Interview with Mom

Me and Mom, 1972

 I called Mom this morning and asked if I could interview her in honor of Mother’s Day. She agreed. I told her she could answer in Polish or English, whatever came to her. I’m sure I’ve omitted some Polish accent marks, but I’ve tried to spell everything correctly and stay authentic to her voice. Mom’s words as spoken to me.

 

Do you think you raised your kids like your own mother raised you?

Mmm. Almost. More spoil.

(We laugh.)

Babcia used to say to us Ja was nie zbije, was wzycia jecze beda nabije– I’m not going to beat you, miserable things in life will beat you.

Way to say it Grandma!

If I go back I could ja mysle chowalaby inaczeje– I think I’d raise you differently. I used to think I not that good mother. I don’t know why. I don’t pay too much attention. I so busy. We buy house. Three kids, we have to make the payments. I just go go go. I don’t know how to bring up kids in this era, than in my childhood. Probably not understand my kids like I should. Well, I dunno. I try to be better. I wanna if my kids have life in a difference way.

Babcia used to say, Ty nawet nie wiecz jak woda zgotowac– You don’t even know how to boil water. I understand her better to raise so many kids by herself. She used to adore people who didn’t have children. Oh boy, I think our mother don’t like us. I used to say to myself. Now I understand her better. If I see something I don’t like from Babcia, I never want to put on you because I know how bad it is.

How was your Mother’s Day breakfast at the restaurant this morning? (my oldest brother took her out)

Good. Very good. I had vegetables omelet and kartofle –potatoes. Good thing we go early. When we left there was big line. Big one line! I not exaggerate. Maybe 30 people. I say to Adam, Dziecko taki kolejki w Polce tylko byli za mięsem. Tyla godzin musieli stac. Kazdy stawal rano zeby dostac kawalek mięso. Ludzie prawie nie spali. – Child, these kinds of line in Poland were only for meat. We had to wait many hours in line. Everyone got up early in the morning to get a little piece of meat. People hardly slept.

That puts things into perspective for me.

Ya.

What are 10 things you wished you could cement into your kids’ heads?

1.)Be good in the world

2.) Care about the others

3.) Help for the people who needs some help

4.) I always wish they are playing like some kind of musician. Oh yes, I like music.

5.) I always wish the better life. Bring the gwiazdka– star from the space for them. I live for my children. Honest to God. My kids are everything for me. No matter how older they gonna be. What kind they are. I live for my children. I really do.

6.) Don’t forget where they come from.

Why is that important to you? I can’t explain. If they grow up to be good people to value the life because what you have right now and what I have before is big difference. Big difference.

I used to don’t have any bread, two or three months. Now you have bread every single day. That’s why you have to hold and thanks God what we have these days. I always fight for the better future for you guys. If you get good school, education, more food.

(Mom’s voice cracked at the word food.) So you don’t have to go through what I went through. Even if you close your eyes, you couldn’t know it close. I always thought I was dreaming.

7.) I always want if my kids look good. To dress up. I could never get through to them. They always say I old fashion. Put on a hat.

Looking fashionable while pregnant with her first son.

Looking fashionable while pregnant with her first son.

8.)Zeby nigdy nie uczyli sie klac. What’s that? (laugh) Swearing. Now everything is F’n and F’n. I wanna if my kids never learn it. You ever hear us speak F in our house? No.  But they still learn.

9.) If you make the money, don’t spend the money. Oh ya, Jannett. Ja bylam zawcze savers. – I was always a saver.

10.) Nie mogłem nic przymyslec. –I couldn’t think of anything.

Nothing else?

Oh, I wish someday if I die, that my kids don’t cry. You should say she’s in a better place.

Ma, you’re killing me, you always say that. Don’t say that. Of course, I’m going to cry.

Why? Everyone have to die. Why do you have to be crying and crying. Be reasonable. For everybody sad, no matter. But some people get cuckoo. Be smart with that.

Do you think motherhood is complicated?

Probably it is complicated. If you use your brain correctly, it’s less complicated. I so bad to make decisions. It eat me to death. I want to go further further to do the stuff right. Some people look at stuff, make decision and they are done. Not me.

Do you think you feel differently about motherhood now vs. when you had your first son? (My father was denied a visa from Poland at first and was only reunited with Mom and my oldest brother 2 months and 2 days after his birth.)

