“I should have raised chickens — I could have made soup!” That was mom’s serenity prayer when the three of us were growing up. I have two siblings. Michelle is the most practical and two years older than me. Frank is the smartie and two years younger than me. It took me having my own kids to realize that at one point in time, Mom had a newborn, a two year old, and a four year old. To someone without kids it may seem sweet because we were all close in age, but to someone with kids you think HOLY CRAP, that’s too many little kids. By 1973, Mom and Dad were outnumbered, but undaunted.
They raised us to be independent, praised our creativity, and pushed us to our academic limits. They were the home team; we were the underdog opponents. They always found a way to come out on top, but we gave them a run for their money on the regular. Divide and conquer was a popular tactic. Dad worked hard, but we worked Mom harder. She made dinner, kept track of our relationships, chased us around with wooden kitchen tools, and made her approval the sweetest reward. She never told us no – just gave us options. When high school came and we all started becoming socially active, she let us make our own decisions as long as it was something that was feasible. Sure I had to choose between band and girl scouts in seventh grade – but it was totally my decision to make. (There were boys in band so that was an easy one in my book.) That was just the beginning.
It wasn’t enough just to be into music. We had to be in band (concert and marching). And chorus. And Jazz Band. And Key Club. And Ski Club. And Demolay. And the play. And Honor Society. And PJAS. And more. With the activities came the friends. Friends so close they were family and called them Mom and Dad. Friends who would come over at all hours of the night to play board games and grill hot dogs on the back porch. A frequent flyer was my sister’s friend Feef who came on vacation to the beach with us. We choreographed Bananarama songs in the back of the Chevy and made a four hour trip feel like forty.
Mom was always our biggest cheerleader. She would send us “Band-O-Grams” at Marching Band competitions and buy ads in the programs for the musicals. She hated football, but went to every game to see us play. Every fundraiser was supported and no trip went without her full support. If you added up all the crap we made her buy over the years, it would be a pretty big pile. I think she still has some unopened junk from the “Tom-Watt” boxes in the back of the closet.
And how did we thank her? We teased her unmercifully. Hazed her until she was ready to sell us to the circus. She would tell every neighbor that she should have raised chickens and half the time I think she REALLY meant it. If Mom liked a song, we sang it to death. If she enjoyed a singer, Dad would give that person a gross nickname that would make us giggle and snort. If she didn’t like a boyfriend – I smooched him black and blue. Charming, weren’t we?
That’s how love worked in our house. It mixed with humor, torment, and pathos. We loved each other so fiercely that it couldn’t be contained. We never said it or showed it; it was just a constant thing that was known, like gravity. It wasn’t until Dad passed away that we actually started saying it out loud to each other. It stopped us cold to realize our time together was finite.
When you lose someone you have a tendency to lionize them – to build them up larger than they were in real life. But it wasn’t Dad that I realized was truly larger than he appeared – it was Mom. He may have been the breadwinner but Mom made sure our bodies and souls were truly fed. She was, and is the air that we breathe. We take her for granted because she’s always there, and just assume that she knows how we feel about her. Well, maybe I shouldn’t assume any longer. I’m going to do my damnedest to show her that this chicken may have left the roost, but will never let a day go without checking in on her somehow. Some days it’ll be a phone call, others a visit, or just a snarky Bitmoji. She’s going to get sick of my incessant pecking unless I bring her a Milky Way or some peanut butter ice cream. I’ll never be able to repay her for everything she’s done for us. But if I can make up for some of the damage by teaching my kids through her best examples, then pass the tureen please.