My mom and I have an interesting relationship. She’s never been like your stereotypical mother who is nurturing, tells you she loves you-shit like that. She’s always been obsessed with genealogy, actually, and most of her days were spent on the computer, ignoring everyone for hours at a time. She would take us places and on errands and stuff, and she made sure our basic needs were well met. However, when it came to things like affection, attention, and silly little things like talking to you? Those were minimal, at best.
There’s a quote from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade where he tells his father, “What you taught me is that I was less important to you than people who’ve been dead for 500 years in another country. And I learned it so well, that we’ve hardly spoken for 20 years.”
I’ve always felt that quote down to my toes. Now, my mom wasn’t quite Sean Connery bad-but every spare moment she had (which was a lot), was spent on the computer, buried in census information while her children grew up around her.
My dad was the one who took on the nurturing role. That’s why all of his kids are so damn close to him. If he was walking down the hall past our rooms for any reason at all, he’d always check in on us on the way back. He’d ask how we’re doing, come sit on the bed and chat, tell us we were wonderful. Ask to see our latest drawings, all that stuff. He often took us to work with him, a delivery job, and he’d buy us Twinkies and chocolate milk and tell us how amazing we were and how much he loved us.
Mom? I don’t think she told me she loved me til I was in my 20s, and it was only in response to me saying it first.
Gosh, I didn’t mean for this to be a bitch-fest about my mom. Geez, sorry about that! She did get better, after we grew up. I have a decent relationship with her now, but when I was young, I had some animosity. Maybe that’s why I enjoyed two particular incidents so very much.
We all have our favorite memories. I have tons! But two of my tippity top ones include my mother. She may not have had a relationship with me, but she did provide me great joy on two occasions. The first, was when I was a teenager. My family lives about 15 minutes away from a lake, and sometimes we’d take our canoe and our rowboat out to the lake and paddle around for an hour or two. It was one of my favorite things. Both boats were complete junk, cast offs my dad salvaged, but they were tremendous fun, even if I was convinced I’d fall overboard, get my legs tangled in lake-weed, and drown, life jacket notwithstanding.
By now we were old enough to be trusted to muck about in a boat without my parents, though they were never far away, and one day my twin (T), and I selected the canoe, while my parents chose the rowboat. We always stayed towards the ends of the lake, where the waves from motorboats couldn’t tip us over, so it was pretty low key and rather relaxing. Well, eventually, my parents decided it was time to mix things up. We would switch water crafts. We’d row up to the shore and my mom would get out of the rowboat and into the canoe and one of us would switch places with her.
I’m sure you can see where this is going.
We rowed up to a small hillside that jutted out into the lake, the plan being my mom would get a hold of the hill, we’d get right next to the boat, and she’d step in. So, dad gets her real close. She’s straight up and down, hands on the hill and ready to go. Only…the boat has other ideas. He wrestled with it and wrestled with it, but the boat did not want to stay close to the hill. So my mom’s still standing with her feet in the boat, but her hands are gripping the hill. The boat proceeds to move further and further away. She proceeds to go from vertical to…horizontal. Like so:
My twin and I just watched, helpless and in horror as it became abundantly clear what was about to happen. My dad desperately tried to move the boat closer, he even managed to grunt out her name in warning as he struggled with the oars but it was no use. I remember so clearly how her little feet kept shifting, frantically trying to find something to step to but finding nothing, until at last…in she went.
The best part was how slow it all happened.
The dawning realization on her face, the panic, my dad’s strangled warning, her kicky little feet. That moment where she ended in the lake. Pure therapy.
The second favorite memory of my mother involved tacos.
So we had a dog. His name was AJ (pre-named, unfortunately, or he’d have ended up with something far better). He was a lazy, clueless black lab/pitbull mix. He had an affinity for pancakes and sleeping on the couch when my dad wasn’t home.
One evening, my mom made tacos. As you may recall from my earlier blog post, she was a somewhat lacking cook. Tacos, however, were one of the things she actually was decent at. Just buy a season packet, mix it in some ground beef, shove it all in a shell with cheese and lettuce and you’re good to go.
