I have just a few minutes here before I start my new nightly routine: slathering the left side of my ribcage with caster oil, throwing on an old t-shirt, then wrapping myself in a heating blanket. You know, a normal 82 year old’s bedtime routine. It’s to help detox my liver and get my poor, exhausted adrenal glands functioning again. I have to have a sense of humor about this because otherwise, my life is one long list of bizarre maladies and even more bizarre remedies. More on this later.
The real reason to post tonight is to share a little bit of the conversation I recently had with my mom. It was inspired by my friend Layla, who is pregnant with her second child. We were having tea at a local coffeehouse and we were talking about kids and where they get their funny little character traits from (this, as her first kid, a three year old, gets bored with our talking and is out on the sidewalk outside the coffeehouse in about 5.2 seconds because, as she puts it, she is “ready to go home now”). We got to talking about children being mini versions of their parents, and suddenly Layla asked me what I was like as a child. And I realized I had absolutely no idea.
So I decided to call my mom a few days later and ask her. Now, my mom is a phenomenal storyteller. My grandfather, her father, was too. But my mom hasn’t spent much time rehashing the past for us recently. These days, she’s busy trying to make ends meet, trying to stay on top of my brother’s medical bills (he lives at home, and if you think my health problems are never-ending…). When you get her talking, my mom weaves a great tale. And she cracks herself up in the process. Guess that tends to happen when you have four highly resourceful, highly energetic kids whose idea of a good time is deconstructing household furniture).
So this is what I found out about myself (mom’s words): I was a very forward child, always curious, always asking questions. I was always very self assured, very pragmatic. My mom remembers once, when I was about 6 years old or so, waking up from a nap to find me on the kitchen counter measuring out my pink bubble gum flavored Amoxicillin into a spoon. When she asked what in the hell I was doing, I calmly responded that it was 3 pm, mom, and it was time for my medicine. Okay, so I don’t know the saddest part about all that: the fact that I had to regularly ingest Amoxicillin for chronic ear infections, or the fact that I had an internal clock that knew when to take it before I had actually learned to tell time. Geezus. Okay, how about a happier story, mom?
Well, there was that time I taught myself how to tie my own shoes. My mom showed me the “bunny ears” method, but I guess this method struck me as too juvenile or complicated or something because I told my mom, effectively, to back off because I wanted to do it myself. I remember this, too. I remember fumbling with those laces for what seemed like days, and the next thing I know, the knot magically came together and I declared, “I DID IT! I TIED MY OWN SHOES” to everyone in the house. Mom didn’t mention anything about my being a boaster…
There was also the time my mom caught me with a steak knife in one hand and an apple in the other. Again, the question about what in the hell I was doing, and again the very calm, matter of fact answer. “I’m peeling an apple, mom”. Oh, did I mention I was four years old at the time? Apparently, I had a lot of confidence in my motor skills back then.
It was really touching to learn all this about myself. And even more touching to hear that my mom’s recall was so sharp and so specific. She’s got four kids and she’s often mixed up details about our lives, but, I felt like, in this moment over the phone, she was channelling her younger self, seeing everything as it was those thirty two years ago.
My mom also revealed that she suffered some pretty severe post-partum depression after she had me. I asked her what she did to help herself. “Nothing”, she replied. “The doctors didn’t take you seriously back in those days. So, there was nothing I could do. When you were awake, you kept me busy, and that’s how I kept my mind off it. The second you were asleep and I had five minutes to myself, I started to spiral downward”.
I’d had some ideas about my dexterity with kitchen instruments, but I never knew this about my childhood. My mom spent the first months of my life caught between the boundless love she had for me, her new baby, and the all-consuming depression brought on by the change in hormones in her body.
I thought about this for hours after I hung up the phone. How alone she must have felt, cooped up in the house with just her kid and her brain telling her that it would be better if she just crawled under a rock and died.
I have a new respect for her, and all mothers who battle with post-partum depression. I hope she knows that all her struggles were worth it, that I appreciate the life she gave me, no matter how banged up and bruised that life got later on down the road.
Thanks, mom. You did okay. And you should see what I can do with a paring knife and a piece of fruit these days.