I was washing my hands at work the other day and I started gagging. They changed the soap in the dispenser to Dial and I wanted to immediately march to HR to file a complaint. Unfortunately, my issue with my mom’s preferred method of discipline was never going to be enough to get someone to change all of the soap in the dispensers. I was going to have to break out in a rash and since that was too much effort I marched back to my desk and decided to email my mom, thanking her for my aversion to Dial soap.
I know this is probably going to shock a lot of people, but I was a bit mouthy growing up. What may also be shocking is that I hate the word no, and since that was my parent’s favorite word- we clearly had a little problem. When I heard “NO” (which was frequent), I didn’t hesitate to throw a tantrum and tell everyone they could go right to hell. My mom didn’t hesitate to drag me to the bathroom and show me where that bar of Dial soap could go, right in my filthy little mouth. I would stare in the mirror and cry and I’m sure said things like, “You’re trying to kill me,” or “You’re poisoning me!”
Sidenote- Mom, there’s scientific evidence on the internet that proves those bar soaps by the sink are disgusting and covered in filthy bacteria. You’re lucky Google didn’t exist when I was five, I would have built a pretty strong case against you that you were repeatedly trying to poison me.
Now, let’s get something straight. Rita doesn’t take any shit. EVER. (She doesn’t even get a code name because she’s that badass.) My brother and I would goof around when we were little and we’d do something to piss her off, she’d get our dad’s belt (because that’s how we were disciplined and it worked- kids these days are soft) and we’d run, but she always caught us. As we got older she’d still grab our dad’s belt and we’d still run, but we started to taunt her because we figured out we could keep running circles around the dining room table and she could never catch us. It turned into a funny game, then she’d laugh and we figured we calmed her down and we were forgiven, I mean we made her laugh. But what we didn’t know was that as she was laughing, she was also plotting, because she was a mom and moms get sick pleasure out of this type of thing, and our punishment for avoiding the punishment and wasting her time was going to be 10 times worse. When we’d walk down the hall that night for bed excited that we escaped punishment, thinking everything was fine- BAM! There she was. The Enforcer was pulling a sneak attack. Before we knew it our dad’s belt was connecting with both of our asses and we were both sent to bed in tears, laying on our stomachs. The only one laughing at the end of the night was Rita, she always had the last laugh.
She really was tough as nails and looking back now I have no idea how she did any of it. My brother and I were full-time, year round athletes. She worked two jobs, she kept score for my soccer team, coached my grade school basketball team with my sister, and she made it to every game we ever had. In between all of that were plenty of hospital visits. Sometimes she’d show up in the middle of our practices and we knew our dad was sick and we’d have to make an emergency trip to the hospital, sometimes they were local trips, sometimes they were to Cleveland, most of the time to Pittsburgh. During one of the Cleveland trips we actually got to stop at the zoo. Understanding how exhausting hospital visits are I didn’t know how or why anyone would attempt to take two kids to the zoo. I only had one explanation. My mom was a superhero, it was the only way she could do all of it.
I always wanted to be like her, she was good at everything, and it was really unfair. She would type my papers when I was little and when she’d have me try I’d practically be on the verge of tears because I couldn’t type like her. I always wanted to type as fast as she did. Then she would tell me stories about boys and dating and she was always so tough, she didn’t take any shit in that department either. I would get sad because I wasn’t as tough and didn’t think I ever would be. She would talk to us about our dad and have to tell us that he wasn’t going to live forever, if it wasn’t the disease he was eventually going to get cancer from all of the medication. She always said things with a straight face but we were always comforted, because if mom was ok then the rest of us were ok. I wasn’t like that, I wanted to be like that, but I didn’t have what it took to be a superhero.
Throughout high school my mom and I had frequent screaming battles, I’m not sure why because I was basically a saint. I told her she’d be sorry because I was leaving for college and never coming back, she was never going to see me again. Then I left for college and got the flu, I called my mom and told her she had to come pick me up because this was it, I was dying. An hour later she arrived to pick me up- and my dirty laundry.
My last year of college my roommates car caught on fire (yes, you read that right). It was the middle of the night, there was smoke pouring out of our garage and the only way we knew to get out of the house was because our neighbors were having a party and started yelling. We flew out of the house, I stared at the garage, it was closed and the brand new car my parents just got me was inside. Earlier that day, my dad was admitted to the hospital and I had reached full panic mode. There was only one thing I could do, call mom. As usual, she was her cool and calm self, she told me everything would be fine and to call her back as soon as I talked to the firemen. I called her back later and told her my car was fine, my roommate’s car didn’t make it, and our garage and some rooms in the apartment needed to be repainted from all the smoke, but it was all ok. She breathed a sigh of relief and told me she was so nervous and had such a long day that she crawled into bed with my brother. It was the first time I realized my mom was human.
