying to have the puberty talk with me and I never want to go through puberty so I feel like she should drop it.

After she pulls into a spot in the parking lot, she takes the key out of the ignition and firmly says, “I need to go inside to buy some feminine products. Do you know what those are for?”

“YES,” I yell, mortified.

“HOW DO YOU KNOW?” she demands. “YOU WON’T TALK TO ME.”

“I READ ABOUT IT,” I said. Which is true in that I’ve read books meant for adults that contain things about sex but false also because I still don’t understand exactly how anything works or why anyone would WANT to do that or talk about it or THINK ABOUT IT EVER.

“Oh,” says my mom.

“I’ll wait here,” I snap.

She gets out of the car and heads into the drugstore alone. I want to chase after her and hold her hand and have her explain things to me but I’m too embarrassed and I’m too frustrated and I hate feeling like I’m growing up away from her but I don’t know how to stop it.

We are in the supermarket waiting in the checkout line when the woman ahead of us grabs her young son who is whining forcefully by the shoulders and calls him a jerk.

“Don’t speak to your child like that,” says my mother calmly.

“Don’t tell me what to do,” says the woman.

“It isn’t kind,” says my mom.

I replay this scene over and over the rest of the night and then forget about it until fifteen years later when I am babysitting and twin three year olds are making me want to scream and I shut myself in the bathroom and take some deep breaths so I don’t grab them by the shoulders and call them jerks. It isn’t kind, it isn’t kind, it isn’t kind.

I am 22 years old standing in Times Square crying on the phone to my mom because I just got offered a job through a temp agency but I got a callback for a play at the same time I’m supposed to show up for work.

“What do I do?” I ask her, knowing I desperately need the money probably more than I need a callback.

“Did you move to New  York City to be a temp?” my mother asks. “Or did you move to the city to follow a dream?”

I hang up and tell the temp agency I can’t make it. They take me off their roster and label me unreliable. I do not book the show but a few months later I book a different one and I leave town and once again everything works out the way it’s supposed to.

I’m home from college and I’m at a family backyard barbecue and my cousin Michael is smoking cigarettes and he has long hair and drives a motorcycle.

“LET’S SMOKE A CIGARETTE!” my mother says.

She’s never done it and she wants me and my sister to smoke one with her so we’ll know how gross it is and never do it.

Michael says he can’t believe he’s wasting precious money on us.

We all awkwardly hold our cigarettes and my mom takes a puff first and starts coughing like crazy and then she starts laughing.

“THIS IS SO GROSS!” she yells and I stare at her because my mother hasn’t done anything remotely rebellious in her entire life as far as I’m concerned and she is standing there holding a cigarette.

She’s younger than I thought.

We are all swimming in the neighbor’s pool, my mother included because it is so damn hot outside and she loves to swim. I’m having a blast throwing weighted diving sticks in the deep end and then jumping in after them.

“YAHOO!” I yell and throw a purple one toward the other end of the pool.

Before it hits the water, for some reason I cannot explain, it hits my mother in the side of the head.

She yelps in pain and blood begins to stream down from her forehead.

I have never seen anything quite so scary nor have I ever felt so bad so I sink under the water and see if I can hold my breath forever because I am pretty sure it’s true: I killed my own mother. I killed my own mother with a diving stick.

The Church Bagel Breakfast

January 27, 2012

Every single Sunday morning of my childhood was spent at church.

I sang in the children’s choir beginning in the 3rd grade and we would sing most Sundays at the 9 am mass which meant my parents would corral four children in the wee hours of the morning, making sure we had some cereal in our tummies and were dressed appropriately, herd us into the minivan and drive to church which was luckily only five minutes away. If we had to sing in the choir, we had to be there at 8:30 which meant my dad would drop me and my sister off early and then save a pew and sit and read the bulletin with his reading glasses perched on his nose and wait for my mother to join him with my two brothers.

