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Weekend at Mom’s – or – She Ain’t Goin’ Gentle

What would we do without our mothers? copy

Everybody needs a mom. Image credit here.

Day I

Mom greets me at the door with life-changing news: She has ordered green-lipped mussel oil!

“Larry King uses it.”

Mom’s intentions are golden. She is going to cure a family member of a chronic illness. She has found the solution the doctors have missed. I am to learn all about the oil from her and then deliver it to the intended recipient along with the proper instructions.

We sit together, and I listen.

“Here, read the booklet.”

I read the booklet. I open the jar and sniff. I think about popping a capsule into my mouth and biting it when a vision intrudes, and I change my mind. A sea of terrified faces implores me with countless sets of tiny green lips. The word “lips” has personalized the creatures whose juices I am about to suck.

“And it comes with this DVD.”

“Well, that is very thoughtful of you, Mom.”

“All the way from New Zealand!”

“I see.”

“Now make sure Susan takes the oil each day for 30 days so I can call and have the next shipment cancelled if it doesn’t help. Well…they might have already sent the second shipment by then, so I would just have to cancel the third one. I gave them my credit card, you know.”

“Have you mentioned this to Susan? I really think you should discuss this with Susan.”

“They say 4-6 capsules daily for the first 30 days but I think that’s too much. Just tell her to take 2-4.”

(sigh)

Day II

The following day, I get up early and make breakfast. After that, I squire my Mom to Sunday school and church. My stepfather Seamus takes us all out for a hearty lunch. Following a gorgeous walk with my husband Henry, the family eats a dinner prepared by my sister, Gwen. We make sure–Gwen, Henry, and I–to be kind, attentive, and helpful throughout. Mom is a big talker, and we listen actively and respectfully. She has stored up many words and opinions, and the pressure has to be released. What is Wrong with the World Today receives special attention. We take care of all of the cooking and washing up.

At long last, it is time for me to curl up and introvert. Luscious!

“Jane, are you ready to watch the DVD about the mussels?”

Uh oh.

“Actually, Mom, I think I’ll pass.”

(exhales loudly) “Well, I’m surprised at you, Jane! Why not? This could be the key to Susan’s recovery.”

“It would feel like work Mom. And I’ll be taking the DVD to Susan anyway. I think I’d rather relax.”

(huffs) “Well, I bet Henry would like to watch it with me.”

He takes one for the team. I owe him big time.

Day III

Mom produces a page-and-a-half of yellow legal paper. She has handwritten a recipe she has been wanting to try.

“Here is the tuna casserole recipe. Thank you so much for doing this. I really need to lie down for a bit.”

“Sure, Mom! Happy to!”

Mom is worn out. She wanders over to the sofa for a nap. Mom is thrilled that we have finally come to visit but entertaining is exhausting. Who knows what we might get up to if she isn’t there to assist? Did I mention that Henry is 53, I am 52, and Gwen is 50? Mom is…it would not be polite to tell you, now would it?

Mom starts to drift off to sleep. But for the sounds of cooking and the subdued drone of the news channel, the house falls silent.

Following her directions religiously, I place the flaked tuna in the bottom of the pan and dribble the lemon juice–fresh squeezed!–over it. The shredded cheese, peas, and cooked noodles are mixed together and stand off to the side, waiting. I am halfway through cooking the sauce.

The silence does not last long. I feel a disturbance in the air and–

“Did you sprinkle the lemon juice over the tuna?”

“Yes. I used fresh lemons like you said to.”

“How much did you use?”

“The recipe didn’t give an amount. I just guessed.”

Mom’s gaze releases the Pyrex pan and fixates on the stove top.

“I think you are going to have to double that sauce recipe. It doesn’t look like you have enough to cover everything going into the pan.”

“Ok, Mom. No problem.”

I double the sauce recipe, and Mom disappears around the corner. For a moment.

Gwen enters the kitchen with a basket of dirty laundry. She turns the washer knob, activating a siren call. Mom materializes.

“Be sure not to overfill the washer.”

“Ok, Mom.”

“Here, let me. I want to make sure the load is balanced.”

“Ok, Mom.”

“Now remember. Once the washer fills, you have to use this plunger to push the clothes below the water level.”

(sigh) “I’m not going to do that, Mom.”

Gwen and I engage our psychic connection.

“No, really. You want to be sure the clothes are good and wet so they get clean.”

