The Mystery Of Motherhood

I have found a way to reach out to my deceased mother. It’s amazing. I feel like I’m actually with her. Sometimes I think I can even smell my mom’s Jean Patuou Joy perfume. No, I’m not spending time with a psychic, an Ouija board or any other kind of cosmic intervention. My journey to the great beyond is courtesy of the Hallmark Movie and Mysteries channel.

Don’t scoff, don’t shake your head in disbelief and don’t discount the power of Murder She Wrote and Columbo marathons to make me feel like I’m back home in Texas (circa late 70’s early 80’s) with the hum of the cranked AC almost as loud as the TV and my mom and I sipping ice tea with mint from the garden as we try to outwit TV’s master detectives.

My mother loved a good “who done it.”  She devoured mystery novels like I eat a chocolate fudge Bundt cake – in one sitting. My first chapter books were the Encyclopedia Brown – Boy Detective series. I still remember how proud she was of me when I solved The Case of the Missing Civil War Sword. After Encyclopedia Brown I graduated to Agatha Christie and my life was forever changed.

I was a teen with the hots for Hercule Poirot – Christie’s master detective. Poirot wasn’t exactly the stuff of a girl’s dreams. The character was a middle-aged, mustached, “egg shaped detective” from Belgium. Yet, I was smitten.

I’m not exaggerating while other girls my age were obsessed with the Partridge Family’s David Cassidy I was quoting Poirot.

It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within–not without.”

Is it any wonder my brother came to this close to being forced to be my prom date? I think not.

I still have every Agatha Christie book I ever read, but for some reason re-reading them doesn’t bring my mom back to me like settling into the Hallmark Movie and Mystery channel. I think it’s because watching those shows was a shared experience and my mother always, like within the first ten minutes, had figured who had done it and how they did it. It was impressive and my day, no my month, was made if I happened to blurt out before she did who the killer was.

Her detective chops also made her a mom who was hard to get anything over on. My brother called her a “human polygraph” You didn’t attempt to fib, white lie, hard core fabricate or spin a yarn of falsehoods. She knew in a nano second if you were “spouting untruths.”  It was a 100 percent wasted effort to do anything but be straight up with her.

One day she shared her secret to divining dishonesty. I was on the edge of our living room Scalamandre upholstered love seat all ears and ready for the truth bomb of my lifetime. Her reveal was, well, rather disappointing in it’s simplicity. My mother said, “to find the truth you have to learn to be quiet and listen.”

I gave her a look that said, “Ugh, that’s all you got.” She took one look at my disappointed face and gave me a “tsk, tsk.”

I never would have imagined those dozen words of maternal wisdom would have remained on an audio loop in my brain for the past 30 plus years and that they would have served me so well.

That’s the enduring power of motherhood. Your mom never really leaves you. I still feel like my mother is with me. Still gently prodding me to be better and even to this day I hear her telling me to sit up straight or in her words, “Hand to God child, you’re one slump away from getting a dowagers hump.”

And on those days when I really, really miss her I turn on Columbo and suddenly all is right with the world.

 

Ode to My Mother Who Kicked Ass

Parenting gurus like to share the theory that by the time a child reaches the age of 10 mothers lose their place as the primary influencer in their kids’ lives. I was always skeptical of this belief and felt that these so called experts simply enjoyed torturing parents by using this supposition as a sort of scared straight program for hovering moms.

Now, I can tell you that, without a doubt, that the often-repeated parenting claim is not true. Your mother’s influence never ever goes away or loses its impact. I know this because my funny, wise, beautiful and hard-working mother, Gwen Claypool, recently passed away.

I was given the honor of writing her eulogy, which was, I think, a brave choice for my mom to make. She had to have known I would deliver an untraditional tribute.

For sure, some older ladies got a little ticked off when I celebrated my mom’s talent for seriously kicking butt. She was a force to be reckoned with how could I not celebrate that? The fact that she had, during her life, kicked the fannies of some of the ladies present at her service, well sorry (but you know, not really).

The act of writing my mother’s eulogy, of putting on paper everything she had done, and what she meant to me crystallized the fact that what you learn from your mom is steeped into the deepest parts of your brain and soul.

I know my love of reading comes directly from my mother. We would go the library with two laundry hampers, fill them full of books, and spend days just wallowing in the written word.

My mother, descended from Puritans, also valued a work ethic. There was never an excuse to not honor your commitments. Whenever I want to get out of doing something I see her face and it’s giving me the look that says, “I’m disappointed you are even wasting time entertaining this thought.”