Gathering us all together and getting us to church on time was no easy feat as my sister was usually crying about her tights being itchy or how my mother was brushing her hair too hard or how she hates pink today and my mom would snap at her to please stop whining and just get dressed and get in the car. (My Mother 20 Years Later: I THINK YOUR SISTER MAYBE HAD ONE OF THOSE SENSORY ISSUES EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT NOWADAYS? I FEEL KIND OF BAD ABOUT HOW OFTEN I YELLED AT HER BUT HEY THAT’S WHAT THERAPY IS FOR, RIGHT?)

My older brother Paul was already starting, at the age of 10 or so, to think that church was a bunch of garbage and besides, he’d much rather sleep. My parents would often have to wake him up six or twelve times, going into his room the first few and then finally just yelling from the bottom of the stairs PAUL! SERIOUSLY! GET!!! UP!!! before they would hear the bathroom door close and the shower turn on which meant he was actually somewhat alert.

(Paul told me awhile ago that he was pretty certain he was a staunch atheist by the time he hit 8th grade, a position he hasn’t budged from since regardless of the fact that my mom mandated he attend church until the age of 18, which he mostly did except for those few times he slept through it and promised to go later to the parish a few towns over which had late Sunday mass but then he would drive to the Starbucks that had just opened up and kill an hour or so before returning home. Speaking of which, to this day he cannot function early in the morning without approximately 12 cups of coffee so basically what I’m saying is kids don’t change much.)

My brother Jeremy was just a baby around this time so I imagine there were multiple awesome experiences involving putting on all his clothes and shoes for him and strapping him in a car seat and wiping his nose a hundred times and then dealing with him spitting up all over himself or whatever it is that parents deal with.

Interesting to note that anytime I raise a question to my parents of HOW ON EARTH DID YOU DO THAT FOUR CHILDREN THING AND NOT GO INSANE?, they don’t even seem to know or care.

Mostly they think everything that was stressful at the time is hilarious now.

“REMEMBER THAT CRAZY STOMACH VIRUS WE ALL GOT FOR LIKE TWO WEEKS?! OH MAN, GOOD TIMES! KIDS ARE GREAT!”

They just sort of say things like OH SURE IT WAS HARD WORK BUT YOU GUYS WERE SO FUN!

And then my mother usually adds WE SHOULD HAVE HAD ONE MORE! I REALLY THINK FIVE WOULD’VE BEEN GOOD.

But if my mother had had twelve of us, she probably would say the same thing. THIRTEEN! SHOULDA DONE THIRTEEN!

The point of the story is that Sunday mornings for me meant getting in the minivan, singing in the choir which I loved loved loved and then heading down to the church basement for the bagel breakfast.

The bagel breakfast was only offered after the 9 am mass, an activity meant to foster community and gather families together. It mostly worked. Basically adults got to chug lots of coffee and mingle and their kids could smear cream cheese all over their face and just run around screaming and bumping into things because where are crazy loud kids more welcome than at a Catholic church!? Instead of the usual societal attitude of PLEASE SHUT YOUR KID UP AND GET IT AWAY FROM ME, everyone at my church was basically like OH MAN, LOU’S LITTLE GIRL JUST RAN HEADFIRST INTO THAT MARY STATUE AGAIN AND IT SHATTERED AND THEN SHE THREW UP ALL HER CHEERIOS! KIDS ARE THE BEST, RIGHT GUYS!!?!?

My friend L who had a last name that sounded kind of like broccoli was a hyper child and we would hang out and eat bagels and sit on these carpeted steps and talk about which boys we thought were cute. L. Broccoli would often linger too long by the coffee table, either trying to sneak coffee (at the age of 9) or conduct experiments like how many Sweet N Lows she could dump in her orange juice and still drink it. (I believe the record was something like 22.)

My mother loved the bagel breakfast because she could hang out with all her friends and talk and talk and talk plus eat a bialy. My dad was not a particular fan of the bagel breakfast for the exact same reason: my mother would talk and talk and talk and he kind of just wanted to go home and read the paper. He would try to be social but really he was just too shy so he would come hang out with me and L. Broccoli. He would sip his coffee, check his watch a few hundred times and finally say something like WE TOOK TWO CARS SO…YOU TINK YOUR MUTHA WOULD BE MAD AT ME IF WE LEFT?

