Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Mother's Day and a Tribute to Mothers, Part 2

Part two belongs to the other half of the mom coin for those who are married. It's the mother-in-law. Now, this title brings terror to many people who did not have the good fortune of marrying into a family that, well, liked them. Thankfully, I don't have that problem. We did have a rough start, my in-laws and me, since I'm kind of an acquired taste, I think, but now we get along like family (which means sometimes we all can't stand each other, but we love each other like crazy).

My mother-in-law, Rita, is a lot of the reason for that. Imagine, if you will, a very short woman with the most Mrs. Santa Claus face you can imagine, and give her short black hair and the most hilarious, recognizable laugh in the world. That's Rita! She has even, honestly, been compared to Mrs. Santa Claus before, and you can't help but see the resemblance.

It is nearly impossible to not like this woman (I know of one person who doesn't, and she is a whack job). Rita is sparklies and smiles and a twinkle in the eye rolled up into a little ball of shortness, put on this world solely to prove that the best things come in small packages (she's only barely five feet tall). She's also somewhat age-defying. When I first met her and my future sister-in-law, I could not tell which was the mother and which was the sister. Not because my sister in law looks old, but because Rita look so YOUNG! She's barely sprouting silver hairs, and she's past 50, it's disgusting. (They were both wearing bandanas when I first met them, so hair wasn't a distinguishing feature.

The first time I saw Rita, I was technically spying. I had been cleaning an older lady's house, and I hadn't known that a guy I was crushing on lived right across the street. And I wouldn't have known, except when my mom came to pick me up, down the street came walking that guy, Peter, and a short lady that had to be his mom. They were both wearing those tape thingies they put on you after you give blood, and when they got to the house, Pete opened the door for his mom and they went inside.

Um, cute. Not only was this guy totally okay with being seen with his mom, but he had gone with her to give blood, and was obviously polite and well-taught enough to know to open the door for her. I was all twitterpated, my mom was gushing with approval, and just over two years later, I married that guy.

Rita was always miraculously tolerant of me while Pete and I were dating. My father-in-law and I butted heads on a frequent basis, since we're both similarly strong-willed, just slightly off-kilter from one another. But Rita and I usually got along very well. She has an unparalleled enthusiasm for the little things in life, like anything sparkly or glittery, flowers in spring, the miracle of air conditioning, and finding a pair of slippers that is just right.

She finds these moments, the little ones scattered liberally through life, and she celebrates every single one of them. Things that no one else thinks about or notices, Rita sees it. She is of the opinion that God must be awfully fond of sparklies, because he put them everywhere. Yes, I live with this woman, and it is a riot.

She also tells the best joke in the world, about a bell ringer. And the joke, really, is not THAT funny. You know what is funny? The way she tells it! She gets so into telling this joke, and she starts laughing halfway through, and we are all beside ourselves because she is just so FUNNY!

And it doesn't get old, having her tell it. It gets funnier every time! I had her tell it on my wedding day, when we were standing in my backyard after the ceremony, and we have a video of me standing there, holding my bouquet and twirling my dress around my legs because it's so hot, while Rita tells this joke off-screen. She's wonderful at humoring me.

Another thing she's wonderful at is being a mom. She turned out three kids that, while they are quirky enough to pull neck and neck with my family's particular brand of weirdness, they're all awesome. Awesome people don't just happen, they take a lot of work to make sure they don't end up screwed up somewhere.

And then I jumped into her lovely work and set about messing things up as quickly as possible, but I think she likes me anyway.

I don't think anyone could ask for a better mother-in-law. She accepted me into her family, and treats me like I've always been here (I live in the same house, so she definitely has plenty of opportunity to make my life miserable if she wants). She is unfailingly supportive of the people in her life, no matter what kinds of successes or failures or whatever come to pass. She's a perfect grandma to my daughter, who is growing up in the most loving environment anyone could come up with, surrounded by people who adore her more than words can say.

Rita is right in the middle of that, being the good-humored, easy-going, loving glue that keeps it all together and functioning properly. Heading off arguments before they get going, dishing out gratitude and praise when it's deserved and even sometimes
when it's not, doing her best to keep our home a peaceful, welcoming place for those who live here or just come to visit. Despite the dog hair she utterly loathes, balling up on the hall floor.

So this is a tribute to Rita, and everything she has done and still does in the name of Mother, even to kids like me that aren't her own, that she isn't required to love. The unconditional love she shares with the people around her is something they remember her by, that and her singular, unique laugh that you can recognize even across a huge, crowded room. She's just a woman that makes you smile, even if the last thing you feel like doing is smiling.