Yes, because if you never experienced with the babies, you just scared. Especially with first baby, Daddy wasn’t here yet.

The baby cry, you cry. You don’t know what’s going on. Now, live and learn. If you gotta better life, you feel more secure with everything. If you are new mother, you don’t know much about the baby. You are afraid to go to work and to feed them. That’s not easy. These days people don’t worry about nothing.

One word to describe how it feels to be a mother.

one word? (silence) I dunno. (silence) One word? Yes, one word. Hmm. Good.

Is there anything funny about motherhood?

It is. After the kids start to crawling and smiling, they do stupid stuff. It is happy time. And cuckoo time too. I always in the bad stuff, get something good from it. Do you?

Yes, I do.

What do you wish you asked your mother?

I never ask anything. We used to don’t talk about those stuffs. Babcia just work work work. I never tell to my mother I love her. I regret to this time. Because we don’t use the words I love you. Jak wojna byla (during the war) there was no one to talk to. She all alone. She had six kids. I didn’t have good childhood. Not because she bad mother, she a very good mother, very good. But she had to survive. We could have died from starvation.

Do you want to say anything else?

I wish I could to tell to my kids, someday, if I not gonna be in this world for them to be together. That’s my wish. I am mother every day. Don’t forget. Don’t have to be once a year.

Mom

I love you Mom. Thank you.

 

Mama Matroyshka

My Mom’s birthday is this week. I sent her a card shaped like a Matroyshka, otherwise known as a nesting doll. We had a small one in the house when I was a kid. It smelled faintly of varnish and wood.  It was something to be careful with. Pieces could get lost.

Nothing looks more broken than a Matroyshka without one of her halves. I loved the doll so much, when I went to Poland as a teenager, I bought a bigger one for myself. I always thought of the Matroyshka as a Mama and her babies. They are all connected. The same but different.

I loved opening up the Mama in anticipation of unearthing the tiniest baby, not much larger than the size of a bean. How could something be so small, so delicately painted, a tiny replica of all those other shapes before it? It was both satisfying and frustrating to get to the last one.  Surely it could get even smaller.

With that kind of Mother/daughter connection, it was the perfect card to send. But I came to look at the doll a little differently as I was trying to write a new chapter for my book.

Last week, I opened Word and stared at the blinking cursor. In about three seconds I knew; it was going to be hard to write about Mom. Words belly flopped on the page just as quickly as they sprung from my mind. No, that isn’t right.  Backspace. Backspace. Backspace. I deleted them as quickly as I wrote them.

I had no previous homework nuggets to arrange. I had no perfect scene with tendrils of possibility waving me in. This time, I had to dive into a stark white page and produce new pages.

Of course, I’ve written about my Mom before—many times. But I knew I wanted to dig for something deeper.  In other words, I needed to think of her as a human being and not just my mother. It occurred to me—aside from a spouse, mothers might be one of the most significant people we will have a complex relationship with.  Dead or Alive.  Involved or adrift.  Our connections and conflicts are deep as they might be silent. To understand any of that, I had to stop thinking of how I related to my mother and ask instead, who is my mother independent of me? I had to get to the source.

But what is it exactly that I wanted to say about her? Yes, she’s funny and lovable and yet there is no one I can get into a row with quite like her. When she disapproves of something, it’s like a stink eye hovers above me. Despite it, I accomplish and fail. When I fail, it feels worse. On the flip side, her blessings are a magic swath of miracle light. With it, I accomplish and fail. When I fail, it feels better.

But where does all that love, expectation and disappointment come from?

I gave myself writing prompt: In order to understand my mother you would need to know…..

My mind dove easily into the page and the words started their long striding laps. Easy to see the ripple effect.

I started writing about her growing up in Poland during World War II.  Germany invaded Poland just three weeks shy of her 1st birthday. No Barbie Doll themed party plates for her. No smashing her face into a sheet cake. There weren’t such things. There weren’t such things to even imagine.

