This has not been my best week. About 75% of that was my own fault and within my own control. The other 25% just was. I tried to slog through it looking as normal (for me) as was possible.
Sunday is Mother’s Day. If this is a surprise to you and your mom is within reach, you still have tomorrow to scrounge something up. I would not have considered this to be a triggering day, but this year it has been. It has as much to do with the ages of my children and the state of the world as it does with the fact that my own mother has been gone for 3 years now.
The real problem this week is not what’s going on around me. It’s that I went into it unprepared. There are a lot of quick moving storms that go just fine in a 14′ skiff. But if you try to ride one out on the upside of a sheet of cardboard, you’ll have a different experience.
The last few weeks I’ve been riding the cardboard. But I’m working on that one and I’m still floating.
It has been impossible not to think about my mother this week as I sift through people’s posts and plans and a few of my own regrets. My mother was gone a long time before she died. She was only a shell of herself toward the end. She still knew who I was. She could still speak to me, but her comments were slow and measured and emotionless. I’ve asked myself many times if I did enough while I could. If I said enough. If she heard what I said and what I didn’t say.
Was it enough? It wasn’t enough for me. But in the end, it had to be and I knew it was okay. I’m sure it could have been better. I’m sure I could have done better. If we’d had more time, I feel certain we would have gotten it right, because we never did stop trying.
But it was okay. We were okay. We were always vastly different people and we both knew that.
There was a time when the very pronounced differences between me and Mom caused us to grit our teeth and do battle. I couldn’t openly confront her like my brother could. I was too chicken and she was too smart and too fiery. So I fought back with passive aggressive behavior like sticking my tongue out when she turned her back or by wearing my cleats and softball pants to my first night of the 10-day etiquette class she forced me to attend.
On a crisp day in February of 1987, I had waltzed through the back door for dinner with my gym bag slung over my shoulder. Before I could pick a spot to drop it and then be told immediately to pick it back up, my mother looked up from her spot in the kitchen and said, “I signed you up for a 2-week etiquette class at Maas Brothers.” Her tone was so casual. So unapologetic. “Come see.”
“Are you joking?” I asked her. My tone certainly informed her tone that there needed to be a very good reason for this announcement.
I don’t know why I even asked her if she was joking. She didn’t joke about things like that. I hopped the three stairs into our kitchen from the family room and looked down at the newspaper clipping she had cut out for me. Teen Etiquette and Fashion Class! Teens and table manners. Fashion and form. Maas Brothers. Monday-Thursday, February 23-March 5. 6-8 p.m.
“Mom!” I looked up in shock. “I have practice! Why did you sign me up for this?”
“You won’t have to miss practice. Just practice, change, and go to the class from the field. You can eat after.” How did my mother not see that this plan was from the actual devil? “You need to learn a little refinement, Missy,” she smiled sweetly and sort of half winked at me. “You can’t spend your life in your softball uniform.” Oh, I think I can, Mom. Pretty sure I can.
Looking back, I wonder if I should’ve argued more. Why did I lead with “I have practice” when the real issue was that this entire concept was 100% detestable? Did she just have a look on her face and a tone in her voice that shut me down? Did I secretly believe she was right and that I needed to learn to walk with 12 place settings of Lenox Charleston on my head? I don’t remember. All I remember is that it was planned and paid for and that I was to report to the 2nd floor of Maas Brothers on Monday, February 23. It was as good as done.
On that Monday, I monitored the time pretty closely, feeling distracted and stressed out during batting practice. When Coach called the end of practice and let us go, I looked at my watch and saw that there wasn’t time for a full outfit change or a shower. I had to sprint to my car and drive above the speed limit to arrive at the Tallahassee Mall on time. At that point, I only had time to pull a clean shirt over my dirty one. I stepped out into the parking lot and looked down at myself. From my neck down, not one thing matched. I had a clean red polo pulled over a dirty practice t-shirt. My pants were smeared in the orange clay of an unnecessary slide into 2nd base. I hadn’t worn my stirrups over my unmatched socks. And my cleats were cleats. I had arrived at my first “refinement class” wearing a golf shirt, baseball pants, and cleats. My mother had made me show up there that day, but that round went to me.