We usually said no even if the answer was sometimes yes and my siblings and I would pile into the car with my dad and head home. I would sit next to him at the kitchen table and read the comics and then the Dear Abby column which I particularly loved, until my mom walked in the door, sometimes a few minutes later, sometimes over an hour.

“I HAD THE GREATEST TALK WITH ANN MARIE!” she’d say (or FATHER TOM or THAT GUY WE KNOW WHOSE KID HAD LEUKEMIA BUT HE WAS CURED BUT IT MIGHT COME BACK HOW SAD IS THAT!?) and hang her purse on a doorknob. Then she’d kick her heels off, ask for a section of the newspaper and lay down on the couch reading which only lasted a few minutes because then she’d fall asleep, glasses perched on her nose.

I thought of these Sunday mornings recently when I grabbed a bagel from the cafeteria at my job. I’ve had bagels since childhood obviously but for some reason this one triggered the memory and after just one bite, it all came flooding back to me. The shrieks of the kids running around the church basement, the muffled sound of the organ playing from the mass upstairs, my dad wearing a tie and his dress up shoes, hearing my mom’s voice in the sea of people HI! HI! HI!, her loud cackle when someone made her laugh, L. Broccoli dumping Sweet N Lows in her orange juice, the taste of my poppy seed bagel with cream cheese, a strong sense of comfort and belonging.

Maybe I like to eat bagels sometimes because New York bagels are the best ever.

Or maybe I like to eat them because they, like so many things, remind me of home.

Lovely Rita

January 23, 2012

HEY YOU GUYS!!!

It’s my mom’s birthday today!

Let’s all raise a glass (of seltzer because my mom doesn’t really drink) and say HUZZAH RITA!

In 1957, Rita Marie graced the world with her presence. My grandmother confirms that Rita was the happiest, most energetic loveliest child ever from the get go. One of my favorite stories from Rita’s childhood concerns a bunch of company coming over and milling about in the house and little Rita barreling down the stairs determined to make an entrance. She basically struck a pose (with what I imagine to be fierce jazz hands) and screamed, HERE ME AM, FOLKS!!!

In case there was any doubt.

(And no, since you asked, I still have no idea where my flair for the dramatic came from. Ahem.)

One of my more recent favorite Rita stories occurred why, just last week!

We had been throwing the idea around of throwing my father a big surprise party in March. My mom wanted to be able to thank all the people who had been so helpful and generous when my father was sick and in the hospital and then home and unable to walk, etc. so she thought it would be great fun to THROW! A! HUGE! PARTY! And invite the world!

We can just pause right here and observe that just the idea of doing this is what makes my mother incredible. She is so full of gratitude and energy and excitement that she can’t just say HEY THANKS FOR GETTING OUR MAIL! VISITING MY HUSBAND! SENDING A CARD! She freaking decides to throw a party for everybody. HERE YOU AM, FOLKS!!!

Anyway, she finally chose a date and last week she sent out a mass e-mail to me and my siblings with some ideas and questions in a lovely bulleted list.

It’s a surprise!

We rented out the Polish Hall!

How should we decorate it?

Here’s what I’m thinking about the food!

Whose phone # should I put for the RSVP so dad won’t get suspicious of mom fielding a lot of phone calls?

Etc. Etc.

Apparently, after she sent this e-mail, she dashed out to the laundromat. (This is the piece of the puzzle I still don’t understand. I assume the washer and/or dryer broke? Last I checked, my mom never ever ‘ran out to the laundromat’. Maybe she was already performing secret undercover surprise party duties!?)

She returned shortly and my father met her at the door with a sheepish smile.

“UM, I GOTTA TELL YOU SOMETHING,” he said.

He continued:

“YOU SENT DAT INVITATION ABOUT MY PARTY…TO ME.”

And thus it was confirmed that my mom sent out an e-mail about my father’s surprise party to my father.