(silent lip biting)

“Just stand here and wait for it to fill so you can plunge it.”

(silent lip biting + rapid eye blinking + quivering nostrils.)

My mother is providing instructions in the use of her top-quality, high-capacity machine in excellent condition.

My mother is providing instructions in the use of a washing machine to her top-quality, high-capacity daughter in adult condition.

Mom pads out of the kitchen and back to the sofa. Gwen is watching the washer fill. I am crushing potato chips for the top of the casserole. We feel the pressure of each other’s eyeballs, look up, and silently message one another.

The washer has filled and begins to agitate. Gwen is not-plunging, and the sound of not-plunging pierces the air.

The end of the world still has not come. Gwen leaves the laundry room and steps around the corner. I relax and begin to arrange my potato-chip blanket.

The washer lid flies open. Plunging happens.

Mom, risen from the dead, has sneaked behind me to save the load of laundry and the future of the Western world.

Satisfied, she starts for the sofa a third time. But first, she checks my work.

“Are you sure you have crushed enough potato chips? I think you need more.”

Exit Mom. Enter Gwen.

(stage whispers above the kitchen noises) “Mom was plunging.”

“No!”

“She was. She was plunging.”

We are wound too tightly. We have swallowed exasperation, suppressed disrespect, spared feelings, and avoided mutiny. We have painted ourselves into a corner, and there is only one way out.

Gwen and I lock eyes in agreement.

I begin first. I bob my head like a chicken to the rhythm of the washer. Gwen joins in, swaying. We dance tentatively at first. Naughty snickers escape our lips. Shh, Mom is trying to sleep! Shhhhhh!

Soon we are stepping, gyrating, and waving our arms, our tribal dance growing in fervor. Pig snorts and raspberries escape in spite of tightly clenched lips.

We can’t stop, and we don’t want to.

By the time Mom rounds the bend a fourth time, our recovery is nigh.

Mommy! She laughs at us and with us. Mom is as she always was, though we may have to work a bit harder to find her. In the end, it is a small price we pay, a light yoke we bear, to uphold this sacred trust. It is our honor to protect her from inconsequence.

Postscript.: In my last post, I promised I’d publish a shout-out to the first person to guess the rationale behind my naming of a particular silly photo. The winner was Elaine Hill of Burtonsville, MD. She correctly guessed that the woman had not yet been “deflowered.”

Is green-lipped mussel oil is any good? I don’t know. Do Olympic athletes use it? I have no idea! But apparently a good number of Olympians trust Shaklee nutritional products. I know this because I became curious after talking with Elaine, and I did a bit of googling. Elaine is a Shaklee distributor, by the way, and she seems to know her stuff. Feel free to stop by her website and pick her brain.

Just so you know–I am not affiliated with Shaklee, and I have not been compensated for this mention.

 

 

 

 

 

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Candy from a Stranger

Indonesian Food

I was told never to take candy from strangers.

So I didn’t.

I took a whole lunch, and I ate every bite.

I’ve written once before about my love for the community in which I work. Today reminded me again that I have landed in the right place.

I had just returned to my somewhat rundown host church after stepping across the parking lot for coffee and was about to close my office door behind me when I heard a tentative, “Ma’am?”

I turned and saw a tiny woman I did not recognize.

“Ma’am, have you had any lunch today?”

She turned and gestured toward the battered desk which serves as the church’s Sunday reception area. There rested a half-empty platter covered with plastic.

“Would you like to try some Indonesian food? I made it for a prayer breakfast but others also brought food, and the turnout was small.”

The woman brought the plate to my door, where I still stood. This was unexpected. She appeared to mistake my hesitation.

“These are made from sticky rice and coconut milk. The dark one is sweet and has brown sugar. The other isn’t sweet, and it has tuna in it.” Almost apologetically, she added, “I come from an island. We learned to use what we had.”

The lovely, moist rectangles were plated on banana leaves.

I was overwhelmed by her simple kindness. I hurried to get a tissue to use as a plate. A tissue? Well, I am a therapist, after all.

I thanked her profusely.

“Let me think if I have something I can give you,” I said stupidly.

“Oh no,” she said. “You don’t need to give me anything for them. Please—take as many as you want.”

