Mom and I, November 1981
It's been widely accepted among our two families that we've been too broke to buy decent birthday/Christmas/random holiday presents for everyone while Will is finishing up school. Fortunately, everyone is very understanding, and I know that no one actually expects gifts from us during this financially challenging time in our lives. However, I still like to do SOME things, no matter how small, to let our parents and siblings know that we're always thinking of them. I had this Mother's Day post in mind, and believe it or not, I actually meant to write it on Mother's Day. Will's birthday happened to fall on Mother's Day this year, we had a newborn, etc. I could come up with a lot of excuses if I wanted to, but bottom line, this blog post didn't happen on Mother's Day. Now that I have children of my own, I've spent a lot of time thinking about how I want to raise them, what sort of valuable advice did my own mother give me, what I learned over the years, etc. I decided to go all the way back to my childhood and recall the most important life lessons my mom taught me, beginning with a trip to the video store (remember those????) when I was three.
Mom, this one's for you. :)
Life Lesson #1: As a Parent, You Must Shield Your Child From Inappropriate Material. At All Costs.
It was a sunny, blissful spring (for Wisconsin, anyway) day in 1985. I was three, my mom was pregnant with my brother, and I'm sure she wanted nothing more than to get a few hours of uninterrupted nap time and get off her aching feet. Unfortunately, she had three-year old me to tend to. So my mom did what any semi-rational pregnant woman would do. She took me to the video store in our village, and let me pick out my favorite My Little Pony tape to rent. That should buy her at least an hour and a half of peace, right? So we're up at the counter checking out the video, and I noticed a man going into a room that was sectioned off from the main part of the store with a curtain. I couldn't read at the time, but I asked my mom what the sign said. She replied, "It says 'Adults Only.'" Naturally, I asked her why I couldn't go in there. Crap. My mom was totally put on the spot in the video store in the middle of the afternoon, in front of the cashier and other customers. Now, no parent in the world wants to have the sex talk with a) a child who is barely out of diapers, and b) in front of strangers, but I have to give my mom credit; she took the lie to a level I didn't even think possible. My mom told me-yes, in front of everyone else-that the movies behind that curtain were very, very bad movies. Those movies showed REAL people being tortured and killed. Well, that certainly shut me up. I was horrified. (Pretty sure everyone else was, too. I'll never forget the wide-eyed look the cashier gave my mom). I never brought it up again.
That is, until I was in middle school. (Side note-this will also give you an idea of how gullible I used to be). About ten years later, I was at that same video store with two of my girlfriends. One of them made a crack about the movies behind the curtain, and I burst out with, "How can you joke about that??? There's nothing funny about people being tortured and killed! Why would anyone want to watch that??" There was a moment of silence, and my friends looked at me and said, "uhhh, Marisa..." Yep. To say I was humiliated is an understatement of epic proportions.
Life Lesson #2: Childhood Nutrition Is Very Important.
Fast forward a few years. My mom and I were back in the village, only this time my younger brother was in tow and we were at the hardware store instead of the video store. We were in the checkout line, and I had a complete grasp of the art of whining for candy whenever we stood in line. I saw a display of gummi worms, and I begged my mom for a package. Her response: "Well, I'll buy those for you if you want, but I don't think you want to eat them. You know, they're made with REAL worms." Again, you must remember that I was a very gullible child. I'm embarrassed to report that it worked. I never asked for gummi worms again.
Life Lesson #3: You Don't Always Have to "Love Thy Neighbor"
The year is 1992. I was almost eleven, and it was the week before Halloween. I was out trick-or-treating with my brother and my two best friends, with our mothers following us around the neighborhood. I've written before about the bizarre schedule our village had for trick-or-treating, and we were nearing the hour of 4:00 in the afternoon. Otherwise known as "Trick-Or-Treating is Over Until Next Year." That being said, very few people observed this rule. No one wanted a bunch of leftover candy sitting around the house, and no one really had the heart to turn away a bunch of cute kids in Halloween costumes. Well, one woman did. It was 4:05, and all four of us ran up to a house, rang the doorbell, and greeted the woman who answered the door with great big smiles and a chorus of "trick or treat!!" Clearly, she was immune to the charms of elementary school kids, because she snidely informed us that trick-or-treating ended five minutes earlier, and we were SOL. Dejected, we went back to our parents and informed them that trick-or-treating was over, and that woman refused to give us candy.
Mom: "You mean she actually said that? She wouldn't give you a piece of candy because trick-or-treating technically ended five minutes ago?"
Me: "Yes." *sad face*
Mom: "What a bitch."
