Seeing is Believing

Posted: January 20th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Discoveries, Friends and Strangers, Miss Kate, Mom, Other Mothers, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | 4 Comments »

I don’t believe in heaven or the afterlife or reincarnation, but I do believe in old blue Volvos.

My mom used to drive one. One of those boxy four-door sedans circa 1980-something. The ancient green one she had before that—that I learned to drive on—only had an AM radio. Talk about a character building experience for a teenager. Name any Carpenters, Elton John, or Neil Sedaka song and I can likely recite each line flawlessly. I was a girl before my time, I tell you.

Or at least, out of step with the times.

Anyway, when I first moved to San Francisco, I was surprised to see so many old cars on the road. Vintage Dodge Darts and ancient Volkswagon Beetles with original paint perfectly intact aren’t uncommon in these parts. Cars that would’ve been devoured by the Midwestern or East Coast road salt decades ago just keep chuggin’ along here.

So it’s not unusual for me to come across old blue Volvos. Ones exactly like the one my mom usedta drive.

I’ll be pushing the double-stroller frantically down the street, late for Kate’s ballet class, and I’ll turn a corner and there’s Mom’s car. Parked outside some house like she’s inside having a cup of tea and a game of Scrabble. Or I’ll come upon a yard sale, pull over, and I’ll see I’ve double-parked right behind her. When I open the door for the girls to pile out, I half expect to see Mom’s gray-haired noggin bent over a stack of used books, or rummaging through a box of table linens.

Just this Sunday, Mark and I were coercing the kids to trudge two more blocks to our car. They were fried from a visit to the farmer’s market. Too much sun and dancing in front of the band. It was like some impossible against-all-odds trek over the Alps to make it 50 more yards to the parking lot. I’d nearly given up, was about to sit down on the sidewalk and tell Mark, “Go on ahead without me.” And then I saw Mom’s car parked up ahead.

And I kinda smirked. Although Mark had no idea what I was doing, I actually ran up a half-block and took a picture of it with my cell phone. Then I circled back to herd us forward, having tapped into some energy reserves I wasn’t aware I had.

Have I gone mad? Or, from beyond the grave, is my mother strategically parking her car in places I’ll pass by? Is this her sly eccentric way of showing me she’s still somehow around? Still keeping tabs on me?

Because if so, I am TOTALLY picking up on it. Message received, Mom!

This realization is, of course, thrilling and relieving. What I didn’t mention about the fact that I don’t think my mom is an angel hanging out on a cloud with her dead sisters and all our past dogs, is that it’d be so much nicer if I actually DID believe that. I would LOVE to feel confident that she’s somehow seen my children. That she admired the apple pie I made on Christmas day (her recipe). That she’s cheering me on when the daily doldrums of mothering set in.

I’d be frankly kinda psyched if my belief—that the end of life is really the cold dark end—isn’t really altogether true.

Now, lest you think I’m alone at all this, I have a friend—a terrifically intelligent and thoughtful woman—who believes her dead Mama comes to her in the form of a raven. You know, she’ll see a few birds on her front lawn or gathered on a telephone wire and sometimes get this inkling, this sense, of her mother’s presence.

Which I think is awesome. (In fact, whenever I see a raven now I think it’s her mom too.) What can I say? One gal’s old blue Volvo is another gal’s big black bird.

What’s funny is I read this Motherboard story about how to let go of your kids as they grow up—how not to be a smother mother. I love the concept of giving your kids “roots and wings.” Roots so they know where their home is, and wings to set them free in the world. I really hope I can get that balance right with Kate and Paige.

But at the same time here I am—fully grown with kids of my own—and thinking that even though my mom’s not even alive, she’s still somehow mothering me in some cosmic car parking way. Maybe I could use a little smothering of my own.

I’ve already confessed my fandom of the sappy-excellent show Parenthood. So in a recent episode the parents of a five-year-old have to tell their daughter that a hurt bird they’ve been taking care of died. The Mom and Dad strategize about how to break the news, how to gently introduce the hard reality of death to their sweet innocent. When they finally talk to the twerp, the mom caves when she sees her daughter getting sad, and blurts out that the bird “is in heaven now—with Grandma!” Which had not been the plan for their little talk.

