Mothering Out of Bounds

Posted: March 4th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Bad Mom Moves, Friends and Strangers, Husbandry, Little Rhody, Miss Kate, Movies, Paigey Waigey Wiggle Pop, Parenting | No Comments »

I’m unstoppable. As a mother, that is. And before you hit Play on that Helen Reddy eight-track tape, let me clarify. I don’t mean this as a good thing.

I’m not sure when exactly it started, but I’ve become the person who pulls a Kleenex from my purse for the guy who sneezes behind me in a store check-out line. I’m the daft Perpetual Baby Smiler—never letting any beings under the age of one pass me by without cocking my head, beaming, and saying, “Awww…” I’m the woman standing idiotically in the family-boarding area, even in the rare instances I’m flying without my kids.

Aside from wondering where the hell the old Me went—the one who thought of herself as an individual, not just part of a family unit—aside from that, well, hell, it’s just that this new Me can be so horribly annoying.

If you don’t believe me, ask Mark. We’re deep into this issue he and I. Totally aware of it and working on it, but like some bad rainy-season ant infestation, it just keeps coming back. You know, you spray-slaughter all the ants around the basement door, and next think you know they’ve forming a line trooping through your dining room, swarming over a fallen lump of last week’s oatmeal. It’s the kind of problem you’re certain you will never ever get a handle on.

What exactly am I talking about? Good question. It’s this: I’m a backseat parent.

Mark will be halfway though answering Kate’s plea for dessert, or helping Paige track down her tap shoes and I’ll jump in—totally interrupting, bombarding unheeded—and I’ll start dispatching orders. “Kate, you need to take three more bites of broccoli before I’ll even consider dessert.” “Paige, your tap shoes are in your ballet box on the top shelf of your closet. Do NOT wear them on the hardwood floors.”

Man, it’s annoying.

We’ve talked about this but I still can’t manage to make myself stop. The best explanation I can muster is that I spend my days responding to an endless stream of kid-borne issues. Things that come flying at me mercilessly like centipedes in a video game. To ward them off, I have to aim a kind of Ghostbusters-esque task-zapping uzi at them—Zap! Zap! Zap!—in order to get us to the next level, which is usually something like out the door, down the steps, and into the car for school, with everybody’s clothing on and hair combed.

I’m so used to single-handedly dealing with what life throws at me during the day, that when Mark’s there and I so much as sense that some kid-issue is incoming, I automatically kick into gear, guns blazing. Even though I know Mark can totally handle it on his own.

I guess I’m kinda trigger happy.

We’ve joked that I need classical conditioning to change. But really, more than the salt-lick reward I think what I need is an electric cattle prod deterrent every time I do it.

And just ’cause I have a maternal reflex to do something, doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the right thing to do. I may be feeling over-programmed in the Mama arts, but I’m still doing dopey things like consistently forgetting to carry diapers, and leaving a baggy of Alleve in my purse where Paige can get into it. (Kate recently called out to me, “Paige is about to eat some blue pills she found in your purse!” Guess I need to take to heart this Motherboard tip about stowing my bag at higher ground.)

The younger brother of my most-excellent wonderful and good friend, Mike, is moving to Oakland. I’m all hopped up about this because if I drink enough, turn down the lights, and really squint I can kind of make myself believe that Mike’s brother is really him. Although it turns out that in the sober light of unsquinty day I actually like his brother for who he is. Go figure.

Until he’d found a place to live, Mike’s Brother stayed with us. Just for a handful of days.

And you know what? I think I mothered the poor guy to death! I found myself texting him in the afternoons. Would he be home for dinner? When he was out late one night I went to our chilly guest room to turn on the space heater so the room would be cozy when he got back. One morning I made him—no, foisted upon him after an initial refusal—cinnamon toast. And while shopping at Target, I stumbled upon the map section (those old-school paper things). And I grew inextricably concerned that he needed an Oakland-Berkeley map in order to carry out his house-search. So I bought it for him.

I didn’t do his laundry. And if he sneezed, I left him to figure out like a big boy where to find a Kleenex (on the back of the toilet in any of the bathrooms, and on the bedside tables in every bedroom). I didn’t do those things, but I do have a hazy memory of shouting into the bathroom at him that he was welcome to take any of the towels in the linen closet.

Is all this me smother-mothering someone? Sure, it’s my friend’s younger brother, but the dude’s a grown man with a wife and child of his own. Maybe what I was doing was what any hostess worth her weight in fresh hand towels would do. But in my mind—these days I’m feeling so super centrally Mom-like—I can’t help but think I’m just inappropriately taking those who aren’t even my offspring under my wing.