Life Lesson #4: We Go Above and Beyond the Call of Duty For Our Children
I was sixteen, and I was dating a guy who was a year older, which meant I got to go to prom as a sophomore! How cool was that? Here was the catch-I HAD to have a red dress. No other color would do. Red had been my favorite color ever since I could talk, and I was determined to stand out at the prom. Unfortunately, it was 1998, and red prom dresses weren't exactly plentiful. My mom and I scoured every department and special occasion store we could find, but the only red dresses I could find consisted of that ugly fire engine red color and that thick, unattractive, satin-y material. Or the dresses made me look like I was interviewing for my very own window in Amsterdam's Red Light District. I was becoming very disappointed, but my mom had one more trick up her sleeve. She took me to a specialty boutique in the rich-people town about forty minutes away (I would like to add that we did not live in, or normally shop in rich people town), and we found the perfect red dress there. It was beautiful. The style was flattering and appropriate for a high school student, the color was the exact shade that I wanted, and it fit me perfectly. My mom was almost in tears when I came out of the dressing room. The only problem? It was costly. MUCH more than we ever considered spending on a high school dance. We ended up leaving that day without the dress, but my mom went back a week later and bought it. I was overjoyed, and SO grateful. I remember my mom gave me the speech about how sometimes you go out of your way to do "extra" things for your kids, I would do the same for my own children one day, etc. What I really remember about this speech was, "we're just going to keep the price a secret from your dad. He doesn't need to know...if he asks, and I doubt he will, just tell him we finally found the dress you were looking for at the mall. Don't worry, I'll make it work!"
Seven years later, my mom used the same tactic when helping me purchase my wedding dress. Only then, her response was more along the lines of "Do me a solid and don't tell Dad we bought a wedding dress today, okay? In fact, he doesn't even need to know we went shopping. If he asks, you and I went to Chicago to have a girls lunch." No problem, Mom. I got your back.
Life Lesson #5: Faith is Important.
Many of you may not know I'm a Catholic convert. I grew up attending the United Church of Christ, and my parents broke away from the church when I was fifteen. I wasn't particularly broken up about it, because it never felt...right to me. The service didn't have any particular meaning to me, I was disenchanted with the two pastors, and I remember feeling very relieved when my parents decided to stop attending. My mom and I church-shopped for a while, but it wasn't until the summer after my junior year in high school I really found what I was looking for, and I found it in the Catholic church. My good friend Katie and I had been accepted to the summer music program at Northwestern University, and it was a very intense five weeks. We were up at dawn (literally) practicing, we had small ensemble rehearsals, orchestra rehearsals, one-on-one lessons with members of the Chicago Symphony, not to mention music theory and history classes. Katie came from a devout Catholic family, and I decided to join her for church on Sundays. I LOVED the mass. I thought it was so beautiful, I loved the prayers, and I couldn't wait to learn more about the history of the church and its' practices. I made the decision that summer to convert, but I was terrified to tell my parents. Looking back, I'm not sure what I was afraid of. My dad had been raised in a strict 1950's Irish Catholic household, and he stopped attending weekly mass when he was in college. I called my parents one night, and started crying over the phone as I confessed that I found my church, I wanted to be Catholic, and how did they feel about it? To their credit, my parents were 100% okay with it. My mom said I could attend whatever church I wanted, and she and my dad would support me. I was so relieved when I hung up the phone that night, and I promised my mom I would call her back the next day to talk a little more.
When I called my mom the next day, as I expected she had a lot of questions. I'll never forget the first one, though.
Mom: "Marisa, I just have know...you don't want to be a nun, do you?"
Me: *puzzled silence* "No Mom, I don't want to be a nun. I have a lot of respect for those who choose the religious life, but I eventually want to get married and have a family."
Mom: "That's a relief. I thought you were going to tell me you wanted to be a nun, and I was trying to figure out how to keep myself from bursting into hysterical laughter. There's no way you could ever wear the same thing every day for the rest of your life."
Me: *again, silence* "Yeah you're right, I suppose. I'm just glad you're okay with my decision."
Mom: "Honey, I would love you no matter what. I wouldn't care if you told me you wanted to be a Hari Krisna."
Me: "Like I would EVER wear orange."
Life Lesson #6: Don't Sweat the Small Stuff
The summer after my freshman year of college, I was really in a bad place. I had just gotten out of a very destructive relationship, and my self-esteem was completely shot. So I did the most logical thing I could think of at the time. I called my best friend and asked her if she wanted to accompany me to the East side of Milwaukee so I could get my belly button pierced. She agreed, and ever-so-kindly drove me to a piercing/tattoo parlor in the city where I let a man with a face tattoo stick a needle in my stomach. Afterward, we went out to dinner, and I spent the next two hours trying to figure out a way to sneak past my mom when I returned home that night. (My mom might not be Catholic, but I swear she has the nose of a Catholic. She always knew when I was up to something). That piercing HURT, and I was pretty sure I was going to have to come clean. Oh, did I mention that the following day I was scheduled to return to college to begin my sophomore year? Also known as "I'll be living on the fourth floor of a building built in 1901, so it doesn't have an elevator. I'll need you and Dad to help me carry all my stuff up four flights of stairs." I get home, and start pacing around the family room. My mom asked me what was wrong, and I bravely faced the music.
Me: "So, I did something tonight that you're not going to approve of. But the most important thing is that I'm okay."
Mom: "Oh my God! Did you spend the evening drunk and naked in a hot tub with a bunch of men?"
Me: "WHAT???!!!!" (To this day, I have absolutely no idea where she came up with that scenario).
Mom: "Well, what did you do?"
Me: "I'm really glad you mentioned the hot tub thing, because what I actually did is laughable in comparison." *pulls shirt up and shows Mom my newly-pierced belly button*
Mom: "OH MY GOD! What did you do to yourself? What is that thing? It's disgusting!! You've completely ruined your body!!!" and so on.
If you think that was bad, remind me to tell you about the time she found out I got a tattoo.
Happy Belated Mother's Day to a great mom, who if nothing else knows the importance of a good girly martini. :) I love you!