A fun little detail about this is that this is the second time that Rita has spoiled a surprise party for my dad. She attempted to throw him one for his 60th birthday a few years ago but left the guest list on the desk next to the computer in plain sight.

As you do.

Anyway, my mom was pretty bummed out about giving away the surprise (AGAIN) but my dad reassured her that HE REALLY DOESN’T LIKE SURPRISES ANYWAY, which is true. (My dad and I both prefer ‘know what is going on at all times to the point of intense control freak anal retentiveness’ to SURPRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIISE! BETCHA DIDN’T SEE THAT COMING!)

We tried to cut my mom a break (both my dad and brother have the same first name so when she pulled up PAUL in her e-mail, it selected her husband instead of her son) but the opportunity to poke fun of her was just too good.

My sister quickly replied all to the e-mail chain: WHY DOESN’T DAD JUST TELL US DIRECTLY WHICH KIND OF DECORATIONS HE’D LIKE?

I picked up the phone and when Rita answered, I asked her if I could please speak to dad for a sec, I had a surprise party for him I wanted to tell him about.

My mom couldn’t stop laughing and finally just was like, “LAURA. WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME!? I can’t believe I did that. But your father said he loves me anyway.”

And this is why I love my mom.

She was immediately laughing at herself, all CAN YOU BELIEVE IT? and of course we all could because Rita does things like this constantly. And the best part about it is that she easily forgives herself and laughs it off because what else can you do, really? And she is correct that my father (and all of us) love her anyway.

Not even ‘anyway’. We just love her. Period.

So, our surprise party has been amended to ‘party’.

And it doesn’t matter in the slightest because there would be no party without Rita’s enthusiasm, without Rita’s ideas, without Rita.

MOM!!! We love you so much!!! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

What Marriage Is – Vol. 2

August 3, 2011

Traveling here in Nashville with my parents for days on end has taught me a lot about relationships and communicating and what marriage is all about.

Apparently, marriage is about stumbling upon the Stark Trek National Convention at Opryland.

And when your wife, who was a Star Trek fan from a young age (BUT ONLY THE ORIGINAL SERIES, ONLY THE ORIGINAL) sees the sign that says TODAY ONLY: PHOTOS WITH WILLIAM SHATNER, $79, it is your duty as her husband to see the longing in her eyes and say “Go for it, honey. You deserve it.”

And thus, you will have this moment preserved for all of history:

This is marriage, you guys. This is freaking awesome.

What Marriage Is

August 2, 2011

Setting: The Station Inn – Nashville, TN

Me: Does anyone want anything?

My Mom: I want a pretzel. You’ll split a pretzel with me, right?

My Dad: Nope.

My Mom: What? Those soft chewy pretzels? You like those.

My Dad: I don’t.

My Mom: Um, yes. You do.

My Dad: I don’t really.

My Mom: Why do you eat them then?

My Dad: You always give me a piece and I eat it but I don’t actually like it.

Me: That doesn’t make any sense.

My Mom: YOU MAKE THEM AT HOME. We used to buy the frozen ones!

My Dad: I like those.

My Mom: THEY ARE THE SAME.

My Dad: No. The ones at home are smaller.

My Mom: It’s the same thing.

My Dad: It’s not. It’s actually very different.

My Mom: FINE. I will have a pretzel. And I will eat it myself.

*fifteen minutes later*

My Mom: (chewing her pretzel) Ooo. It’s like whole grain on the inside.

My Dad: It is?

My Mom: Yeah. See? It’s different from the plain white ones.

My Dad: I’ll try it.

My Mom: Are you serious right now?

My Dad: IT’S DIFFERENT THAN I THAWT. LEMME TRY IT.

My Mom: Fine.

My Dad: (chewing the pretzel) Dat is really good.

My Mom: That’s what I told you earlier.

My Dad: You didn’t say it was whole wheat.

My Mom: I didn’t know it was whole wheat.

My Dad: Well. It is.

My Mom: I know.

*pause*

My Mom: (breaking the pretzel in two) Here. Take half.

My Dad: YOU DON’T MIND?

My Mom: Eat the pretzel.

