Category Archives: motherhood

Goodbye, Terra Centre


After 13 years of near daily walks to our elementary school, it has finally happened. We are no longer part of the TCES community; we have “aged out.”

It started in 2003, when my oldest began kindergarten. My youngest was still inside me; he had a few more months to bake. Save for those early postpartum winter weeks after my youngest was born, and about 30 days to use Kiss & Ride on “weathery days” I walked my kids every day to and from school.

The path to school is gorgeous.


It was perfect to quiet the mind and give the body just a little jump start to the day. Often it was leisurely and we did see all the things in the images above. I am not a huge believer in stressing out being late to elementary school. What do we miss? Perfect attendance? Or the little TV show they broadcast each morning which announced the cafeteria menu, the weather outside, TC birthdays, and anything else of note … but … please. All of my kids say no one ever listens to that broadcast. I could often be overheard saying to the boys, “It’s not Harvard. We have time. Look around the path… look around this place…” And we would.

Once the final baby came along, so came the daily use of the double stroller, that godsend and albatross. I remember grabbing the leash of our faithful golden, Maggie, wrapping it round the handle of the stroller and pushing off for school as she would keep perfect pace with me, never wavering from her parade. My middle son who is my mirror, often made the experience more melodious than many people were likely ready for so early in the morning. Because he wasn’t a student there yet, he saw little need in going to school to drop off Big Brother. We disagreed daily.

We had a song for him,

Oh I won’t ride my stroller to school
I told my mommy I’d walk
But now my mommy won’t pick me up
So I’m gonna screech like a hawk.

More often than not, we were just on time.

Our first year at the school, around winter break, it was struck by a Norovirus outbreak. Norovirus is a vomiting illness. I was walking home the first morning back from break and a TV crew was outside on the main road leading to my house. A well-known female roving reporter, Gail Pennybacher, asked me if she could interview me. With her cameras. I was a new public school mom, recently postpartum with Thing 3, and she wanted to talk to me about the outbreak.

“Are you a parent at the school over that way?” she asked, pointing to TC which you could see now the the trees were bare.

“Yes… what’s this about?” I asked, I’m sure.

She talked about her intentions.

I had no clue about the outbreak. It was over. I guess there was some form of communication from the school before it opened after winter break but I was barely functioning.

I noticed that the disgusting low-pile industrial carpeting was replaced by shiny linoleum tiles, but that was all I knew. Gail told me about the outbreak and asked me if she could film my then-kindergartener son and me washing his hands. I said yes, immediately followed by the caveat that my student son wasn’t home and that I had to put my kids down for a nap. It being a Monday, a half-day back then, I assured her he would be home in three hours.

But I felt weird, as though I was betraying the school. Being a new mom and knowing NOTHING about FCPS and Terra Centre from a parent standpoint (plus people can be assholes), I didn’t want to make enemies over there. During the meantime, I reached out to the principal to let her know that the news crews were stalking the neighborhood.

That was my first interaction with that principal. She called me back and asked me for intel. She said I sounded like I was someone who was media savvy. She was gooood. I said I had worked in PR and was a freelance writer. She said I would be helpful to her. She prowled up to her saucer, got down on her haunches and wrapped her tail around her hips, slowly lapping. “Tell me more…” she said. I told her about me, and then she asked me how to handle the news crew.

That night, the news was on and I saw our segment. My jaw hit the floor when I watched that woman OWN that reporter. She played me. I was so naive. Over the remaining nine years, she and I barely spoke. Outside of the Carter administration, I considered her one of the least effective leaders I’d ever witnessed. I learned over the years that parents had tried unsuccessfully to oust her at least twice before we got there.

I made friends through Terra Centre. Some I still know, others have faded away or moved away. But while I have faded some, I have not moved, which is an oddity here, in one of many communities referred to as the Pentagon’s bedroom.

Most families who roost here are military or somehow entwined with the federal government in public service, civil service or as a contractor.