It’s like in those cooking shows when the reality show chefs sautee a piece of meat. As they hold it over the heat they keep spooning the pan juices over the top again and again. It’s like they’re super-imbuing the meat with extra flavor of itself. It sometimes feels like that with me and my Mama self. Do what I will, every act no matter how juvenile, self-serving, or un-nurturing, still becomes a reinforcement of my essential Mamaness. And the more I wish it were otherwise, the more it seems inescapable (See: The coating of pastel sidewalk chalk on my black biker boots).

Last week the girls and I flew east like confused geese veering off course for winter. The rest of humanity–or at least Kate’s classmates—were all bound for warmer tropical venues, or the ski slopes in Tahoe. But we were simply seeking snow. Sea level snow was fine with us. Along with some quality time with Gramp and Grandma Joan.

And despite the incessant string of blizzards all winter there, the East Coast snow had nearly melted altogether. (Unless you count the mud-splattered ice piles in the far reaches of parking lots.) We were granted only one light dusting, from which we made the teensiest most tragic snowman ever—akin to the pitiful wee Stonehenge in Spinal Tap.

Add to that the fact that back in the Bay Area, meteorologists were flipping their Doppler radars over the potential for snow in San Francisco—something that’s hit the history books something like six times. Thankfully, the SF snow was a no-show, so I didn’t have to berate myself for sidestepping exactly what I was trying to get to the heart of.

Anyway, pardon the weather outburst. Where was I? Oh yes, Rhode Island. Where we love nothing more than the little local library. And where I found the DVD E.T. and decided to indoctrinate Kate in some non-princess-based media.

Of course, she wailed and lamented. Why didn’t she get to pick the movie? Couldn’t she watch Angelina Ballerina—or even a cooking show (what she came to simply call “Ina” in the course of the week) instead?

The movie was rated PG for language (one kid calls another “penis-breath”) and something else I don’t remember. I’d intended for Kate to watch it while Paigey napped. But of course Paige refused sleep, and before I knew it we were all piled on the leather couch tuned in.

And can I just say, E.T.’s death scene is unbearably protracted? I mean, the scene in which he’s zipped in a body bag (one that fits oddly-perfectly for such a uniquely-shaped corpse) and left for dead. I kept checking the girls to see if they were experiencing severe emotional trauma, but they seemed to not really register (or care) what was happening. Maybe they thought E.T. was just being kept fresh in a large Ziplock.

Finally Elliot—who thrillingly shares a name with Paige’s erstwhile boyfriend—brings E.T. back to life by invoking the magic words “I love you.” (I wonder if Kate’s teachers tried that with Freezey…) I thought I’d dodged the bullet. But it wasn’t ’til after the hair-raising final bike ride scene, when E.T. was saying his goodbyes before boarding the space ship home, that Paige—who had been otherwise engaged in playing with the dog and flipping through books—suddenly burst into tears. Wailing sobbing miserably inconsolable tears.

“T.C.!” she wailed to the ceiling. “Teeeeee Ceeeeeeeee!!!” she blubbered in a mistakenly-monogrammed moan. This went on for quite some time. And since it was so sudden, I was trying desperately to diagnose the depth of her sorrow. She’d not even been watching the TV when her anguish first erupted.

“What’s wrong, Paigey?” I pleaded. “What are you so sad about?” I asked, hoping she’d say she just ran out of milk in her sippy cup.

No dice. The woe, she reported, was directly related to “T.C. having gone away.” And, as if to spell it out to her moronic mother who clearly wasn’t getting it, she mumbled tragically, “It makes my heart hurt.”

Meanwhile Kate was on my left, watching the movie with the detachment one reserves for ads for professional training institutes.

I was flustered, trying to give Paige some happy thoughts to redirect her emotions. “He’s going home, Paigey!” I offered brightly.

Then Kate added, sighing with the bored air of a teen, “Yeah, Paige. E.T.’s okay. He’s going to see his Mommy.”

Which got me thinking. No one ever really wondered about what E.T.’s poor mother went through the whole time he was having his earthly escapade. Right? I mean, think of the stress one endures losing a child in the mall. Now take that up a few million notches to having them missing on another planet. Sheesh!

I imagine their conversation when he got back on the spaceship went something like:

E.T.’s Mom: “Oh my God, you’re BACK! Come here—I love you so much!”

E.T.: “Hey, Ma. Yeah, I’m fiiiiine.”

E.T.’s Mom: [Holding E.T. at wrinkly brown arms length] “Listen to ME, young alien. Don’t you EVER hop off the spaceship and run away again! I was worried SICK!”

Of course, if I were her I’d also scold him that he didn’t have a sweater on. But that’s just me.

No Comments »

Leave a Reply