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The Brownie

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

I am a very selfish person. I like to come and go as I choose. I prefer my own company. I readily ignore the needs of others when they bump up against my immense longing for solitude, my need for achievement; or when my ideals are challenged. I am deaf to your requests, and sometimes your cries. My heart is small and flinty. The Grinch and I are twins, separated at birth.

This does not bode well for a married mother of three.

How is it that you, my husband, and you, my daughters, have taken up residence in the largest chamber of my heart? You have warmed my blood and massaged life into that atrophied pump, transforming its creaks and clanks into chocolaty purrs. Your dwelling there causes me to declare war daily, such that each hard-won battle yields the gifts I want to give—or rather, want to want to give—but can’t. Yet somehow, I do. Again and again.

I give you my time; my sleep; my cooking; my cleaning; my chauffeur service; my presence, spoken words, listening ears, and comfort; my tutoring; my prayers; my tears; my praise; my privacy. I gave you things I didn’t even know I had given you: my makeup; my socks; my cds; my pony tail holders; my stacks of index cards; and apparently, my laptop. I gave you my belly, my breasts, and my shoulders. My bed. I give you my dark chocolate, and I just gave you the blueberries I had stashed at the back of the fridge. I didn’t even mind. At times I become tired and impatient but the struggle is well worth it. In the end, I am happy to give to you, whom I love so dearly; you, who have enlarged and softened my stingy heart. I can authentically say, most of the time: “These are gifts to you, freely given.”

Just don’t take my brownie.

Today I sat at the table after lunch, quietly contemplating my afternoon cup of coffee when you reached across the table, Hand. Thoughtless and confident, you slithered over to the lone brownie on my plate and began to pick at it. Four feet away sat a full plate of brownies, one of my gifts to you. You knew this. I watched your leisurely fingernails dig out a walnut and carry it away.

Startled by sudden rage, I felt myself begin to tremble. Scalding words rushed from my chest and poured out of my mouth. Words a mother should never speak to her child. Violence was discharged in one beat of that same heart.

Jesus.

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Rule # 5: Being-Visited Behavior

2048px-Pocahontas_at_the_court_of_King_James copy

I think you would have enjoyed being a visitor to my childhood home. As a guest, you would have been constitutionally incapable of doing wrong. It wouldn’t have been much of a stretch to proclaim, as in the old days of customer service, “The customer is always right!” Unlike the rest of us, you would not have been expected to be on-call
and maintenance-free.

When Dad was “on,” he was charming, thoughtful, and generous. In his gaiety, he would have spared no effort to make you comfortable in his court. I like that wording. Dad would have spared no effort of ours to make you comfortable.

While he piddled and we played, Mom shopped, cleaned and cooked in preparation. It must have been like shoveling against the tide. Our role in this performance came later when we were expected to portray Three Well-Bred Offspring and entertain you on demand by speaking German phrases, playing the piano, and sometimes–literally–performing a song and dance.

When I was small, I pretty much went with the program. What choice did I have? I delivered as well as I could, given my introverted temperament.

I may have been as old as 14 or 15 the last time my father instructed me to go downstairs and play the piano for our guests. I was to leave the door open so that everyone could enjoy my offerings as they wafted up into the living room.

My mind and body refused to comply. I am not even sure it was a matter of conscious choice. I felt sick. Piano lessons had been his idea. I wasn’t invested, and I hadn’t practiced in ages.

I smiled wanly, opened the door, walked calmly down the stairs, escaped out the back door, and took off running. I spent hours wandering the neighborhood, contemplating the punishment that awaited me once I returned. By some unprecedented stroke of luck, the guests had left, and my father had entirely forgotten my defiance by the time I dared to slink back home.

In another episode, my father became infuriated with me because of a septic backup. This was the summer my friend Hanna first came from Germany to visit.

Famously, our incompetent septic contractor had installed a small, tight bend in an inauspicious location, and this meant a fickle system prone to backups. We all knew about this delicate situation as we had been instructed by Dad ad nauseam on the maximum number of toilet paper squares permissible per job. The flushing of tampons was, of course, strictly verboten. I can’t speak for the rest of us but I wasn’t about to count squares. Still, I did realize that the bend was a formidable foe; and a stoppage meant snaking at best, digging and pipe cutting at worst.

This particular summer, the culprit was found to be a minuscule o.b. tampon lodged in said bend.

My Dad was fussing and fuming, and I was attempting to proclaim my innocence when I noticed Hanna growing more and more agitated. Finally, she burst:                      “I FLUSHED THE TAMPON!”

Silence. I loved her for saving me.

My Dad turned, gave her a beatific smile, and told her in a reassuring voice not to worry, it wasn’t her fault. He then turned back to me and continued to berate me in front of her for allowing my house guest to flush a tampon.

Ah, yes.

This post if part of Family Rules. For the prior post, click here. For the next post, click here.

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