She was smart as they come and had no time for “intelligent people doing ignorant things.” This lead to her having zero tolerance for stupidity in any form and if you were being stupid she’d let you know it even if you were a stranger. Of course, being from the South she would put it in such a way that you didn’t really know you were getting the stern scold.

Not being from the South, yet watching my mother’s campaign against idiots, I took up her gauntlet and have attempted to continue this crusade. The problem is I can’t do it with the grace she did. I’ve tried, but I just don’t have her innate charm. (Although, I was sent to charm school, but that’s a story for another day.)

One of the biggest gifts my mom bequeathed me was the freedom to be myself. She was a nonconformist and “felt tremendous sadness” for the herd. This even translated to clothing choices.

When I was a teenager it was the preppy era of fashion. Everyone was wearing $40 Ralph Lauren Polo shirts which back in the early 80’s was pretty pricey. My mother refused to let me buy any Polo garments (even if I was going to use my own money). Her response to my whining was “Why don’t I just let you wear a sandwich board that reads ‘My mother failed because I think a horse on a shirt is important.’”

To this day I can’t buy name brands. Northface, Patagonia, Uggs – never going to happen.

Another wonderful thing about my mom was that she was funny and slyly sarcastic. Someone the other day asked me where I got my signature eye roll. I replied my mother. He laughed and said, “You owe her. It’s a great eye roll.”

She also knew how to hold a grudge and in fact, considered it a character flaw if you didn’t have the “moral fiber to archive dishonesty.” Granted being Southern the grudge was concealed, kind of like pecans in a 10 layered pea salad, but, trust me, it was there.

Sometimes she was very serious in her archival pursuits other times she was joyously silly. For example, she had an encyclopedic memory of who gave me what for a wedding present. And to the woman who gave me a chip and dip platter from Target after she gifted that women’s three daughters with very nice sterling silver all I have to say is since 1984 she’s referred to the woman as “Chip and Dip.”

So, here’s what I have to share with all experts – a parent who has done their job well never loses their influence. In fact, one of the proudest things I will ever say is that I am Gwen Claypool’s daughter.

 

 

Dear Snarky – Am I a Bad Mom for Not Doing My Kid’s School Project?

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Dear Snarky,

My son is in the 3rd grade and this is his first year to participate in the school Science Fair. I’ve helped him decided what he wants to do, bought the supplies and the display board and have offered what I would call gentle guidance. The rest I am leaving up to him.

I thought this was okay until at a Cub Scout meeting I hear other mothers talking and it seems like they are doing their kids ENTIRE project. Am I wrong not to do more?

Signed, First Time Science Fair Mom

Dear First Timer,

Put down the glue gun and slowly step away from the note cards and the color markers. You are 100% correct in not micro managing every aspect of your son’s Science Fair entry. It’s the rare parent these days that can resist the urge to not completely take over every school project. You name it – book reports, the diorama (hate it), the Invention Competition to the pinnacle of parental participation – the Science Fair – have become parent showcases. 

Most of these projects have the tell-tale signs that a 40-year-old did some if not all of the work. Sure, I’ve been guilty of telling my kids when they were younger to take their chocolate milk and go watch “Sponge Bob Square Pants” while mommy just fixes one or two things on their display board. But, it’s wrong and brace yourself because when you walk into the Science Fair your son’s project board and experiment will look like, well, like an 8-year-old did it and 90 % of the other exhibits will look like a cross between a rocket scientist and the design team at Apple.

That’s a nice way of saying your son’s will stink but in a good way because he did his own work and you let him – making you both big winners.  Also, I think it says a lot about the character of the school if the winners are picked based on the work a child did not the parents. So no worries First Timer, you’ve got this! Get your Mom swagger on and be proud you’re raising a child to do his own work and think for himself.

So God Made a Snarky Mom

0aa7514fac51ea8108fe2b03467b48d7And on the 8th day God looked down at a PTA meeting and said, “I need a woman with some serious swagger. So God made a Snarky Mom.

God said I need somebody to get up before dawn, pack lunches, drive carpool, work all day, coach soccer and then storm the HOA meeting and tell them their cross hatched, mowing plan with grass cut to a precise 2 inch height rule was a bunch of bull crap. So God made a Snarky mom.