My Dad: I really like it.

My Mom: I’m going to kill you.

Fin

Make Your Own Kind of Music

June 8, 2011

My mother’s father was a musician. He played in a wedding band and taught piano and most of his seven children inherited his musical talents or at least some interest and appreciation. I might be biased but with the exception of an aunt who studied music in college, I think my mother plays the piano better than any of her siblings. She would sit down to play after dinner and the classical pieces she sailed through became our early evening soundtrack as I loaded the dishwasher with my brother and wiped off the table with a damp washcloth.

She rarely played in front of people, saying she got too nervous but when I was in 3rd grade, she offered to accompany my class for our Christmas play and I was so excited. Sadly, the morning of our show, I woke up with a fever and a sore throat and my mother, unsure of what else to do, tucked me in her bed as I wailed that I REALLY REALLY WANTED TO DO THE CHRISTMAS PLAY and drove to the school to play piano for my classmates. She walked in the door an hour or two later with a plate of Christmas cookies and a cool kiss to my forehead.

The school district I attended from kindergarten through graduation mandated music beginning in the 4th grade. You had to choose an instrument or join the chorus. This is how it came to be that I took up playing the clarinet for six years which is a super FUN FACT! you may not have known about me. I don’t remember much about the clarinet except I routinely left it at home the day of my lesson and would call my mother from the school pay phone and beg her to bring it to me and bless her heart, she did it sometimes.

Other times, she did not.

“You were so forgetful!” she said recently when it came up in conversation.

“Was I that bad?” I asked.

She paused a moment.

“Yes,” she said. “I actually think you were!”

And it still holds true. I’m meticulously organized, I color code activities and scribble To Do lists in a notebook and plug appointments into my cell phone with a hundred reminders but…I forget. I leave my credit card at a restaurant, I have to buy a few pairs of sunglasses every summer, last week it took me four days to locate my flip flops.

But my mother does this too. When she leaves the house, if my father and I are nearby, we count out loud and usually before we get to ten, the door opens and she blows back in with a cheerful “FORGOT MY KEYS!” or a more stressed out “WHAT DID I DO WITH MY WALLET!?!”

And then she’s gone again, out the door, backing out of the driveway.

The best thing about my father’s final hip operation over the New Year was that I was finally close enough to see him every day. I am the only family member who lives farther than twenty minutes from my parents’ house and when he first fell ill, as much as I tried, I was never there enough. It was frustrating for me and frustrating for my family who often depend on me and look to me to bring reassurance or a silly story. Showing up once or twice a week felt like a flat out failure and so, when he decided to have his new operation in the city, I was ecstatic.

To make things easier on my mother, I offered up my apartment so she could be a short subway ride away instead of a two hour drive. My bedroom is obscenely large and I was able to move an old twin bed right next to mine so my mother would have a place to sleep. During the biting cold of the early new year, my mother and I would spend the day with my dad in the hospital, pick up some takeout and come home, watching television in my living room and then falling asleep beside each other in my room.

I can’t begin to describe how warm it felt to have my mother staying in my little New York City apartment. How it felt like I finally had something to give, some kind of meager repayment. I felt small and grown up all at once. My mother doing the dishes for me instead of me for her. Me taking her to the pastry shop for cookies instead of her taking me. As we left a restaurant, me reminding her, “Don’t forget your wallet!”

How wonderful and occasionally odd is the role reversal that happens as you grow up, as my mother and I become both simultaneously parent and child to each other. How hard and complicated the things that I never stop learning of how it is to be in her shoes, of why she makes the choices she does, of how she sees the world.

The relationship of a mother and daughter, at least in our case is never really easy. My mother and I often have to work to find common ground, to find the best way to communicate, to find a mutual understanding. We have moments of synchronicity, laughing at a ridiculous story, baking some cupcakes, falling asleep in the same room. We also have moments of dissonance, struggles and different views and wanting to both hold on tightly and let go and often not knowing how to do either.

We flounder.

But we pick up the pieces and we vow to keep trying.