Once again, my team is an anomaly of two anomalies. I do not hail from a government family, nor does my husband. His family, I think a third-generation Washingtonian tribe, was in private business and my family was in journalism. I feel confident saying there are not many of us around here, those who’ve been here consistently as long as we have.

We moved into this house in 2000. I met this home when it was under contract.

“It’s under contract and it’s higher than your range. Forget it,” Barb, my ever-enthusiastic realtor said.

“I don’t care. I have to see it. Get me in there.” I said.

Barb used her keypad and we were in. I felt dirty, as though I had to whisper everything I said and thought. It was like breaking into a bank vault.

The house wasn’t well-appointed, but it had my requirements: a fenced flat backyard and a basement. It also had other things I didn’t know I had to have: hardwood floors, a playroom, a main floor bedroom with full bath. It didn’t have what I really wanted: a garage, but I’ve found over the years that those just get stuffed with crap no one uses.

“It’s under contract. You can’t be here…” a little woman whisper-shouted in broken English from the top of the stairs. I remember her to this day: graying hair in a bun, half glasses perched on her nose. A floral quilted housecoat. She thought she was protected by the UNDER CONTRACT sign on the post outside her house.

“I understand. I had to see it. I’m compelled to be here. I have a son, he’s 2 and I’ve got another one on the way,” I said, patting my newly swelling belly with the same hand holding my toddler’s wet sticky palm. He flashed his enormous green eyes, long lashes and deep dimples at her.

Her shoulders softened. Her voice warmed and she descended the stairs to just three from the main floor. She was Filipina.

“My name is Corazon,” she said.

“That means ‘heart?’ I said back, smiling. We nodded.

“If the contract falls through,” I said, “Please call my realtor. She’s leaving her card. Please. I need to be here.”

Corazon gestured to the kitchen and said, “the yard … for him.”

For them, I thought to myself. Peering through the windows, I agreed, “it’s lovely.”

“Shade,” she said.

I continued out the kitchen door on to the “deckette” to look at the flat fenced back yard, feeling a little breeze and cooler air than the front. We were nestled beneath a canopy of Oaks, Dogwoods and Sugar Maples. I tried to keep my composure. I needed to be in this house.

It was August. We were still in our bright and airy seven-year-old townhouse. Well, sort of.

Y’see, we don’t have much luck with real estate endeavors. Long story short, our first buyer was under-qualified. I knew it when I saw him cross the threshold late during our open house. When you’re pregnant, you don’t ignore your gut. They wanted to close within 30 days. They were hot to trot. We hadn’t found a house yet. So we got cooking.

Most of the houses around here don’t last long on the market, but it was a weird time. The ones that lingered were absolutely horrendous, smelly, dark and dreary as though the people in them were having to leave against their will. “Aren’t these people motivated to sell?” I would ask my agent, shaking my head and feeling lost every time we unlocked a door.

After living here, in Burke, for almost 16 years though, I get it. People DON’T want to leave here.

Eventually our townhouse sold. It might’ve even been larger than the house we’re in now. My husband likes to think so. I heartily disagree. Doesn’t matter. The first buyers of each house fell through. Our buyer was a cabbie. I knew it was him and he was a cabbie when I saw him drive by in his work vehicle and slow down in front of the house, indicating to his riders (I think his mother and wife or sister) that this was going to be their new home.

My stomach fell out of my body, My vision honed and I got prickly all over my skin witnessing his gestures and sitting there in front of my house under the hot sun. There was no way they had the money. I panicked. I called my husband, he was certain I was wrong. I called our agent, she was telling me I was pregnanty-nervous. She used to be a nurse. I’m really glad she got out of that gig, she had no empathy skills. She listed “weight lifting” as one of her hobbies.

I knew it would fall through. It did. It fell through likely about two weeks after our contract on this house was accepted. The good news is that I wasn’t nuts and pregnanty-nervous. I pointed at my husband and chided my agent. The bad news is that we were effed.