I need somebody with strong arms. Strong enough to hoist a 35 pound toddler out if its car seat with one hand because the other one is holding a 50 pound bag of dog kibble, yet gentle enough to roll out perfect sugar cookie dough. Somebody to referee pee wee basketball games, make a hot mom cantankerous by stepping on her glitter Uggs, come home hungry because all you’ve had to ingest all day is two Diet Cokes and have to wait for lunch because you now must hurry to the elementary school to fill in for the self-important mom who forgot – again – that she had signed up to volunteer in the classroom. So God made a Snarky mom.

God said, I need somebody that can shape an Invention Convention Competition project out of duct tape, fix tennis shoes with duct tape, make a book report out of duct tape, used poster board, and last year’s leftover Valentine’s Day stickers. And who at school fundraising time will finish her 40 hour day by Tuesday, noon, Then pain’n from carrying the Bissell Carpet Cleaner up two flights of stairs puts in another 72 hours plotting delicious revenge on a group of mothers attempting to get their husbands as judges for the Regional Science Fair. So God, made a Snarky mom.

God had to have somebody willing to mix it up at double speed at the PTA meeting, not afraid to get into a little throw down action during school drop off, and yet stop mid pot stirring when she sees a friend who needs her help. So God made a Snarky mom.

God said, I need somebody strong enough to silence a group of women from talking incessantly about vaginal rejuvenation yet gentle enough to tame teachers, make a child laugh and tend field trips . . . and who will stop working to haul ass to her kitchen to whip up 10 dozen cookies because the sugar-free moms are attempting to hi-jack the school bake school with bags of broccoli. So God made a Snarky mom.

It had to be someone who’d plan revenge scenarios intricate and complex and not cut corners. Somebody to seed, weed, and feed the weaker moms so they would learn to stand up for themselves. Somebody to replenish a sad mother’s soul with visions of payback and then finish a hard day’s work with a five-mile drive to a gated community to crash a vajazzle party masquerading as a school fundraiser. Somebody who’d keep a family together with the soft bonds of schemes, who’d laugh and then sigh and then respond with smiling eyes, when her daughter says she wants to spend her life doing what her mom does, So God made a Snarky mom.

***For all things wonderfully Snarky go to www.snarkygear.com where you can find the new winter Snarky line of clothing and accessories. (Flannel Snarky P.J.’s anyone?) Plus, there’s my book – Snarky in the Suburbs Back to School. (Click here for purchase information.) Here’s a little ditty about it: The Spring Creek Elementary School PTA board (a coven of Mean Moms dressed in Uggs, yoga pants, and dermal filler) is up to no good.  Wynn Butler (middle-aged, uncool, and not bringing sexy back) is determined to find out what’s going on. With help from her two kids, a Roomba vacuum turned mobile surveillance drone, and a few good friends, Wynn launches a covert investigation that leads to the “mother of all revenge capers” at the school’s annual Fall Festival.  If you’ve ever fantasized about smoke bombing the idiot parent who has yet to master the fine art of the school drop-off lane, or standing up and shouting, “Liar, liar, Botox on fire” during a PTA meeting, then this delicious tale of payback is for you. To stay up-to-date on new posts and take part in my not so deep thoughts click on this Facebook link – http://is.gd/iEgnJ (That’s the abbreviated link to my FB page) or I twitter @snarkynsuburbs.

Ode to 21st Century Motherhood

neaseI always feel like a wimp and somewhat ashamed whenever I complain, better yet, make that violently wail, about the challenges of being a mother. Let’s admit it – all moms have those days when we feel sorry for ourselves.

My guilt in indulging my bad mom mood comes from thinking about my mother.  Now, there’s a Mom. Many, many times I have asked myself how did she do it? She had four kids in five years and raised all of us without the help of video games, cable television, computers, the internet, drive through windows, and disposable diapers. Compared to her I’m a loser.

Recently my wise, wonderful, 75-year-old mom gave me a gift. She confessed to me that there is “no way in Satan’s own burning hell she could be a mom today.” I was shocked, totally taken aback and worried if she needed medication. “How can that possible be?” I asked her. You had it so much harder. She was out there on the parenting landscape mostly solo. My Dad is/was a very handsome workaholic. His parenting role was that of enforcer. He, like most men of his generation, came in only on a “as needed” basis.

She did everything. I’m talking every dinner was three courses with a dessert. My mom hand sewed our Halloween costumes and made our Easter dresses. Raised two sons that could charitably be described as handfuls. Then she dropped the bomb that would forever change my life. She uttered the phrase – “Honey, I was a horrible mother.”