I felt stupid. I felt stupid because I forgot she had feelings, I felt stupid because it took me 23 years to figure out that she always put her own problems aside to make sure the rest of us were ok. She was always so tough and always had all the answers that we drilled her all the time with our problems, she was our punching bag. She had to be the one to fix everything, even if things in her own life were chaotic, she set all of that aside and helped us with whatever we needed help with. It was a “shame on me” moment for putting so much pressure on someone else when I needed to take more responsibility for my own life.
Now, did I really learn my lesson? Of course not. My brother and I still call her at all hours of the night. She’s actually my favorite person to drunk dial and is the recipient of all of my 3am texts and FaceTimes- I think it’s hilarious. I don’t think she does, but she still answers- winning!
When I started teaching I found a note in the hall that a student had dropped. I opened it up and to my surprise, a part of it was actually about me. “So, I seriously want to hang out with my English teacher. I really think she’s a superhero in disguise and think it would be so cool to hang out and talk to her for a night.” I laughed. I didn’t know how that happened, but I had a good guess.
There was always a kid in my room that needed something, mostly just someone to listen. There was the boy that was gay and couldn’t bring a date to the dance and felt discriminated against, the girl that got pregnant wanting to know if I was disappointed in her, the boy that wanted to run away from home, the boy that never had any food, the girl that no matter what she did never made her mom proud, the boy that was a drug addict whose parents didn’t want him, and the list goes on and on. And on the days when I was exhausted and I couldn’t even begin to listen to another boy or girl complain about an issue because I was wrapped up in my own life, I realized my own problems didn’t matter and I had to put them aside. For those kids, I was their fixer, I was their punching bag and for some of them I was the closest thing to a mom they were ever going to have. Turns out I was becoming more like my mom, more like a superhero and I guess other people saw it way before I did.
My friend called me the other day. She was having tons of relationship trouble and was pretty upset. I gave her advice and told her what to do and she said I can’t do this. You’re tough, I’m not as tough as you.
I laughed, truthfully we’re all a lot tougher than we think we are. But, there was also a time I thought I wasn’t as tough as my mom, and the last thing I thought anybody would ever say about me was that I was tough. I think what I finally realize is that being tough isn’t about being impenetrable and emotionless, it’s about knowing how and when to feel. It’s ok to be emotional and that’s not easy. We unfortunately look down on each other for being emotional, if you cry it means you’re weak and if you’re sad about something we give each other a certain number of days to get over it. Unfortunately, that’s just not how it works. We’re all built a little different.
I think my mom just accepted that things in life happen and she’d deal with it accordingly (fuzzy navels and screwdrivers). When you figure out how to deal, you’ll be surprised at the amount of things you’ll be able to handle in the future. So, lock yourself in your room and cry it out, call your friends and vent, drink wine and eat cake, or throw on some Bieber, grab a spatula and sing your little heart out! Do what you need to do to be your own super hero. It won’t mean that things in life hurt any less, you’ll just become a lot smarter about the way you handle your issues and yourself. Life really is all about working smarter, not harder.
For as many times as I hear people say they would hate to turn into their parents, I’d choose to be like my parents, every time. And so I have my dad’s mouth and my mom’s all around badassery. It’s an interesting combo, but the good news is there’s a place in the world for me.
Rita would always yell and say “One day you’ll thank me, you’ll see!” I assured her I wouldn’t, because I’m stubborn, but thankfully I can also admit when I’m wrong. So thank you mom, for all the times you said no, for all the times you beat my behind, for calling me a few days ago to remind me to clean out the ass of the turkey before I baked it, and thank you for not telling me, but showing me what it means to be tough. Thank you for not being my friend, but being my mother because now I’m happy to say you’re my best friend and my hero- even though you will still back hand me. If I do have kids, my only hope is that I’m half as good of a mom as you are, and if I suck well I’m really glad they have you as a grandmother because they’ll be seeing you a lot!
For now, I’ll just put on my heels and my cape and continue to save the world. With a drink in my hand, of course.
For the record, I can type about a billion words per minute. 🙂