The first buyers of this house walked on the contract because of a Radon issue. Two days after we dropped our card for Corazon, they walked. Her agent called my agent at night. My agent called me. The next morning we went to put an offer on the house contingent with Radon remediation, which she had a contractor there installing that afternoon. My husband hadn’t seen the house until we wrote on it.

Our agent was all “this school and that school… and oooh and shopping and oooh metro… and banks and conveniences…” and I was all, back yard. Shade. School? What do I know of schools… It turns out we landed in a really good school district.

I remember when my husband first stepped on to the tiny deck, “Land!” he said. It’s not a lot, but it’s ours. The kitchen is modest. When my children were very busy and smaller, it was manageable. We did finger painting and conducted general mayhem in the kitchen. Now that they’ve grown, it’s a little tight a lot of the time, even after our renovation. They “eat” (it’s more of inhaling and grunting) at the breakfast bar. We don’t have as many family dinners as we used to. I have two man-childs and another one, the one who just left elementary school, burgeoning. Soon though, the biggest man-child will be off to college so it will be less man-childs.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that either. It feels like it’s all happening so fast.

Terra Centre used to be underground. Well, not really underground, like sub-level, but it was covered in grass. We used to call it the EduCave. But it’s been renovated and that renovation came with a new principal who is leaving…. TC teachers are strong, many of them have been there for at least 10 years and despite the administration being yet again in flux, I have very few reservations about TC’s promise. The class sizes rarely hit above 28 because our neighborhood is 30+ years old; all gross residential development is over. It’s a good school. It’s so good that it’s hard as heck to find a house in this ‘hood.

The other day a realtor came to talk to me about the house next door to me that sold in 4 hours. I had met her clients when I was staring down my sprinkler. They asked me questions about drainage and the walk to the school. They didn’t win the bidding war and the husband was in tears. They loved the house. They loved me too.

The walk to Terra Centre, for me, was part of my routine too. It is 1/3 a mile door to door. Going there and back twice a day ensured I saw other people. It meant exercise, community, sisterhood. I volunteered at the school to assist the teachers, absolutely, and to help the children, no doubt. But I also volunteered to improve my life. To not feel like a failure for not having a job, and for not sitting on my ass eating bon-bons.

I’m not a nostalgist in the least. I’m a “GSD” (Get Shit Done) person. But I am sort of taking my time here. I think that makes people nervous: when someone like me, who’s normally driven, Type A and a go-getter, decides to sit, feel and write and emote… it can be off-putting. Luckily for me, my boys know how I value feeling the feelings so we can process them and get through them. They know I’m not going to run off to the basement with a bottle of vodka and deny myself into oblivion.

The fact of all of this is that I’m a little blue. I feel like I’m losing a part of myself. And I guess I am. Will I get over it? No, I will get through it. I don’t want to “get over” anything; I want to process things.

Undoubtedly, people tell me to think of the happy memories. That change is good! That I should remember to concentrate on the tremendous growth the boys have achieved. It’s hard to witness it all, frankly. There was a time when I felt that their growth meant I stagnated, but I see it now, we’ve all grown.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: EVERYTHING and EVERYONE we encounter is our teacher. Sometimes they are teachers reminding us to hold our ground, and other times, they are teachers telling us to get our shit together. Terra Centre taught me about service, friendship, neighbors, boundaries, and duty.

I remember early in my volunteering that it had occurred to me that I wasn’t much of a volunteer. I sort of got down on myself a little about that. I grew up in a largely narcissistic environment, so I was conditioned to deal with and for myself because, well, that’s how a kid survived narcissists. You had to be a narcissist… When in Rome…

But I also gave myself a pause. How do we change? By changing. So it was at Terra Centre. It was the first time I was a mom of a student somewhere. At the preschools, they’re all about getting moms out of their houses and out with others: shopping, doctor appointments, taking care of themselves. They are purposely short days 3-4 hours apiece so the kids don’t get antsy and the moms can maybe get a nap.