Now, I’m seriously worried that she’s having a brain aneurism.  “What are you talking about?” I asked in a very upset voice while looking for my cell phone so I can dial 9-1-1. She clarified her statement and said, “Well, compared to mothers today we were all horrible mothers back then.”  (By back then she means the late 1960 to the 1980’s.) I got a little nauseated, had some chest pains, started sweating and then it all started coming back to me – the holy grail of repressed childhood memories. Oh, dear Lord she did suck as a mom.

Amid the swirling, traumatic, recollections of my youth I remember so many things she did that I would be handcuffed and on the 11 o’clock news for today.  After I laid down on the couch, elevated my feet, had cold cloths placed on my forehead and some vodka administered for medicinal purposes I was ready to work through the pain of my mother’s maternal transgressions. It started pre-conception.

She drank gin and tonics and smoked not one but a couple of packs of day of Winstons “it taste like a cigarette should” a day. When she found out she was pregnant, she did nothing to alter her behavior, because in her words “who knew” and “even the doctor smoked during your prenatal appointment and could blow “impressive smoke rings.” I lay my low math S.A.T. scores directly on the doorstep of this act of egregious prenatal negligence.

During my birth she says she was in a much-needed Demerol stupor resulting in what looked like to her “a lovely set of Reed & Barton stainless steel salad tongs” being used to pull me out. (I’m guessing she means forceps.  But, I can see when you’re all demeroled up how forceps could be mistaken for salad tongs.) After I was born she didn’t offer me, her sweet precious infant, mother’s milk. Oh no, I got homemade baby formula where the main ingredient was – wait for – Karo syrup. The horrors! That my friends is where the formation of my sugar addiction, thunder thighs and cellulite can all be traced back to. Thanks mom, for making me a fatty right out of the gate.

As an infant my mother didn’t make sure I slept on my back, had infant massages or was recreating the womb experience by swaddling me. She said all her babies were stomach sleepers and massages were things ladies of ill repute gave to sailors and she for sure didn’t do any baby sign language.

During my toddler years I was confined like cage veal to a wooden playpen with hinges that would pinch my fingers. When I was released from my cage I would randomly stick my figures in the unprotected wall outlets. My car seat was indeed a car seat.  I asked my mom, “How did you keep me safe in the car when I was a baby?” She looked at me like I needed more vodka and said, “I held you in my lap. What else would I have done?”

Great – my mom’s parenting skills were right up there with Brittney Spears. “Oh,” she said,  “I just remembered I used to also stick you in a laundry basket and put you in the floor board of the car.” Even better, I supposed the Downy fabric softener in the basket was acting as a child safety restraint to keep me from catapulting through the windshield if she had an accident.

Safety was a non issue. I rode my bike without a helmet and even better with a friend on the handlebars and another one sharing the seat with me. I had a paper route when I was 10 that involved me riding my bike by myself and delivering papers at 5 a.m. I also rode my bike to the corner store to get my mom her beloved Winstons and on some occasions gin.

My mom never made a “play-date” in her life. During the summer months she would lock all four of us kids out of the house and tell us to go play. (That was her version of making a play-date) I asked what she was doing while all of us were locked out. Her reply – “none of your business.” We disappeared for hours, playing on the train tracks, swimming totally unsupervised by any adult in a lake, and riding the neighbors horses bareback and barefoot in shorts, a t-shirt and a cowboy hat.

“Mom,” I sighed, “What about child predators and not to mention my basic personal safety?” Her replay, “I’m sure there were just as many child molesters back than as there are now. We just weren’t scared to death. Sorry, I mean educated by the news media, like you are today.”  “Plus,” she said, “There were safety in numbers. Every kid lived outside.”

What about protective head-gear?” I asked.

She gave me her signature, “You are a dumb ass look” and said, “The only protective head-gear back then were cowboy  hats.”

When summer was over my mom rarely darkened the door of my school. Come to think of it no moms came to school. Today, I’m my kids teachers toady. I’m up at the school currying favor by making copies, collating, laminating, correcting spelling tests, planning parties, getting teacher appreciation gifts, going on field trips, organizing field day, and fundraising. According to my mom, “If I wanted to be at school I would have been a teacher. I didn’t so I’m not.”

My mother also copped to poisoning her children. We drank thousands of gallons of cyclamate laden Kool Aid and Choo Choo Cherry Funny Face beverages. In 1969 the FDA banned cyclamate after research showed it caused cancer and testicular atrophy in rats. (Oops – my poor brothers.)  Who knows how much DDT contaminated fruits and vegetables we ate. “Oh my God Mom,” I cried, “You were like the witch in Snow White handing me a poisoned apple.”