I hadn’t been thinking to pay her, only to share a part of my self in return. I had been visualizing my sandwich, orange, and hardboiled egg. Who would want those? It’s ridiculous, I know. But that was what popped into my mind as I scanned my brain for a gesture of communion.

I ate the rice cakes at the desk where I am now writing. The savory one was a type of tuna sandwich which hinted of ginger. The sweet one was a gooey delight. Without the banana leaf beneath them, the fragrant cakes had become hopelessly grafted to the tissue. I ate them paper and all.

Rita is no longer a stranger.

A Sip of Heaven and a Nibble of Bliss: A Postscript

Ira Rott Koala hat image copy.jpg

Image and hat design by Ira Rott*

This is part of The Story of Hanna. Please see the tab of the same name for the story in its entirety. The prior post can be found here.

January 6, 2016

The past few months have been a real grind. Today started as a grainy blur. But it got better.

I heard from Torsten today. He is Hanna’s brother. He is a brother of my heart, if not of my blood.

It’s been nearly five years now, and I’ve had not a word from Hanna. Her family has heard little more than I.

Torsten wished me a Happy New Year. He wanted me to know that he and Sophia are expecting a baby girl in May.

He still loves me, and he’s glad I’m in his life.

As I nudged down the road this evening, on the way to my daughter’s orchestra practice, I was suffused with joy, traffic be damned. In the car with me were two of my best girls. I sipped my milky-sweet Earl Grey and savored a cookie baked by my mother’s aging hands. A handmade scarf, the Christmas creation of a beloved niece, encircled me with love.

All will come right. In time. In mysterious unfolding. In winding wending waiting. All is coming right.

I’m going to be an auntie. Or maybe a grandma.

I hope I still remember how to crochet animal hats.

*Ira Rott’s patterns are awesome. Please visit her page here.

Wonder Worms

hypnotic-swirl-5295_preview

I sit, mesmerized. I cannot look away.

Across from me, the wonder worms dance across their tiny stage to music only they can hear. So varied and gifted a performance!

Their tap dance, in truth, more of a soft shoe routine, gives way to a classical pas de deux. They plié. They leap. They arc. They bow. It’s all a tease to draw me in. The tension builds: Again and again, they run at each other. They come so very close…and then fall back. They run at each other once more. I lean in and hold my breath.

Suddenly all is still.

The worms resume their performance before I can even register this denouement. This time it’s disco. Then hip hop. What’s next? The Electric Slide. Their agility knows no bounds.

Suddenly the worms become boxers. Light on their feet, they weave and bob as they size one another up. They feint. Faster and faster they spring. Who will be first to deliver the knockout punch?

I forget where I am. I forget who I am. I hope the worms are benevolent because there is no going back. I sit unblinking, paralyzed, spellbound. I am at their mercy. Magnetized, I lean closer still.

I sit, mezmerized. And I cannot look away.

“Jane.”

Silence.

“Jane!”

“Don’t stop.”

“What are you talking about? Let’s go.”

“No.”

“Come on, I’m done. We can get coffee now. Thanks for being patient. I really needed to take care of that.”

“Who are you?”

See the wonder worm performance here. View at your own risk.

A Sorry Translation

Image credit here.

Image credit here.

One legacy my father left to me was the Book of Family Rules. Since his death in 1990, the important role of Keeper has fallen squarely upon my shoulders.

This isn’t a book which can be read and followed as, say, a cook book or the instructions for assembling a bicycle. To the uninitiated, the Book would seem a hodgepodge of family stories and remembrances, assembled for mild-mannered entertainment on a rainy day and without thought to cohesiveness or purpose. On the contrary! This sacred Book has instructed my family in proper living for generations. So potent are its formulas that they must be hidden in plain sight.

A few of the rules are pretty straightforward and discernible, even to the untrained eye—A Lie is a Spank and Food is Love, for example. For the most part, however, a proper exegesis requires the Decoder Ring, which, I am sorry to report, was not among my father’s personal effects or in his safety deposit box. As a result, I am required to spend untold hours hunched over the brittle pages of this text, extracting what I can.

I wouldn’t be surprised if my younger sister, Gwen, has hidden or destroyed the ring. She won’t say. Gwen never has cooperated. She never did like the Rules, and she refused to follow them no matter how many times my father spanked or pinched her. But then again, she is one of those annoying people who speaks of therapy as a positive thing  and uses words like “dysfunctional,” “enmeshment,” and “abuse.”

All that is by way of background.