She grew up poor in a small gray clapboard house. Sometimes they had money for shoes, sometimes not. When I was young she told me that my grandmother took the kids and hid in the woods when they knew Russian and Polish military factions were raiding houses for food and supplies. She stood in cow pee to warm her freezing feet. I’m pretty sure the first time Mom told me, I was fixated on the grossness of cow pee. With three meals on the table in our duplex house, I rode around on my banana seat bike in circles in the driveway not really understanding the concept of survival. I just wanted to shop at the Gap. Eat at McDonalds. Spray perfume.

I heard a million stories growing up. But hearing about the past from your parent is like hearing some forgotten children’s tale. Other worldly, filled with text book morals and values and filled with ancient methods and machinery. So removed from the life I lived, it’s almost as if it happened to an old facsimile version of my mother. In a way, it did.

My Mom has grown and changed with the times. But while current events keep changing her, there is no denying the past she came from. I wrote about how she liked to save things, how it’s in her blood to help people. That she took care of things in such a way that we didn’t live among the broken.

She taught me to make things last.

The more I unearthed my mother’s character, the more our own connection and discords made sense. Like how I couldn’t tell how much I spent on a pair of Tango shoes.

I called her yesterday and asked, “Did you ever not tell your mom something? Did you ever try to keep secrets? Like, what I’m saying is do you think your mother understood you?”

She laughed and said, “She never understand me.”

“Yeah, how so?”

“The older people could never understand the younger. No. Because they grow up difference than we are. That’s why.”

Babcia mowila,wy terez porwiecie, zepsujecie a jak zgubilismy igla to Mama kręcila za mięso . Your grandmother used to say to me, you kids rip things and break things but if I lost a sewing needle (when I was young), my mother used to “twist at the meat”.

At first I misunderstood my mother, I said what about the meat grinder?

“No. No. No meat grinder. Pinch.” My great-grandmother would twist the skin on top of my grandmother’s hands for losing a sewing needle.

Mom continued: “We used to laugh. Do you think a needle, you could just go buy one? No way! Needles were like Gold.  Co to jest igła dzisiaj? What’s a needle today? Nothing.”

“Do you think you understood her more later?” I asked.

“Oh yes. Just like you. Now you understand me more than before.”

It’s true.

The metaphor of mother and child works pretty well with the Matroyshka.  How we pass on things on to our children, yet still maintain our own sense of self. But after writing about Mom’s life I saw the Matroyshka as a symbol of just my Mom, filled with growing layers that started from a kernel.

 

Top 10 Valuable Translations from Mom

Mom drinking a glass of wine like she means it.

When I was born, I weighed in at 10lbs 11 oz. For those of you spatially challenged that’s two 5-pound bags of sugar with a small grapefruit head. (Thanks for the push out Mom!) I guess if I asked her when the challenge of motherhood began, she could probably say right from the beginning. I wanted to come up with a Top 10 list to honor my Mom and let her know that even though I poke fun at her, I really do heed her advice.

Happy Mother’s Day!

Top 10 Valuable Translations from Mom

 

1. Ironing Clothes/Dressing up

Translation: Care about how you present yourself to the world

2. Buying multiple loaves of bread for the freezer

Translation: Be prepared for company or World War III. Either way, it’s good.

3. Czyś ty zwariowałas? Have you gone crazy?

Translation:I wouldn’t do that if I were you. Your idea is definitely doomed.

4. Buying multiple shampoo bottles, soap and toilet paper

Translation: You never have to experience running out of anything if you think ahead.

5. Shopping at thrift stores, hand-me-downs

Translation: Spend your money on the right things and send your daughter to college without loans

6. Running into the basement and dancing like a crazy person when my brothers band practiced The Beatles, “Twist and Shout”

Translation: You’re never too old to dance (especially in your own basement.)

7. “No money, no funny.”

Translation: No money, no funny.

8. The urge to cover things in plastic.

Translation: Take care of your things.

9. Owning vacuum cleaners of every shape and size.

Translation: Life gets messy in hard to reach areas. Have ways to clean it up.

10. Fighting with me over what’s a good or bad decision.

Translation: I love you.

Mom, Advice Columnist?

I have an idea. Well, my friend Deb’s idea really. Last week she called me and said, “You should have your mother do an advice column on your blog.” I laughed.

“I’m serious. It would be so funny because she’d start off all her answers with ‘What are you crazy?”

We laughed even harder.