I super don’t like that mom character on the show. But on this one topic, man, I can feel her pain.

Because, I’m truly saddened to report, sweet little Freezey, Room 2′s pet frog who stayed with us during Winter Break, died last week. (Side note: I’d like to clearly state that this happened when he was back in the classroom. Not on our watch.)

Kate was pretty sad about it, but I was crushed. She laid the news on me on our way to pick up Paige from school. She was all casual—no warning, no “Are you sitting down?” (even though I obviously was, because I was driving).

I was heartbroken. We loved that little damn frog!

I wanted to tell Kate that Freezey was swimming around in a divine froggy pond in the sky. That he was re-united with his former tank-mate Cutie Pie. And that they were happy and free and could eat all the stinky food pellets they wanted. Hell, I wanted to tell MYSELF that. But instead I handed Kate a couple pretzels and made her promise not to tell Paigey.

On Monday, while shopping for stuff for Paige’s b-day party invites, I wandered over a couple blocks to the pet store. I mean, the mother of all snake, frog, and other crawly-creature types store. It’s where the Room 2 teachers got Freezey. And even though they were clear—no more classroom pets this year—I’d gotten to thinking. Wondering about the viability of a new McClusky family friend.

So this place. It’s like everyone who works there has face piercings and huge tattoos and is scary knowledgeable about the animals. Like the geeky ultra-smart weirdos that work in the labs on those TV crime shows.

I browsed frogs. Admired cute spotted newts. Got full-body shudders from a sunny-yellow boa that apparently had a big dinner the night before. And finally I screwed up the courage to ask one of the goth-girl employees about what a tank would cost, how much maintenance was needed, yadda, yadda, yadda.

And as I got in the car and drove off I questioned my motives. Buying a pet doesn’t bring Freezey back. Would the girls groove on having an amphibian sibling? Or would its novelty eventually fade, like some expensive toy that gets shoved to the back of the closet—an expensive toy whose tank water you have to change, and who you have to feed live worms…

At a stop sign, I dug around in my purse for my cell phone, and looked down to hit Mark’s work number. A blast from a car horn made me look up. In my rear view mirror a bearded man waved his arms in a “you gonna go, or aren’t you?” gesture.

He wasn’t in a blue Volvo, which was a shame, since I was looking for a sign.

Am I gonna go? Well, sir, that remains to be seen.


4 Comments on “Seeing is Believing”

  1. 1 Drea said at 8:39 am on January 21st, 2011:

    Great post! I think I see signs of my mom all the time! Not a recurring sign, but weird things that happen that make me feel her presence. Like the day before Ben’s bar mitzvah, it was just Ben, the cantor and me in the sanctuary for his rehearsal. The cantor carried the Torah over to the lectern and a slip of paper fell out of it. It happened to be from Ben’s exact Torah portion, and it was a piece of the scroll that had been repaired and placed back in there at some point. It was almost spooky, and in my head, it was Mimi, making her presence felt and telling me that she would be with us at the ceremony the next day. I love stuff like that, whether it’s completely far-fetched or hopeful.

    Oh, and…”Strolling along country roads with my baby, it starts to rain, it begins to pour.” Sorry to pass along the earworm!


  2. 2 kristen said at 1:23 pm on January 21st, 2011:

    LOVE that story, Andrea! When we die (a long long time from now), I wonder how we’ll choose to communicate with our kids. I think I’ll leave them messages in the peanut butter…

  3. 3 Nancy said at 2:16 pm on January 21st, 2011:

    Hey cuz, You are way to young to remember the old televison show, “My Mother the Car”. I’m old enough to remember how cool I thought it was….the guy’s mom’s spirit was in that darn car. Well, if your mom came back in some spirit and it was not a scrabble board, it would soooo be a Volvo.

    Colt State Park has to occupy a lot of her time in the nice weather also. I’ve felt that warmth there on a nice day, under her favorite trees.

    So here’s to warm memories and virtual hugs from Vicki!

  4. 4 Jeff P said at 2:08 pm on February 4th, 2011:

    Just remembered, I saw a old blue volvo on 280 coming into work the other day and I thought of you and your mom.

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