Happy Mother's Day, Rita. And thank you for letting me be one of your kids.

Mother's Day and a Tribute to Mothers, Part 1

Seeing as how Mother's Day was this past Sunday, and true to my typical self, I'm going to take this opportunity to write a late post about said holiday. (Don't look at me like that. You know me and punctuality really only exist in public with actual, live people around witnessing it.) I am blessed to have both an amazing and awesome mom and mother-in-law, so I'm going to entertain us all with (hopefully) amusing anecdotes that either directly or indirectly have to do with both women, and then one of my own. And since I tend to, erm, ramble a bit (a lot) I'm splitting it up into three posts for you convenience. You can slip me a $20 on your way out as thanks. *Smiles brightly*

First up, is my mom. That's her with my little girl and my youngest sister.

Don't tell her I posted a picture of her, she'll freak. She hates pictures of her. I don't know why, I've always thought my mom was pretty, and I look just like her. She, myself, and my younger sister are all strikingly similar, and I'm glad for it.

Now, I may have mentioned before that my mom is the SuperMom of moms in a lot of ways. Not that perfectly primped soccer mom wearing Nordstroms sweaters and perfectly manicured nails with impeccably behaved kids, no. Because that mom is not real. She's an alien, or she is a celebrity with a whole platoon of nannies, stylists, trainers, and chefs behind her. No, the real supermoms are the moms that you see sitting on the porch, sipping a soda while she talks with a fellow supermom, and the kids are playing in the yard, and somehow dinner is in the oven, and despite a hairstyle that looks like it was done, oh, yesterday, and pants that were probably supposed to be in the load of laundry going right now, this mom is in complete control. She may look like crap some days, but you know what, she's got things handled.

You scraped your knee trying to jump your bike off a ramp? Supermom not only has bandaids, neosporin, gauze, first aid tape, three different kinds of pain relievers, an actual first aid kit, and an x-ray machine stuffed in that hall closet, but she's also got a bag of popsicles to hand out to your friends while they wait for you to get patched up. Oh, and she's also got that magical kiss for your owie that somehow makes everything all better. Mom magic, that's what it is.

Have you had the hairiest day in middle school known to man and it's not even lunchtime yet? Supermom knows. And she will either A) Have you pulled out of class for a "doctor's appointment" that turns into a day of playing hooky with your mom, or B) Have chocolate chip cookies and milk ready for you when you hit the door. She's like a best friend. She just knows. Again, mom magic.

You just mouthed off to someone you shouldn't have, or vandalized property, or looked at Supermom right in the eye and told her, "No"? Well, hold onto your britches, baby, 'cause you're getting spanked. And grounded. You will be apologizing if you offended anyone, you will be making restitution, and you will be feeling the heavy cloak of shame on your shoulders when Supermom tells you that she is disappointed in you. Because that's how Supermom proves that she loves you. She doesn't let you get away with crap, and therefore makes you a better, more responsible human being.

And if, maybe, after this nightmare of backpedaling and apologizing and swearing to yourself that you will NEVER incur Supermom's wrath like that again (although you will), you maybe break down and cry? Supermom will be there. Hugging you. And making you feel better. Because even if you did something bad that made her angry, she still loves you. And you will never understand, until you are a parent, just how super that particular power is.

This was my mom. The mom that would whop me with a wooden spoon when I seriously stepped out of line, gave me my freedom to become the person I am today, very sneakily taught me skills that I'd be a useless human being without, kissed my owies, pulled me out of school to play hooky, and still hugs me with that mom magic that somehow makes everything okay, just for a second. Because nothing can hurt you when your mom is holding you.

My mom was the one sitting on the back porch, in a lawn chair, chatting with our next door neighbor while we ran around in our front yard in our bare feet with the neighbor kids, playing our hearts out, and knowing not to do anything stupid. Because even though mom appeared to be focusing solely on the Coke in her hand and the friend at her side, she would catch you if you were an idiot. Every time. "Young lady, knock that off right now!"

The difference between now and then? Now, I get to be that friend sitting next to her, keeping one eye on my own daughter and one eye on my mom, Dr. Pepper in hand, sitting on a lawn chair out on the back porch while Sammy and my youngest sister, closely followed by two dogs, go running helter-skelter around the yard, hair all a mess, having the time of their lives. And my ponytail is as close to ungroomed as you can get when you actually brushed your hair that day, my jeans should have been washed last week, and there are undoubtedly a million other things I should be doing. But they can wait. Because what I experience in those moments is more important than having all the laundry done in one day and having every dish sparkling clean and put away before bedtime.