I trotted across a mostly empty parking lot, listening to the cadence of my cleats against the pavement, and noticed a smell like Listerine in the air. I had no idea what to attribute it to. Maybe that was what etiquette smelled like. Once inside Maas Brothers. I walked the short straight path through some lingerie and perfumes to the escalator and spent the entire ride up trying to free my right shoe from the grooves where I had wedged it when I hopped on with too much umph. This was going to be a disaster.
The closer I got to the second floor, the more aware I became that I was about to walk into a class wearing the worst outfit any of them would ever have seen. I didn’t have much time to twist in my worries, though, because as I stepped off the escalator, I could see a group of teenage girls sitting in chairs in a circle, right out in the middle of the store. There was nothing to do but join them. Only one chair was empty, between two strangers, and I plopped down in it and tried to tuck my shoes under the chair. When I got up the nerve to look around the group and make eye contact, I saw the smiling green eyes of my middle school best friend, Meredith. She waved subtly from her waist, because she knew how not to draw attention to herself. Ah, Meredith. Nothing in that moment, besides being sent home immediately with $100, could have made me happier. I had a friend in this miserable class.
When we had a moment to chat, she laughed and looked me over quickly.
“You came straight from softball practice, I hope?”
“Yeah,” I chuckled. “I won’t be doing this again.”
I didn’t, either. I showed up each night to learn from Judy Turman, a graceful woman who looked like porcelain and moved like a fluid. She was tall and thin and well put together. From her, I learned to cross my feet at the ankles and tuck them under my chair at an angle. I learned what would happen to my legs over the course of a lifetime if I continued along the desperately misguided path of crossing my legs at the knees. I learned how to sit. How to stand. How to wave. How to smile. How to properly set a table. Which forks to use for which foods. And how to dress. I learned that Meredith was still my friend, though we were now at different schools, and that I would always, always be more comfortable in cleats than in heels.
On the second day of the second week of class, we began to hash out details of the course’s grand finale: a fashion show complete with a runway and the music and outfit of our choosing. Parents, friends, and any casual bystanders with nothing better to do were invited to witness the fruits of Judy’s labor, which would comprise the entire session on the final night of the class. She met with each of us to choose songs and to discuss our taste in clothing. It was obvious to Judy, from only a few days of teaching us, who should wear what. Judy knew a girl that came straight from softball every day was never going to wear wedges or power suits. She dressed me up in 1987 overalls and slipped some red flats on my feet. As much as I did not want any part of the class or the event, I remember feeling like I had won the outfit lottery. To be flat on my feet and wrapped in denim was my fashion show best case scenario.
When Thursday night regrettably arrived, I found myself standing in a clump of girls, outmatched and uncomfortable, waiting for my cue to walk. When I heard the words, “Hi there,” I stepped out onto the runway and strutted my white denim stuff to Peter Gabriel’s Big Time. I hated it. Every second. All of my empty spaces were filled with knots and nausea. When I was done and sweating through 1987 behind the stage, I scanned the audience for my family and caught my mother’s eye. What was the expression in her eyes? Was it joy? Was it an apology? Was it a truce? Was it concession? It was maybe a little of everything. I never asked her for any detail. If either of us had gone into this course with any doubt about who we were, there was no doubt now. She was her. I was me. She was skirts and matching shoes and hose with no runs in them. I was cleats and sneakers and denim and tube socks.
And by the end of that final night, I had a certificate in my hand that essentially stated we were agreeing to disagree. For the rest of our lives.
So to my mother, on this Mother’s Day weekend, I raise my shrimp fork, with a plate on my head. There are running shoes on my feet which I can clearly see because my legs are so egregiously crossed at the knees.
I have no regrets.
I know she doesn’t either.