What I want to share with you today is my most recent discovery. I found another Rule, and it wasn’t even buried! I had suspected I’d find this one if I just kept reading, and I did. Days like this are so exciting that they give me the strength I need to keep coaxing the Book to give up its secrets. I must not lose courage! How will my future generations live if the code is lost?

When we were small, my father took the time to translate certain Rules from the Book. He had hired a German tutor to prepared me and Gwen for our move overseas, so we were familiar with the concept.

Danke = Thank You

Junge = Boy

I’m sorry = I’ll never do it again

“I’m sorry” is actually a promise. And promises cannot be broken.

I took this Rule very seriously. I did. I tried to be a good girl. But this law was absolute, and I was a repeat offender. I became skilled at hiding my guilt from others—and myself.

Don’t. Tell. Gwen. I’m having an inkling of doubt about this Rule. I haven’t yet made up my mind. I’m not in any hurry to add the title Heretic or Dumbbell to Recidivist on my resume.

But here’s the thing….My father rarely apologized for anything. He seemed to prefer his own rule: Do as I say, not as I do.

This post belongs in the thread Family Rules. You can find the prior installment here. Earlier essays can be found under the Family Rules tab.

7 Things About Me

Blogger Award - Versatile

Many thanks to my blog friend Eve Messenger for nominating me for the Versatile Blogger Award! I have never gotten an award, and this is very exciting!

Eve is funny and honest; and I knew after coming across her blog, that I would be back for more. I am always interested in people who have lived in The Between–between cultures, between vocations, between lives–because of the stories they tell and the perspectives they bring. She is ramping up for a big story, and I’m following along. Oh, and she has a thing for possums. If I said more, I’d have to kill you. So it’s best you stop by and see for yourself.

I understand there are three simple rules for this award:

1. Link back to the blogger(s) who nominated you.
2. Post 7 facts about yourself.
3. Nominate some other bloggers. (I think I’m supposed to nominate 15 but that feels a little overwhelming, so….)

Seven Facts About Plain Jane

1. I got interested in becoming a therapist after reading Irvin Yalom’s Love’s Executioner.

2. I used to run the mile in under 5 minutes. (Best 1500m time = 4:20.1)

3. Like Eve Messenger, I loved fairy tales as a child. I read all my mother’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales from childhood as soon as I was able. I continued to read fairy tales into young adulthood–anything I could get my hands on but only the old ones.

4. One summer I broke into the botanical gardens in Frankfurt, Germany, several times. I was visiting a friend. I wanted to jog without having to stop at every corner. I was young, and it never occurred to me that this was a bad thing….

5. My daughters and I watch the A&E version of Pride and Prejudice together every Christmas break.

6. I’ve been married to my husband for 27 years. Our anniversary is in April. He is THE BEST!

7. I’m going paddle boarding this Sunday with my sister.

(8. Bonus fact: My name isn’t really Jane. But I think you already knew that!)

Here are some blogs I have been enjoying (and which I hereby nominate):

1. Rebecca Chamaa’s A Journey with You. Rebecca writes about living with schizophrenia and more, more, more. She is a keen observer of human nature who knows how to distill her observations into short prose and poetry. Her book Pills, Poetry, and Prose knocked my socks off. Have your tissues ready. It is beautiful.

2. Benita Prins. I think it is important to support young writers, and Benita is a great example. Just look at this gal’s reading list! She has just come out with her first book, Starscape. Hey, I’m going on 52, and my publishing credentials are limited to my agency newsletter….I’m sure Benita could use some extra readers so maybe you’d consider entering her drawing (see blog) to receive a free copy.

3. Ocean Girl: For ordinary women living extraordinary dreams. A surf lifestyle blog for ladies.
This blog is adventurous, environmentally responsible, and it has great photos. Yes, it is for young people. But why can’t it be for bucket-listers too? Maybe I’ll actually get on a surfboard one day. But in the meantime, there’s Ocean Girl. Sigh.

4. D. Wallace Peach’s Myths of the Mirror. Also a published author, Diana (very humbly and with wonderful personal anecdotes!) offers valuable tips on how to improve one’s craft. Diana knows structure and style but what I especially enjoy is this: A former therapist, her insights into character development are astute, and her ability to communicate what she knows is well developed. Diana is also generous. She takes the time to interact with her readers, and she makes an effort to read and comments on others’ blogs in return. She was one of my very first blog buddies.