I’ll never forget, she’d carefully made herself a plate of tacos, layering it just so. The order of ingredients is important, after all. She was all set to take her lovingly made meal to the dinner table, when she did something that would prove to be her undoing. She took a step back. I don’t know why she took a step back, but she did, and unbeknownst to her, AJ was right behind her, no doubt hoping someone would accidentally drop some shredded cheese and he could oh so helpfully clean it up.
Remember how I said AJ was lazy and clueless? Moving out of her way did not factor into his lovable but dim witted head. So, he didn’t. That woman went DOWN.
You know the kind of fall where you can frantically gather your wits together and put your hands down to break the impact? This was not one of those. I swear the cupboards rattled, the windows shook, the force of her uninterrupted landing shook our very souls. The part I remember most was the lettuce. A hail of shredded lettuce flying everywhere, like some kind of vegan ticker tape parade.
I cannot stress enough how much lettuce there was.
She landed, hard, then lay still. We all just stared, eyes bulging.
AJ, probably wondering what bumped him, turned around, sniffing at the fallen heap before him. Taco remnants littered the kitchen. Broken shells, bits of ground beef, grated cheese, and of course, so much lettuce.
The silence seemed to last an eternity. And then, suddenly, an animalistic scream emerged from the motionless heap. My mother lurched to life. She was on her hands and knees, rushing at the dopy dog still sniffing at her. Growling and screeching, she furiously swatted at him, trying to smack his butt for nearly killing her, and, worse, decimating her tacos. The best part of all this, was how fucking easily he evaded her. He barely had to move, confidently side stepping her would be swats as she scrabbled at him in a screaming rage. All the while he was simultaneously sniffing at her as if to say, “What the hell happened to you? Why are you on the floor?”
Maybe I’m overselling this. Maybe you had to be there. But I seriously have to say, it was one of the finest moments of my very existence.
I’m in my late 30s now. Things between my mom and I are good. She’s grown as a person and as a mother, and, though she’s still unhealthily obsessed with genealogy, when I come to visit she puts everything down and gives me her full attention. I can talk to her like I never used to be able to. I can understand that her affection and personality are not overtly loving, like my father, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care for me. She absolutely does. People grow, people change. Parents aren’t perfect. I’ve learned that then and I’m still learning it to this day. Do I still have a little bitterness that my mother wasn’t especially nurturing in my formative years? Not really. I was lucky enough to have that from my father. My mom took care of us in other ways. Drove us to school, fed us, got us what we needed, even took us to the library frequently. True, she did it because she wanted to look at the microfiche for genealogy purposes, but still, I’m counting it!
The point of this particular blog post is this. Nobody’s perfect. My mom became a better mother after I moved out. I needed to let her become a better mother, and not hold things against her. It’s easy to do. For some of us, there are certain things that maybe you can’t get over. Wrongs that can’t be righted, like abuse. But for many situations, when someone tries to change, your life will be so much better if you let them. Holding onto the past only hurts you, though letting go can be hard. I’m grateful that I’m friends with my mom now. That I can talk to her and ask questions and learn about the woman in ways I never could’ve before. Is she perfect, now? Hell no. But I’ve accepted her shortcomings and sought out her strengths, and my relationship with her is so much more fulfilling because of it.
So my advice? Be forgiving. To others, to yourself. All of us need it. We’re not done getting better until we’re dead. There’s never an end to self-improvement. And thank goodness for that, because I have plenty of my own flaws looming over me. Who doesn’t?
My other piece of advice? When making tacos, look behind you. Few tragedies surpass that of good Mexican food gone to waste.
2 thoughts on “Rowboats and Shredded Lettuce”
Hearing stuff like this is so redemptive. Knowing nonfunctional relationships can heal.
Thank you!! And yes, luckily people can change and things really can get better. It’s nice when someone chooses to actually make those changes, too!