Hmmm…maybe my readers would send in their dilemmas. Who couldn’t use a wise Polish woman’s sensibilities to help with those hard to navigate conundrums? Especially when it’s not your own mother and there would be no inherent conflict, i.e.: I told you so.

On second thought….

Actually, what my Mom will do is say nothing- which is the worst kind of I told you so. It’s like ’ I told you so’ to the max! To the 10th power. It’s so deep an ‘I told you so.’ Her silence reverberates like a gong. She says nothing and it’s all I need to know. It’s good to have this. So I know when I’ve royally veered off track.

Not only is my Mom fortified with post-war Poland sensibilities, but with her love for Dr. Oz, Oprah, 48 Hour Mystery, and Pass Book Savings Accounts, she’s bound to hand out some wisdom nuggets.

And you may even act on them.

Find me on Facebook and message me. I promise to keep your question confidential. Perhaps from time to time I could feature one in my post.

I could call her column:

Pani Matusiak’s Wszystko w Porządku — Mrs. Matusiak’s Everything in Order
Or
Ask Jannett’s Mom
….because let her worry about someone else

I joke. But not really. My mom has doled out good advice. Seriously. The most level headed woman I know. Conservative? Yes. Low on drama and tears? Yes. Ability to plow through heartache? High.

Did I really need an elaborately carved wooden Indonesian headboard (slightly damaged) for $500 at Pier One Imports when I first moved to Denver?

I walked out of the store reluctantly and called my mom in the parking lot. I wanted to tell her about the unbelievable deal I just found marked down from $1,200. (She can’t resist a good deal), but my deep subconscious knew why I was calling her.

If you ever want to kill an impulse, call my home number. Ask for Halina. You’ll end up driving home and investing 2% more into your 401K plan. Trust me your bank account will thank you.

Later I decided I didn’t even like the headboard design that much. It would have been an expensive mistake. I’m so glad I didn’t buy it.

I take care of most things that I buy. So that sucker would have stayed in my life forever.

Here’s the thing though, I would have bought it if I loved it to death. I would have bought it if I weren’t newly settling into a place. While my fantasy impulse was saying ‘BUY! BUY! BUY! This is so awesome.’ The voice of reason was saying, ‘Don’t do it, dummy!’

I’m glad the voice of reason is louder than my impulse voice; most of the time anyway.

This is an interesting thing I keep coming back to with my parents’ values. They are instilled in me and yet I somehow find myself resisting them. Do I really need x thing? If so, why? Or why not?

What I find myself so deeply resistant to are these phrases: ….save money for later…in the future…when you retire…someday…when you….if you…

I know you understand me when I say, haven’t we all seen it all go wrong?

The vacation never taken, the retirement never enjoyed, the suffering that comes too soon and in spades to ones we never expected.

The end, it just comes too quick; the future, unpredictable.

I don’t advocate for reckless behavior, because it’s good to strive for balance day to day. But what is that balance?

Some years ago, I said to my Mom, “I could get hit by a bus tomorrow!” My go-to response.
She responded, “Don’t say that.”

I planned and went on a trip to Paris on my own.

My choices have to make some kind of sense. I want to enjoy the way I move through the world. Even if at times it is confusing to know what is right for right now and what will be right for me in the future.

But I think it comes down to this one single question: with anything I do and with anyone I engage with—

Does this enrich my life?

What does my Mom think of this philosophy when she has bank rolled me in the past?

Mom and Ciocia Play Matchmaker

This was the number card I was given at brunch yesterday while I was waiting for a table.

 

I was talking to my Mom on the phone a few months back when Ciocia asks to talk to me. The conversation played out like this:

“Czy słyszałeś od kogoś?” Did you hear from anyone? Ciocia asks.

This is not an unusual question. I am the one in the family who keeps in touch with my cousins in Poland via internet, often retelling bits of family news that is passed on through email, Facebook or Skype.

“Nope.” I say.

I can’t quite tell if the silence on the phone is from Ciocia not hearing me (she’s hard of hearing) or whether she got distracted and is watching something on Home Shopping Club.

“No email?” she says.

“Why, are you expecting to hear from someone?” I ask

I could hear my mother in the background. Her voice drops into alpha Polish octaves and mutters things like, “Oh. Uhh. Uhh. You just had to, didn’t you! Uhh. You had to. I told you not to say anything. I told you. Now you’ve done it. You didn’t have to tell her.”
I picture her motoring around the kitchen in a state of contained fuming.