I was nudged by a neighbor to volunteer at Fun Fairs (think mini carnival populated by  drunken toddlers). She is a child of service members and married to one. I learned that Fun Fair isn’t my jam. So she suggested a dance. Tried it. NFW. Movie night. Nope. I realized eventually, while jumping through the proposed hoops, serving on the PTA, presiding over the PTA and other involvement that I’m more about GSD than telling kids to stop running or to “put that down” and getting other parents to see me as a performer.

While I’m an extrovert, when it comes to getting shit done, I’m a silent partner. I bought a tiger suit for the school mascot. Either they hadn’t had one in a decade or they never had one (since the present principal at the time arrived). So I bought one and the PTA paid me back. I’ll never forget the first day I wore it. It was after school. The Friday before Columbus Day in 2008 and a young teacher was walking the halls and I was in the tiger suit. She screamed and JUST ABOUT passed out. She almost fell down running away. She left the school after that year. I want to say TC Tiger had nothing to do with it but … phobias be powerful… The story is that got engaged and moved to Ohio…

I had no idea she actually had “masklophobia”: a real phobia of people in costumes / mascot suits. She told me about it later. She wasn’t around to see me when I took the tiger head off my head and said “It’s OK! It’s ME! It’s Molly!”

I wore that suit for school events for little over a school year. It didn’t fit me. I looked like a malnourished fake tiger. “TC Tiger” was the mascot name and the kids simply could not get enough of TC Tiger. I was ready to pass the baton despite my obsession to make sure TC Tiger was well-handled: you can’t see less than 4 feet in front of yourself in a mascot suit and so accidentally mowing down a kid is entirely too possible.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 6.15.07 PM

This is me in the mascot suit the day it arrived: the Friday before Columbus day 2008. It’s from an album titled, “TC Tiger Visits School and Molly Loses 4# in the Process.”

The funny thing about being inside that suit is that you’re smiling but people can’t see you. So when tiny children run away traumatized but you’re in there cooing and making “It’s OK Toodles, it’s just me, Molly,” faces, they can’t see that. All they can see is a giant head, fangs and a stupid smile and huge hands trying to hug (NOT GASH) them.

The principal at the time wasn’t too thrilled with the PTA being so “school spirit-y” she felt that was her job. Sitting in her office, hiding most of the day, biding her time until retirement. She was lukewarm to TC Tiger. Or maybe it was me she was lukewarm to. It was most likely me… By this point, I think all three of my kids were in the school and she and I had cooled from that first encounter when she gaslighted me after Norovirus. Often she was content letting the school be “cleaned” by employees who’d rather be hanging out smoking at Starbucks across the street… Truth. We had issues with that. Hence, the Norovirus.

I learned that exercising my talents: writing, public relations, empathy, awareness of our connection to others, art, rallying for a cause to benefit all, enthusiasm for other people, their right to live on Earth and their promise, is really what works for others and what makes me hum. Doing all the volunteer stuff I was talked into doing didn’t further anythig of any value, for me or them. I learned to advocate and get the attention of the County on important matters such as hygiene, safety and communication.

At Terra Centre, as in any school environ nestled in Power Play central, the real work can be in dealing with adults.

Now I’m talking about the parents… persons with multiple degrees, fancy letters or abbreviations before and after their names, ranks, and connections. I also learned about projection, inadequacy and self-esteem issues, drama, need for excitement, and the predilection for some of those parents to stand on the narrow shoulders of or behind the gentle chests of their children.

The children? They taught me kindness and patience. They taught me boundaries. You have no choice when a little girl grins at you through her gapped teeth, “I GOT IT I GOT IT” when you try to help her with her milk carton.

In May, my youngest banished me from the walk because he wanted to walk alone to school for the last three weeks. A helicopter parent, I am not, but the kid seldom gets out on time, and I like the exercise. We also use that time to chat about stuff. He banished me from the walk home back in November, “I’m 12 now…” so … yeah. There was no excuse / little brother onto place my interest. He was the excuse. He was the little brother.

