I have a favorite quote. It goes like this: People are a lot of things. Oprah said that. I don’t know who said it to her; probably her mother. Anyway, I like it because it helps me understand the world. It explains a lot of peculiar behavior, my own included. Like when I’m generous, kind and compassionate one moment, and sharpening my talons the next, just waiting for the next poor sucker to cross my path and ask me what’s for dinner. Then there are times when I’m laid back and kind of boozy, caring only if I might get lucky or not.
I remind my kids that people are a lot of things. All. The. Time. Best friend in the world give you snotty glares all day? People are a lot of things. Sweetest 8th grade girl in the universe now going out with the biggest jerk in the school? People are a lot of things. I tell them that no one is all good, or all bad, or all that. Now, if they show you they’re mostly rotten most of the time, it may be time to throw in the towel, or at the very least, watch your back; likewise, if they’re mostly good, most of the time, you can probably count on them to have your back. However, when they throw you a curve ball, remember that you already have the answer to the question, “How could they do/say/screw (maybe not this last one, yet) that??” People are a lot of things.
Sometimes I’m brave enough to add, “Give it a day or two,” but only if they’re at their lowest of low points. If there’s any fight left in them at all, they’ll fire back with “It won’t matter, MOM! She hates me!” or “No, MOM, they’ve been going out for over a week!” By Friday, the ex-BFFs will be planning a sleepover and the sweetest girl in school will be dating someone else, crying on my son’s shoulder, or dating my crying daughter. It’s anyone’s guess.
Yep, people are a lot of things. Mothers are no exception. I should know, because I’m one of them. If you’ve hatched at least one, then you’re probably made up of equal parts Saint Catherine of Siena, Linda Blair ala The Exorcist, Mrs. Robinson (can’t think of any other sexy moms at the moment) and even Marion Cunningham. (Why is that last one the hardest to admit?)
Take, for example, the time I risked my own life to save two others, and one of them wasn’t even my own flesh and blood. That day, my mom channel was set to Mother Teresa.
“Mom, can you help me get my shade up?” my son yelled from downstairs.
“I’m really busy, J. Can it wait?”
“No, it can’t.”
You know, if your shade is up, sunlight will come in. You know that, right?”
As I started down the stairs toward his room, careful not to smudge my toenail polish on the carpet, he dropped another bombshell:
“You need to open the windows, too.”
“You understand that fresh oxygen will come in through the screen, right?” I said as I rounded the corner toward the hall leading to his room.
“It’s really bad in here.”
I froze. When a fourteen year old boy notices the olfactory funk of his own room, it’s serious. Like so many times before, he had just spent twelve hours closed up in there with his buddy, farting, breathing, sleeping, playing video games, sweating (If you think playing Mortal Combat and shouting, “Freakin’ crap!” every six seconds doesn’t burn calories, think again.) This was the first time my son had ever raised the white flag, and it gave me pause. I stopped ten feet from the bedroom door and peered into the darkness that the black-out shades provided. My favorite Mother Teresa quote popped into my mind and then out of my mouth:
“Holy freaking crap.”
My son was sitting on the floor with his back against the bed, knees bent, elbows resting on them with his head in his hands. Our visitor, the one I was expected to return to his parents in a condition other than dead in less than an hour, sat on the edge of the bed, feet resting on the floor next to my son. He was listing at about a 45-degree angle. His eyes were open, staring into the darkness. Like those climbers on Everest who have to be left behind on the mountain, he was probably still alive, but couldn’t respond. I made a split-second decision.
Inhaling deeply and holding my breath I darted into the blackened, festering wound of a room. After hurdling the skateboard that is never supposed to be lying on the floor, I clawed at the first tricky shade until it snapped up. Sliding the window open, I moved to the second shade. Bam! Then, the window. It’s stuck! Why won’t it open?! Images of my other children, and my husband, sitting sadly at my funeral flashed before my eyes: I saw my parents, burying their favorite child; the grandchildren I’d never ruin; the laundry that would never get done if it wasn’t for me. I moved faster. My lungs were beginning to ache. Finally, success! The latch gave way, and the window slid. I turned to face my POWs, readying myself for the dash back out.
Like pasty-faced prisoners who had just spent several self-imposed months living in a dank, underground cellar, the boys’ eyes met those of their liberator, me.
“Nexttimecrackawindow!” I squeaked, clenching my jaw, knowing it still wasn’t safe to inhale. I sprinted out, through the high pressure system forming in the doorway where the fresh house air mingled with the noxious cloud creeping like mustard gas along the floor.
A week later, it was a different story and another mother entirely.
On a Sunday evening, during a friendly family game of (spoiler alert) barefoot soccer, another mutha emerged. The boy stubbed his toe, hard, down into the lawn. There were facial contortions, and blood, but not from the normal spot at the top of the toe. It was funneling out from the base of the toenail, under the cuticle. The nail appeared intact. Can a nail break under the cuticle, I wondered to myself? Turns out, it can, and did, along with a bone in his toe, which the X-ray confirmed a few days later. Quickly donning my Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman persona, I sprang into action and approached the patient.
“Eww, god, that’s gross!” I moaned when he took his hand away. His face grew even whiter as he watched the look on my face. Oops! I was the mom. Or Dr. Quinn. I wasn’t sure. But I had to be strong for him.
“I mean, it’ll be fine, but you’ll lose the toe.”
“I mean the toenail!”
“You mean you’re going to pull it OFF?!”
“No, no, no. I mean it looks like it must have torn away from the bed of the nail below the cuticle where we can’t see it. The nail will eventually fall off,” I said, turning away so he couldn’t see me gag.
Fast forward to the next morning. I offered to drive The Toe, as I now called him, (remember, Mother Teresa is long gone) to school. Poor guy was walking with his left foot pronated at a 90-degree angle to keep any weight off the front half of his foot. His toe was throbbing, still seeping blood and wrapped up like a little pedi-burrito. Unable to fit his foot into his shoe, he was already stressing out about how much trouble he’d get in at school for wearing a flip-flop.
At 8:25, he said he was ready. I began looking for my keys. And I kept looking for them, right up until the moment he sadly mumbled that he better start walking….and off he went across the court, Quasimodo and his 35 lb. backpack over his shoulder and me feeling like the worst excuse for a mom, ever. He wasn’t even mad, which made me feel worse. He was just bummed.
Mommy Dearest had let him down again, minus the couch and empty bottle of scotch.
Two hours later, my husband called— and apologized for accidentally grabbing my keys when he left the house. He’d just found them in his pocket.
I couldn’t wait to pick up my son after school and throw my husband right under the front wheels of that bus – the one being driven by Mother freakin’ Superior!