Co? Co!” -What? What! hisses back Ciocia.

Now they’re bickering.

Watching my mom and my aunt fight is like watching two alley cats claiming the same ground. When one of them walks out of the room, the other will start up the argument an hour later, even though an icy silence has created a crevasse between them.

One last claw swipe into the air, just to let the other know they have not been defeated.

I’ve never seen better fighters with so few words and no profanity. They make can make a common word a searing insult. As I’m listening to them bicker, the alarms turn on in my head.

Red alert. Red alert.

“Cioooooocia, who did you give my email to?”

“No one.”

Bickering continues.

“Ciocia.”

“Nice boy from church.”

Do you hear the slap on my forehead?

She copied my email from the info card I left for my parents before I moved.

Daj mi. Daj mi.” Give me. Give me, says my mom as she grabs the phone from her.

“You gave my email to some guy at CHURCH?”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“What’s wrong with it? There are so many things wrong with this.”

“He comes to church every week. He dresses nice. Very polite. Nice guy. I can tell. Good person.”

Do you hear more forehead slapping?

“MOM!!”

My mother’s mouth moves away from the receiver. She is growling at Ciocia again telling her- I hope you’re happy now. My mom hoped for a surprise attack.

I ask my mom to start from the beginning so that I can strategize damage control.

My aunt ran into the ‘nice guy from church’ at Market Basket and said, “Hi. I no see you in church today.”

“I went yesterday.”

“Oh yeah” said Ciocia, “You single? I have niece for you.”

Leave it to Ciocia to get right to the point.

What the stunned nice guy from church was thinking when my Polish 85 year old aunt and mother walked up to him in a grocery store, is both fun and horrifying to speculate. Thankfully, he never wrote so we were both spared the awkward.

My Mom and Ciocia mean well. They really do. How can I be mad at Ciocia for saying “you single? I have niece for you.”

If she weren’t so damn funny, I’d be mad at them for real.

It makes me wonder about something I hear my mom say to me once in a while, “I know you, better than you know yourself.”

When I see my friends watching their young toddlers grow, I think to myself how that might be possible. They know their child’s temperament, strengths and weaknesses. Reactions can be anticipated. Challenges prophesized. I told you so, said or held back in an effort to allow their kids to learn lessons. Each of these things folds into itself in a careful geological layer.

My Mom and Ciocia have the advantage of watching me become myself. So could they in fact, actually choose someone right for me? I mean maybe a better question to ask is, could they do worse than me? Their ears prick up at the first sniff of something gone off. They wouldn’t stick around to ask questions and contemplate why.

Those are instincts I have learned the hard way.

I have never been pressured by them to get married nor have children, so for them to concoct a Mission Impossible plan makes me wonder.

What if they can they see something I can’t?

Five Minute Intervals of Courage Part 2

I came home from my double black diamond experience to find 80 degree weather in Denver. It’s surreal to go from snowy mountains to hot and dry in the city in just an hour and fifteen minutes. My neighbors buzzed by on their moped and looked utterly baffled by my snow pants and ski jacket. “Just got back from skiing.” I managed to blurt out, hoping I didn’t appear as Twilight Zone as I felt. My second beer at high altitude was still in fuzzy effect. I could already tell that my human luge experience was going to reveal its toll in full force by morning. Everything was slow motion and sunny.

When I turned on my computer to check in with the world, I found a rejection letter from a literary magazine. Before I could even sigh or feel a ping or a ting in my confidence. I filed it in my “No Vacancy” folder. That was it. No huffing or puffing. It was like I was sorting mail. I don’t know if it’s because I pushed my limits and careened down a mountain earlier or because I know the slim statistics of getting published, but it didn’t feel bad to hear, no.

I think I realized that giving myself credit for taking a risk far outweighs the result. Better to have had a David Lee Roth tumble down the mountain experience than stay with the familiar view on an intermediate trail. Better to file a No Vacancy letter than it is to keep pages dormant on a hard drive.

The intermediate trail is a fine place. One that I’m sure I’ll continue to enjoy but I know risks drive me toward progress. No guts, no glory.

“Hi Mom, guess what?”