So we made a deal: he gets out of the house by 8:27 and he could walk by himself. He did alright. But on the last week, I pulled rank. I told him I would be walking with him on the last day of school. To and From. He didn’t balk. I think he got it. For 6th graders, the last day is traditionally a “recognition” ceremony. The kids get “certificates of achievement” of being a student at the school and passing 6th grade. Other awards are given out — it’s lovely actually.

The morning of the last day, it rained, so his dad drove us. The walk home though… I was not giving that up. I would NOT make the day before my last walk home from school. I did not give up a career in corporate communications and PR to miss this moment.

Here’s how it went:

If you watch that video until the end, you’ll see he turns around to look at me. The fades in the video were not my doing, it was the light coming in as we left the shade of the path. The house in my comments is not mine.

At first I was self-conscious about doing it but I quickly put that away. As you will see, our walks to and from school are Rockwellian. I’m good with the video now. I didn’t discover his backward gaze until I watched it last night. That it’s 1:43 in length, “143” being our code for “I Love You” makes the capture all the more lovely to me.

In a sense, I grew up here at Terra Centre. I learned that persistence overcomes resistance and that a gaggle of noisy parents who give a damn can effect real change on a busy over-traveled street. I learned that school principals are just people too and they come with their own dreams, fears, alliances, and hesitations. I learned that rational people can run a school and that kids needn’t be afraid of principals.

Most of all, I learned about myself. I learned that it’s ok for me to miss the school. After 13 years, I felt like family. To my kids, it’s a place they where they learned to tie their own shoes. To me, it’s a place where I liked to walk. I always appreciated my walks to Terra Centre.

I will miss it very much, and so I get it when I see moms of kids in high school or college or medical school or living in Manhattan on their own with a family walking their dogs with the moms of kids in third grade… just to see a little kid again or to mosey beneath the shade on the way to another day to ourselves.

Thank you.

Blue Monday: The Day After Mother’s Day


I bet the boy who asked me to prom 30 years ago is glad the post I wrote about that experience is being replaced…

Yesterday was Mother’s Day. I have long disliked Mother’s Day. Not only because my relationship with my own mother was complicated (show me a mother – daughter relationship that’s as smooth as silk and I’ll show you two medicated people), but also because well, it’s stupid. My own mother also disliked Mother’s Day, especially going to the Catholic Mass on Mother’s Day because she heard the mewing of the priest on the altar talking about his own sainted mother. Let me tell you… nothing like a supposedly chaste and godly grown man spewing unrealistic honoraria about his own mother to make you vomit in your mouth a little.

The very concept that everyone has to cool their narcissistic jets to be nice to their mothers (who may or may not deserve the homage, quite frankly) for one of 365 days of the year is jacked.

Who is Mother’s Day really for? Is it for the kids… to feel like they did it? They spent a few hours on one day thinking and being nice to Mom? Is it for the mother? Surely that can’t be it. If this poll is correct, most moms just want to be left the heck alone.

I won’t bother with the notion that it’s all about Hallmark and Our Lady of the Shopping Mall, because it’s no notion, it’s a verified fact. Last year, people spent $2.3 billion (B) on flowers last year. Flowers die. Just sayin’…

I can’t wait for the Home Depot ads to start up for Father’s Day… Actually, I can wait.

What matters to me most of all, and is the best barometer of an authentic Mother’s Day homage is the condition of the kitchen after Mother’s Day ends. 

I will not share photos I took.

My father suggested I not write this post. He started out our chat today friendly enough, asking me about my Mother’s Day. “It was fine; I just spent about two hours cleaning the kitchen from it…” and he HOWLED with laughter. Thanks. Then he started to tell me about how my mom didn’t care for the “holiday” either.

He suggested I not write about my kitchen because well, that would tarnish the good feelings that came from celebrating Mother’s Day.

Yeah. I’d hate to tarnish that good feeling of my family lovin’ on me all day yesterday with cleaning a sink, scrubbing the counter tops, hand-washing the expensive kitchen knives, loading the dishwasher, wiping down and shoving the kitchen table back to where it belongs, putting the fondue pots back in the boxes and bringing those boxes back to the basement where they live, but only after the forks are cleaned from the dishwasher.