So we clash or we harmonize but my mother and I, after all these years, still continue to make music. Sometimes it makes my  head pound. But most of the time?

It is the most soothing sound I know.

Make Your Own Kind of Music from The Spectrum on Vimeo.

*I took this video over the winter without Rita knowing. She’ll probably be mad because she makes a few mistakes but, SHUT UP MOM, NO ONE CARES. Also, breaking my heart a little is the hospital bed you can see in the living room where she’s playing. But awesome to note that we no longer have that hospital bed as dad can climb stairs and now sleeps comfortably in his own bed.*

In case you were wondering.

May 11, 2011

I got this in the mail a few weeks ago.

She will deny it but I feel like Rita had something to do with it.

Now I’m just waiting for more.

Surely sometimes God has an adult’s face?

Or a Democrat’s?

Or a piglet named Earl’s?

C’MON SISTER MARY ROSE MCGEADY! SEND ME MORE!

On An Airplane. With My Mom.

March 21, 2011

I knew traveling with my mother was going to be…an experience.

But I felt pretty well equipped.

You know?

I’ve worked out most of my mom issues in therapy. I meditate regularly! My mom is fun times! YEAH MOTHER DAUGHTER BONDING!

But one thing I should’ve known when it comes to Rita is that you can never really be ‘pretty well equipped’ because…

Rita is predictably unpredictable.

And I mean that in the best possible way, (MOST OF THE TIME.)

(For those just joining us, my siblings and I tend to call my mom by her first name which might seem disrespectful but is actually a term of endearment because…my mom is just such a Rita. If you knew her, you’d understand. READ ON.)

The flight to Miami was packed and my mom and I found ourselves sitting behind each other in separate rows, each of us in an emergency exit row. I was fine with this but also jealous because Rita got a window seat while I was stuck in the middle, sandwiched between a man who was on his way home after an 11 hour flight from Israel and so, kept dozing off on my shoulder and a girl who was reading all about Charlie Sheen’s mental breakdown which was fine except she kept falling asleep into her magazine and I couldn’t read along. Ugh.

So, before we boarded the plane, the ticketing agent wanted to make sure we were okay with our seating arrangements.

Ticketing Agent (to me): Ma’am, you are sitting in an emergency exit row. Are you willing and able to help in the event of an emergency?

Me: (freaking tired) Yeah. No problem.

My Mom: (piping up behind me in line) I’m her mother! I’ll smack her in the head if she doesn’t cooperate!

Ticketing Agent: I HEAR THAT.

Me: ??????

Ticketing Agent (to my mom): Ma’am, you are seated in an emergency exit row. Are you willing and able to help in the event of an emergency?

My Mom: I’m actually going to make my daughter help out instead.

Ticketing Agent: Um. That’s not the correct answer.

We made it onto the flight and into our respective emergency exit rows with lots of leg room and oh so sexy Delta economy class luxury! As previously discussed, I was seated between Fall Asleep On You and Fall Asleep On My Magazine while Rita was chattering happily away in her window seat behind me to the couple next to her, two young lovely people from Brooklyn who not only wanted to talk to her but kept asking her advice about raising children and how to keep their sanity with a four year old and should they have a third child ???

What?

(For the record, from what I overheard sitting in front of them, Rita thinks 4 is a fantastic age but can be sort of like the Terrible Twos except now they have way more verbal skills at 4 so it can be HARD and OMG totally have a third child, I HAVE FOUR! It was a totally crazy experience but adding the third kid is the easiest because you just stop caring really!)

I fell asleep for most of the flight and later, when I asked Rita if she kept that couple talking the whole time she was all OH NOT A BIT! I DOZED OFF FOR AWHILE TOO! AND WHEN I WOKE UP? WE ALL SHARED A SNACK TOGETHER!

What?

So, I’m stuck in a middle seat trying to sleep and my mother is behind me with her two new best friends eating cheese and crackers.

???

ANYWAY. That’s not the point. That’s just an example of what my mom is all about. (i.e./socializing with random people, eating their food, etc.)