By the tone of my voice she already knows that I am trying to convince her that something was a good idea.

“What?”

“I skied down a double black diamond trail.”

“I don’t know what this is.”

“It’s the hardest trail. I was at the top of the mountain. 12,313 feet!”

Szukasz guza!” You’re looking for a goose!

“I love that phrase.”

A ty na dupie zechalas.” And you road down on your ass.

“Yup.”

My mom, she knows me so well.

Dobrze ze portki nie zgubilas.” It’s good that you didn’t lose your pants.

And I didn’t lose my pants, but I held onto my life by the seat of them.

Innocence Revisited

 

When do you grow up according to your parents? Maybe never.  When I go home to visit, I find I’m 16 again, even though I’m approaching 40.  High school revisited.

But this now, what was then?

The start of maturity can be awkward.

In high school all the girls I knew shopped at Victoria’s Secrets.  Buying expensive underwear was like announcing you were President of your own fan club.  And in high school, you know how important that is…My mother didn’t quite understand the lure of paying 3 times the amount for a pair of cotton underwear with the store name written around and around on the elastic waistband.

“But Mom,” I argued, “It’s a NAME BRAND.”

“Who cares?” she replied, “Who’s going to be looking at your Gloria’s Secret?”

“VICTORIA’S!”

“Oh. Victoria’s”

That winter I came home with a life-size Christmas stocking that my boyfriend filled with every imaginable present I could want. This was the stocking of all stockings!   It included one of my most favorite gifts ever given to me- a pair of Reebok sneakers.  My favorite, because he knew I wanted a pair. My favorite, because he got my size right without asking. What can I say about these practical sneakers except that I felt loved. I re-opened every goodie box to show my mom his generosity.

In my haste and excitement, I opened the Victoria Secret’s box too. “And he got me this…” I said, pulling out the see-through peach lace bodysuit.

 I held it up and I looked at my mother through it.

Me looking at my mother. My mother looking at me.

Both of us just blinking.

Operation Scare the Woodchuck

A refresher for those of you just tuning in: Ciocia means Auntie in Polish. It’s pronounced Chuh-Chuh. My sister-in-law, in the family for 18 years, was so dreadfully afraid she was mispronouncing it like Spanish swear word that she refrained from using it. She just mastered it a few years ago. So don’t worry, you still have time to practice.

 

This is the view outside the kitchen table window where my parents and Ciocia Felicia (she lives with them by the way) enjoy the backyard view. The window also serves as an observation tower from which they strategically plot against two enemies: the squirrels and the woodchucks.

My family members are live and let live people but when the squirrels started eating the bird seed in the winter and the woodchucks decimated Ciocia’s tomato plants in the summer, lines were drawn. Mom and Ciocia began their daily surveillance. This involved mid-sweep pauses as they cleaned the kitchen to watch for movement outside the window. If they had access to infrared goggles, there would have been a night shift.

not their actual woodchuck

During the day, Mom kept one eye out over the sink window while she washed dishes. If she noticed a woodchuck she’d plunk the dish down and start muttering things that shouldn’t be repeated. Felicia would already be slipping on her flip flops to run outside. I think she was hoping for some hand to hand combat to settle this once and for all. After all, they ate all her tomatoes that year.

When Mom and Ciocia realized that the woodchucks had an acute sense of hearing, they started banging on the windows. It saved them from running outside each time they appeared. That got old pretty fast. When the banging stopped scaring the woodchucks off, Mom and Ciocia started making their own sounds to make things louder.

To an outsider, it may have looked like my mom and Ciocia were trying to be let out of their own house.

The woodchucks started multiplying. Started getting bolder. One blatantly sunned itself on the stone wall. It was all my mom could take.
They started going back outside to scare them.

And then…

My mom started barking.

Let me just say, that pretending to bark in Polish sounds different than in English. If you don’t believe me make your bark sound right now and then tap the next foreign person you meet and ask them to bark for you. I’m just saying. It is its own translation. My mother’s sounds something like a cross between a lonely wolf and someone walking on hot coals.

Her barking had no effect on our pudgy brown woodchucks at first. So she persisted barking in the back yard louder and louder. Until the next door neighbor who had been sitting on his back deck, stood up and looked over the tall hedge separating the yard and said,
“Everything okay Halina?”