The years of my kids bringing home handmade trinkets and tissue paper flower bouquets from school are over and I’m a little sad about that. My oldest son tweeted me last night, around 11pm telling me Happy Mother’s Day and that he loves me.


Maturing Mother

Because our kids are children for a finite period of time, the work of Mother’s Day largely rests on the shoulders of adults in the picture. It will be interesting to see if and how my kids choose to celebrate Mother’s Day with me as we all age.

I have a neighbor who has one child. A son. He used to spend all day Mother’s Day with her, but now he has kids of his own, so I’m guessing he’s busy being armchair QB for his kids to remember their mom. To make up for being absent on Sunday, he visits with his mother all day Saturday and I think that’s pretty cool.

I’m not writing this to shame anyone. I’m writing it to do all I can to preempt an error next year and to keep resentments in check manage expectations. If you really mean to honor your mother, clean up. Do it without asking. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. Even if you do it semi-completely, all is forgiven because you tried.

Little kids who are cogent about holidays love Mother’s Day because they get to participate in it even though they have no clue about how much we do behind the scenes for them.

Usually my kids serve me breakfast in bed; I get a few flowers from our garden and it’s a sweet and cozy experience. They sit on the bed and talk to me and we have a nice time. This year, I didn’t get that treatment because I attended a brunch hosted by my mother-in-law.  Upon my departure to the brunch, my middle son hugged me awhile and said, “Thanks for putting up with me for the last 15 years” which was really nice to hear because he’s a tempest in a teapot at times. When I told my older son, who dashed down the steps and out the door to bid me farewell in his bathrobe, what his younger brother said and asked him if he’d like to say anything to me he said, “Hello” which is pretty appropriate because this kid so far has been a freaking dream to raise. My youngest didn’t make the dash to the driveway.

So this year, instead of my kids bringing me breakfast (and they would do their best to clean-up after themselves before I would come downstairs), my husband quietly honored my mothering of his children with a cup of coffee and a biscuit and strawberries. It was really sweet.

Don’t Steal My Thunder

The narcissism of people / groups who think they should get in on Mother’s Day action really chaps my hide. Political correctness and fear of marginalizing during these benign holidays have butchered the intention to the point of being unrecognizable. My simple day of recognition has been hijacked, co-opted and morphed into a feeling of isolation for people who DON’T directly celebrate Mother’s Day but are somehow involved in a kids’ life.

This day is mine. Get your own.

Mother’s Day is for mothers. Adopted mothers also count. Plain and simple.

Don’t make my SINGULAR holiday about your sense of disenfranchisement, and don’t try to get in on my action. Single dads don’t count. Aunties whose siblings are still raising their own children don’t count. If your great aunt or grandmother raised you, she gets massive props and you better dish them out. The thing is: let the kids decide who gets the flowers. That’s when it’s real.

Human pet owners who fancy themselves “mothers” don’t get a nod here, either. You didn’t squeeze out that cat or fill out adoption papers with a judge in an official legal court to take in that animal. If you truly identify yourself as the mother of a dog or other animal, you need help. You’re not educating that animal, you’re not walking it to school or folding its laundry or wondering if your animal will meet the wrong crowd and start taking drugs. You’re not teaching it how to ride a bike or to clean its room or helping it select classes for the following academic year. You’re not driving that animal to soccer practice or voice lessons. You’re not sweating paying for college for that animal. Oh God… maybe you ARE…

So… let’s get that shit straight. Pets aren’t children.

I’m sure what I’m saying chaps someone else’s hide. Welcome to the 21st Century. That someone who owns a fish wants in on my day chaps my hide.

The way I see it: if you have a uterus that either successfully birthed a baby, or tried to host one but couldn’t and you are raising the human product of someone else’s uterus, you’re mothering.