So! Before takeoff, before they secured the cabin door, before Rita merrily ate some strangers’ crackers, there was…a situation.

Because, this is my life. And situations like these tend to follow me around or something.

Or else people just get really cranky on planes in general.

EITHER ONE.

From what I can piece together, two women were flying to Miami together except it was sort of a last minute thing and they didn’t have assigned seats. So, before boarding, the ticketing agent alerted them that there were two available seats, both in emergency exit rows. The women assumed this meant they were sitting next to each other except…that was not the case. Like Rita and myself, they were sitting in two separate rows, one in front of the other.

ON THE AISLE, I MIGHT ADD.

SO WHAT WERE THEY COMPLAINING ABOUT? GOD ONLY KNOWS.

So! One of the women pulls aside the flight attendant as he’s scrambling around trying to find space for everyone’s carry-on and she immediately attacks and is all EXCUSE ME? I AM NOT SITTING NEXT TO MY FRIEND AND I NEED TO BE.

And this amazing Delta flight attendant gave her this crazy look and was all WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?

And she just went crazy on him and was all SOMEONE TOLD US WE WERE SITTING TOGETHER AND WE ARE NOT AND YOU NEED TO RECTIFY THIS IMMEDIATELY.

The best Delta flight attendant ever calmly said, Ma’am, please don’t argue with me. I don’t exactly know what’s going on but these are your seats…

I AM NOT ARGUING WITH YOU. I NEED YOU TO SWITCH MY SEAT.

At this point, the man just threw up his hands, gave up and was all LET ME GO GET A TICKETING AGENT FOR YOU…and walked off the plane.

A few seconds later, he returned with one of my mom’s new best friends, the ticketing agent of YOU ARE SEATED IN AN EMERGENCY EXIT ROW, ARE YOU WILLING AND ABLE, etc. fame.

Ma’am, what seems to be the problem?

YOU TOLD US THAT WE WERE SITTING TOGETHER AND NOW WE ARE NOT AND I NEED YOU TO FIX THAT.

Um, ma’am? I told you that you were sitting in emergency exit rows. I did not say they were two seats together. The flight is simply too full and we did not have two seats near each other.

THERE IS ONLY ONE EMERGENCY EXIT ROW, screamed the woman. SO THAT DOESN’T MAKE SENSE.

I might add that at this point, I laughed out loud because right above her head, there was a sign that said EMERGENCY EXIT ROWS (plural!!) with two arrows pointing to the TWO emergency exit rows. (Which, of course, Rita and I were both in, on opposite sides of the aisle from this woman, DEAR LORD.)

No, ma’am, asserted the ticketing agent. There are actually TWO emergency exit rows.

I HAVE NEVER IN ALL MY LIFE BEEN TREATED LIKE THIS, screeched the woman.

I should pause this fascinating encounter to tell you, if it wasn’t obvious, that by now, almost the ENTIRE plane is watching this shit go down. I mean, people are just gaping at this woman because…she is totally crazy?

I, for one, am trying to make sense of the situation and am failing miserably.

I mean, the flight from JFK to Miami is about two and a half hours.

She booked a flight last minute.

She wants to sit near her friend but she can’t so instead, she’s sitting IN FRONT of her friend.

Apparently, this is a huge problem.

But…why?

I’m still so freaking curious about this.

The girl next to me with the Charlie Sheen magazine whispered to me WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE IMPORTANT ABOUT THIS?

I had no idea. I still don’t. Perhaps I am missing something but…why was it that necessary for the two of them to be next to each other for a two and a half hour flight? WHY ARE PEOPLE THIS CRAZY? THEY CAN’T BE. CAN THEY?

But I am missing out on telling you the best part of this story.

So, while this lady is screaming at Delta employees, Rita is behind me, trying desperately hard to bite her tongue.

You see, Rita suffers from an illness called I LIKE TO TELL PEOPLE WHAT I THINK.

Which in and of itself is not a bad thing.

This one time? When I was small? Rita overheard a mom call her kid a jerk in the supermarket.

“You know,” said Rita gently. “You shouldn’t talk that way to your child.”