Now, I now why she sneers at my organic produce and manic washing of fruits and vegetables.  I don’t even want to think about what was in the dairy and beef she fed us. I’m sure I have more bovine hormones in me than estrogen. Come to think of it in the right light I do bear a fair resemblance to Elsie the Borden Milk cow.

My siblings and I were also nicotine poisoned. I know for a fact, that I have  second-hand smoked 4,419 packs of cigarettes.  (That number was calculated by my sister, the math wiz, during one very  boring family New Year’s Eve party.)

When I was in high school her mothering skills became even more lax. No vigilant oversight of my teen years. She had five basic rules. Keep your virtue intact, no drugs, drinking, smoking or my father will get involved (bad, very bad if that happened), no sassy smart mouth, be home by 11 on weekends and get into a college she wouldn’t be embarrassed to share with her friends.

As far as college selection went there were no SAT improvement classes, no meeting with career counselors, no college selection advisory consults, no handpicking of my high school schedule to optimize my competitive college choices.  Nothing –  I took my S.A.T.’s, I applied to three colleges I liked and I picked a college. Oh, think of the career I might now have if she had only manipulated every facet of my scholastic life.

“Mom, mom, mom,” I chant, “You’re right, you were a horrible mother. Dear God in heaven, it’s amazing I’m still able to walk upright and chew and sallow my own food. Didn’t you care?”

“Oh, I cared,” she said. “I did what every other mom was doing at that time.  Back then I was an exemplary mother.”

“Does exemplary mean severe parental neglect?” I shriek.

“No,” she said, “And calm down.  I don’t appreciate your tone.”  She gave me the look I have seen a million times.  So, I shut up, sipped my vodka that was now more ice than liquor, asked for a Tums and prepared myself for a lecture.”

“Today mom’s have it tough,” she shared. “In fact, to be blunt, you’re screwed. (If she still smoked, right about now is when she would be taking a big drag on her Winston Light’s and blowing a smoke ring.) You can’t just be parent, you have to be 24 hour sentry for your child’s future. You can’t just worry about the neighborhood, you have to worry about the world. I could look out the living room window and see that you were safe.  You have to worry about the pervert on-line that lives in Taiwan. Good God in heaven, today your kids aren’t even safe in their own homes.

Things are more competitive for kids today.  I didn’t sign you up for soccer starting when you were four. I gave you a ball and put you in the backyard with your older brother. Now, mothers have to plan, schedule and strategize their kids entire day.  Trust me I wasn’t thinking about your college choice when you were 13 or the long-term implications of whether your elementary school math curriculum would impact your college entrance exams. On top of all that you’ve got global warming, sexually transmitted diseases that kill, a collapsing world economy, terrorists attacks and that damn texting and Facebook thingy.  It’s exhausting. Like I said, I couldn’t be a mom today. I’d be arrested.”

“For sure you’d be arrested and Child Protective Services would have removed all four of us kids from the home.”  I said.

‘Well, now, I think you’re being just a little overly dramatic,” my mom replies tersely, “but then you always were theatrical.”

That signals the end of the conversation/lecture or what my siblings and I used to call the “lecversation.” As I’m driving home that night I think about everything my mom shared with me she’s right – mother does know best.  Where my mother’s generation had the luxury of raising their children with a laissez-faire attitude we 21st Century Mom’s have to be brave Amazon Warriors. (They are mythical women that have extraordinary skill in war, strength superior to men, rode bare breasted into battle armed with bows and arrows and a serious take no prisoners attitude. Although, I prefer to think of us galloping on a horse with a top on, or at the very least some kind of underwire sports bra, because I think the whole naked chest thing would really, really hurt and be bad for our connective breast tissue.)

Regardless of top on or topless we are amazing warriors armed with way too much knowledge about the evils of the world. We valiantly ride into battle everyday using ourselves as human shields to protect our children and win the ultimate victory of shepherding them safely to adulthood in an ever-changing global environment. So, 21st century mothers I salute you for your dedication, bravery, sacrifice, combined with just a little bit of crazy, that all adds up to women heroically fighting to make making the future better not just for their children, but for the world.   Happy Mother’s Day Warrior Moms – you’ve earned it!

*Attencover_1.3-2tion Snarky Friends, I have a brand new book out. It’s the second in the Snarky in the Suburbs series – Snarky in the Suburbs Trouble In Texas. You can buy it for your Kindle or in paperback on Amazon.  It’s also available for the Nook or you can get it for your Kobo reader. Click on a link and give it a test read.  I hope you like it! 🙂