5. Things I Want To Tell My Mother by Marylin Warner. Marylin is an excellent host! You will feel as though you are a guest in her home. Her stories are varied and thoughtful, and her voice is warm and wise. She is a hug in blog form. I want to give HER a hug for her many kind words of encouragement!

6. Are you feeling warm and fuzzy? Good! Now go visit Blunderdad at Single Family Asylum. Not for the scatalogically challenged, this blog will fill your weekly quota for poop and vomit jokes. Will you still like me if I admit to being a middle school boy in the body of a middle aged woman? The guy is an evil genius, I’m telling you.

7. For those of you looking for something to nourish your soul, I’ll mention Chronicles of a Kid Next Door. Edmond Sanganyado is the real deal. He shares honestly his insights and his struggles related to his faith, his experiences as an African Male in White American culture, his near death experience, his childhood trauma in Zimbabwe, and more.

There are SO MANY other worthy blogs out there but I have to get to sleep.

I’ll close with these three, also nominated:

O at the Edges (poetry)

Mogromo

BlissfulBritt

These Hands

Carolyn's hands 1These are no-nonsense hands. Tomboy hands.

These hands have climbed trees, caught bugs, whittled sticks, picked scabs, and shot bumbershoots*.

These hands used to blow noses, dry tears, and wipe bottoms. They used to spank those same bottoms. Sometimes these hands pointed fingers. Sometimes they still do. These hands have thumbed noses but have refrained from wiping smirks off faces. They have also stopped addressing drivers in traffic. This is because the Woman has domesticated them and (mostly) trained them to speak Love instead of Middle Finger. It may be (may!) that one hand rebelled once (once!) against etiquette and drilled into a nostril at a traffic light. But I’m sure that is only a rumor. Seriously–who would do that?

These hands stroke skin and braid hair. Sometimes they rub backs. They crochet animal hats and knit circle scarves. They garden without gloves because dirt feels good. These hands can scrape every last molecule of goodness out of the Nutella jar.

These hands fold clothes, scrub bathrooms, and bag groceries. They slice, dice, chop, mince, and grate. Curry and stir fry are some of their favorites. Black beans and rice too. Hey, don’t forget the soups! The hands bake as well, the show offs: Cheese cake; warm, yeasty rolls with cinnamon, caramel, and pecans; apple pie. Recipes are treasures passed from hand to hand in a generational relay. The pair displays its heritage with every bite: knife in the left hand; fork in the right.

These hands lead a double life. Sometimes they have to act their age. They tell themselves to rest quietly and listen while Clients speak to the Woman about all manner of pains and worries. They bend and sculpt themselves into Openness, Care, and Wisdom. They arrange themselves in nonjudgmental positions upon bland, nonjudgmental slacks. The hands tap out progress notes and dial calls to psychiatrists. Sometimes, if they are really naughty, they pinch each other to keep from daydreaming or dozing off.

These hands speak. Are you surprised? The wrinkles and spots tell of running in the sunshine. When you cluck at their dry skin, each tells you off in turn: Nothing to see here! Mind your own business! The ring finger says: Fine. Band me. The nails are starting to tap nervously. They think: We’re going to be in trouble at that Southern wedding next month. They whine and beg: Can’t we just go commando?

The left hand is still a little sad. Maybe even nursing a grudge. Leftie and Rightie used to match until a harried nurse forced saline through an IV port, ignoring Leftie’s cries of pain. The nurse burst all those lovely, plump veins. Some hands think veins are ugly, but their prominence made Leftie feel strong and able. She grieved as they paraded their farewell: black, blue, purple, brown, green, yellow, gone. Rightie restored Leftie’s dignity by entrusting her with Urgent Ideas Which Cannot Wait. See the smudge near Leftie’s thumb? Rightie scrawls ideas there, and Leftie remembers them for her. Leftie also gets to store things on her wrist: pony tail holders and the rubber bands which hold together the Woman’s Tupperware so the juice from her mango slices doesn’t leak into her work bag. Of course neither hand holds bracelets. What a bother!

These hands have faces made for radio, and they tell it like it is.

These are my hands.

Carolyn's hands 2*We pulled the long stems from these weeds and twisted them around on themselves so that when we yanked, the flower heads flew off. We called them “bumbershoots” and had little battles with them.

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