My mom taught me . . . everything. And even if she didn't teach it to me, she taught me how to be teachable. To observe. To take things into my own hands and learn how to do it myself. I would not be able to cook today if I hadn't grown up my whole life eating home-cooked breakfasts and dinners every day, made by her. Half of my recipe collection right now is straight from my mom.

Tonight, I made a cheesecake, just like my mom makes (because I actually had 2 packages of cream cheese AND a pie crust in the house at the same time, heck yes!). I'm not talking a fancy-shmancy baked New York style cheesecake, I'm talking a creamy, cold, delectable concoction of cream cheese, sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, and vanilla smoothed into store-bought graham cracker crust. It's my favorite cheesecake, and the only thing bad about it is that it takes about 2-3 hours to chill in the fridge before I can proceed to eat the entire thing in one sitting.

I think of my mom every time I make one of her recipes. Even if it isn't technically her recipe, it's one of the dozens she's collected over the years from all kinds of places. I still think of her. Of how lost people would be without their moms. Especially moms themselves. You are not truly a mom until you call your own mother, who you of course have on speed dial for just such an occasion, and practically cry to her over the phone. Because you messed up the spaghetti sauce and can't figure out what you did wrong. Because your baby has a fever and you don't know how much medicine to give her. Because your favorite pants just ripped and your sewing machine isn't working and you just can't handle it! (Also, my mom taught me to implement sewing in my life. Sure, technically home ec taught me HOW to sew, but my mom taught me how to use the skill. I can't count how many items of clothing hang in my or my daughter's closet that are made by my mom or me.)

And Supermom listens, she agrees with your frustrations, is sympathetic to your pains, says many a comforting and calming word, and then offers you a solution. Whether it be how to fix the spaghetti sauce, how much medicine you can give a 4 month old, why your machine isn't working, or to simply throw out the sauce, pack up baby, grab your pants, and come to mom's house. And mom will feed you, because that's what mom does. Mom will cuddle her grandbaby to her chest that you fell asleep on countless times, and rock and sing to her until the baby-sized dose of medicine kicks in and allows baby to sleep, because that's what mom does. And then, mom will get you both a chocolate chip cookie (either store bought or homemade, neither of you are picky), and mom will get out her sewing machine and fix your pants for you while you sit and talk and laugh uproariously about every little thing. Because that's what supermom does.

You'll get home later that night, baby asleep in her car seat, a tupperware container of food in the passenger seat, and your pants folded up neatly next to it, all fixed. Baby is even holding a brand new stuffed animal in her little hand, because grandma cannot help herself. She spoils you both rotten. Somehow, in just a few hours, Supermom just fixed everything.

That is my mom. My perfectly imperfect mom who has loved and tolerated and humored and amused and taught all these years. I was a beastly child, especially in my pre-teen years, but somehow my poor mom not only managed to get through it, but she got me through it as well. My teen years, too, although I was a completely different kind of beastly then. Problem child vs. Supermom, and Supermom definitely won. Because I turned out well, thanks to her. I screwed up and made all kinds of mistakes, every color of wrong and stupid, but here I am. On the other side of that. With my own little girl, my own family, my own life, and although it's so not perfect that it skims downright dreadful some days, I still love it. I wouldn't trade any of it for anything.

My bed is covered with folded laundry that I have to stuff into my drawers, but they are clean and folded because my mom taught me by example. I have a cheesecake chilling in the fridge, and the dishes drying in the drainer, because my mom taught me how. I have a stack of clothing items to mend on my desk, but I can fix them instead of throwing them away, because my mom taught me how. I am looking at a free night, with no little eyes peering through a crack in the door telling me she needs another drink of water, because my mom is watching her so I can work on some projects. There is no teaching for that one. Because no one has to be taught how to love my mom. Even my friends loved my mom best.

So, this Mother's Day, I'm not lacking in needing a woman to look up to and respect and love for being the astounding woman she is. She has always been that way. Even when I was a snotrag little 11 year old that hated my life and everything in it, I knew my mom was amazing.

Happy Mother's Day, Supermom. I can count my life a success if I am ever the kind of mom to my daughter that you were, and still are, to me.