My mother laughed so hard when she told us, she moved herself into a coughing fit.

“Oh my god Mom, did you tell him why you were out there?” I asked, wondering if I should start wearing a hat and dark sunglasses when I drove onto their street.

“I tell him. We havin’ good laugh.”

The barking stopped because the have-a-heart-traps came in…and eventually foxes.

When winter came and the squirrels moved in on the bird feeder, that’s when Brigadier General Ciocia Felicia really started proving her mettle.
To be Continued…

“Ma, sit down!”

If it wasn't so late I would photoshop my mother and Ciocia Felicia's faces over Laurel and Hardy.

My mother would coal mine if you gave her a pickaxe. Actually, she owns a pickaxe. Probably, the only thing stopping her from coal mining is not having an elevator shaft to bring her a mile below the kitchen floor. My mom is not afraid of hard work and she has the hands to show for it.

In my imaginary mineshaft, I picture her doing a little vacuuming and bringing the miners some ham sandwiches before she picks a good spot in the solid earth and chips away. Black lung, be damned.

I have seen her in action with the pickaxe. Not coal mining, but digging up a gigantic tree root and stump in the backyard with Ciocia Felicia. Did I mention that they both have heart conditions and at the time were in their 60s and 70’s respectively? Snow shoveling is also high on their list of fun and relaxing activities. There is particular tell all excitement in the house afterward if the snow was wet and heavy. Even when my brother hired a snowplow to come and take care of the driveway, my mother grew impatient waiting one morning and shoveled anyway.

I’m always trying to get my mom to relax.

“Do you always have to work so hard?” I ask.
“Yes.” She nods.

We have tried to pamper her, usually against her will. Like the time we brought her in for a French manicure for my brother’s wedding: our great idea.

“How people work like this?” she said, tapping the acrylic white tips of her fingers on the counter. She grabbed things like she didn’t have opposable thumbs. So much for future manicures for Christmas.

“Ma, you need to relax.” I say.
“Relax?” she repeats, as if I just spoke in Mandarin.
“I take nap.”
“A NAP! You need a vacation. A massage. Go out to a restaurant!” I plead.
“I am not that kind of people.” She replies.

And I realize I am that kind of people. Stress? Rewards. Working hard? Rewards. Things go my way? Rewards. Things go badly? Rewards. This seems like a fine way to live if you ask me. After all, life can be long and more so, too short.

Does Mother Know Best?

My mother is the kind of person who equates walking in parking lots and driving on highways at night with Russian roulette. Every once in a while she gets a superstitious sense that I am doing one or both. I picture her, one hand pressed against her face in worry as she walks by the Pope’s picture in the kitchen. The dried palm leaves jet out from behind the lip of the frame almost touching the phone. She looks at the piece of paper on the fridge where I wrote my cell phone number, squints and punches the buttons on the phone like she’s annoyed at negotiating and calls me.

“Where you are?”

“I’m just leaving the parking lot at Target.”

“Why you shopping late! Do you hear about the woman?”

“No Ma. What woman?”

“Why you no watch the news?”

“Ma, have you been watching 48Hours again? I’m fine.”

She gets all wound up watching murder mystery shows. So while I try to keep her anxiety at bay, I take care to look behind my seat. Occasionally I pause and take into account my mother’s I-told-you-so-track-record. I have put my money down on the wrong horse before. It creeps into my mind that she’s been right about other things in my life more than I can count. Which leads me to sometimes wonder how much to pay attention to my mother’s advice?

Things Mom was right about:

1.) My savings account

2.) Losing weight after 30

3.) clothes with dry clean only tags should be avoided

4.) It’s not the worst thing that could happen

5.) a meal without bread is not a meal

Things Mom was wrong about:

1.) I didn’t die in the Peace Corps.

2.) (Insert sound of wind and tumbleweed here.)

She’s always saying I should be conscious of the czarna godzina (the black hour). And I am which is why money flies easier out of my hands than hers and why traveling to a far off place doesn’t scare me like it does her. Maybe sometimes it’s good to play it safer. All of her hard work and values afford me the comforts and choices that my parents never had. Old world values and new world opportunities wrap around each other and propel the next generation forward, stronger and better off, but with conflict in tow.