“BACK OFF,” snapped the woman.

And then she promptly burst into tears and wailed YOU’RE RIGHT! I’M SO STRESSED OUT! PARENTING IS SO HARD! And literally wept on my mother’s shoulder in the frozen food aisle while Rita gave her a pep talk and told her everything was going to be okay.

True story.

So, um. You could say that maybe my mom should mind her own business but I’m telling you that she has a REALLY REALLY hard time doing that. Like, really.

This used to embarrass the crap out of me.

“Um, mom? PLEASE STOP TELLING ASHLEY THAT THE CHEMICALS IN THE DIET COKE SHE’S DRINKING ARE GOING TO GIVE HER CANCER. MORTIFYING.”

But now, I just understand this is the way my mother operates and that it occasionally can be a good thing. Like that time she told some guy to pick up the trash he threw out of his car window and he stepped out of his vehicle all guilty, picked up the litter and apologized to my mom as if she were a cop.

BUT I AM GETTING OFF TOPIC.

So anyway, my mom is just staring in disbelief as this lady goes nuts in Aisle 10 and finally after this woman screams that she’s never been treated like this before DOESN’T ANYONE KNOW ABOUT GOOD CUSTOMER SERVICE?!, Rita pipes up from a few feet away:

UM. EXCUSE ME? PEOPLE ARE DYING IN JAPAN.

Silence.

The entire plane was silently all OH SNAP, SOME BRAVE LADY JUST PLAYED THE JAPAN CARD.

The woman turned on my mother in a rage and was all SORRY, DIDN’T THINK I ASKED FOR YOUR OPINION.

Rita calmly shrugged and said, “I’m just saying, I think a little perspective would help.”

IF JAPAN IS IN SO MUCH TROUBLE, snapped the woman, WHY DON’T YOU GO OVER THERE AND HELP INSTEAD OF SITTING ON THIS PLANE???

I’m just suggesting you calm down, said Rita.

I’M JUST SAYING MIND YOUR OWN FREAKING BUSINESS, shrieked the woman.

And that was the end of that.

Rita’s two best friends next to her just about died laughing while some other people around her just started nodding and murmuring “Yes, she’s right, Japan, mmhmmm” which was like, the most bizarre thing of all time.

I felt a little weird not standing up for Rita to this lady because…this woman was just screaming at my mother and I felt myself starting to get very protective and upset.

On the other hand, I’m not sure my mother was right.

I mean, you can’t just go around butting into people’s business, being all PICK UP YOUR LITTER, DON’T CALL YOUR KID A JERK, PEEPS IN JAPAN!

But, Rita does.

After the whole exchange, I actually felt kind of proud so I turned around and slapped my mom a high five.

PREACH IT RITA, I said.

Then I offered my fist because I wanted to do that fist bump thing? Except I like when you fist bump someone and then open your hand and kind of make a swoosh sound? I call this ‘blowing it up’, you know what I’m saying?

So this is how and why I found myself turning around in my airplane seat, offering my fist to my mom to bump saying rather loudly BLOW IT UP, RITA.

Rita stared back at me blankly.

LET’S BLOW IT UP, I said again.

Finally, one of Rita’s new friends next to her remarked, Um. Don’t think you should be saying that on a plane.

Right.

Dear Lord.

I am my mother’s daughter, right?

Just being all around inappropriate?

I SWEAR I ONLY WANTED TO FIST BUMP. NOT BLOW UP THIS PLANE.

I decided to turn around and face the front of the aircraft for the rest of the flight.

And everything ended alright.

Rita and I arrived safely in Miami, me with a neck cramp from trying to sleep in the middle seat, Rita perfectly well-rested and well-fed thanks to her new best friends who GAVE HER SNACKS.

THAT WAS A FUN FLIGHT, RIGHT? said Rita.

And before I could smack her, we walked out into the 80 degree weather and both audibly sighed.

Ohmygosh, I said. I think I forgot that this kind of weather exists.

Me too, breathed Rita.

And then we bumped fists.

And we blew that shit up.