I know what mothering is. I’m acutely aware. A successful Mother’s Day –to me– will give me a pause from that acute awareness. And let’s get real… that needs to extend into the following Monday too.

So uh, peeps, let’s get this right for next year. Don’t make your mother clean up after your homage to her, because that’s no different from the other days of the year, when she is absolutely mothering you, and mostly without complaint.

Thank you.



Motherhood. Mother’s Day. Memoir.


Mother’s day is looming. I’m not a fan. Never really have been and it doesn’t have much to do with my eccentric and exciting upbringing as much as those who know me (and what I’ve written about it) would think.

It’s because it is false. It just rings false to me. The expectations… OMAIGAAAD, the expectations. Poor little kids, gathering all their pennies from their coin banks, asking dad or older sibs to take them to the CVS or the grocer to buy a box of chocolates, a necklace, or make a card or buy a card.

Due to some childhood stuff (my mom had her internal conflicts), I know that some of my dislike stems from not feeling as though I could please her, so yes, there’s that. But the other part is that it’s gone from a random assortment of reasons to honor moms (which in my mind sounds as though Mother’s Day has an identity crisis — shocker — going on) to an all-out blitz of over commercialized nonsense basically saying that if you don’t buy your mother a castle in St. Moritz, you’re an asshole.

Apparently the day exists because the daughter (Anna) of a Civil War peace and public health activist and care giver to wounded soldiers wanted to honor her mom, a woman named Ann Jarvis. The first celebration was in 1905, even though it wasn’t really established as we know it now (with back-to-back Sales and Storewide Blow Outs!) until 1908. Woodrow Wilson signed its proclamation, naming the second Sunday in May as Mother’s Day, in 1914. So last year was the 100th anniversary of the presidential proclamation… does that mean all the previous ones were moot?

Great. Now we’re all stuck wondering if we’re a) doing enough to be honored; and b) wondering if our degree or honor is high enough… I mean c’mon, how can I compete with a Civil War peace and health activist? They didn’t even have penicillin then. I’d have to move out to the woods and hope a band of wounded forlorn hunters with rabid nationalistic bents travels across my compound and that all cellular coverage is dead.

It’s hopeless.

How would you have liked to have lived during the first Mother’s Day? Can you imagine…  back in 1908…

Sissy Calhoun, whispering behind her fan to Minerva Simmons: Did you hear about Anna? She’s honoring her mother… AGAIN… it’s been three years since she died, can’t she just let it go? My mother’s all over me about not honoring her… ‘What? Is it not enough that I simply cooked and cleaned after you for all these years?! I have to go and be an activist TOO?!’ she hisses at me. I can’t take it. My needlepoint is never detailed just so. My churned butter is always runny. I can’t seem to do enough.

Minerva, picking up a napkin she let drop on the floor: I know, right?

Here’s the deal: be nice to your mom as much as you can. If my mom were still here, I’d struggle with the day, I know I would. I struggled when she was alive. Now I struggle that she’s gone. There were some years that all I could do was just send her a card, the burden to perform for her and fill her voids was immense, as was the feverish desire of hers for me to just ‘let it all go…’ whatever I was nursing emotionally, at the time.

She used to call me, often, and just sit there on the line, not saying anything. It was maddening. She would listen for sounds in my background, of the boys chattering, the TV shows or music or of our bustling household with a dog and friends of the boys running in and out. She would just hang there…

I couldn’t understand it. I couldn’t “hold” that space for her.

After about 10 minutes of this … experience … I could take no more. “Mom, this is looney. Don’t you want to talk to them? Or me?”

“No. I just like hearing you all going about your day. I imagine how things are. Plates on the counter or a shoe in the hall. A backpack spilled on the floor. My own mother used to do this, just call me and hang on the phone and not say anything. I used to be like you are, thinking she was a little nuts, and she’d say what I end up saying now, ‘I just want to listen. To hear you all…'”

Sigh. (I know I’m going to do the same… my kids are growing up too fast. And I constantly MARVEL at their talents and how they’ve grown and matured. The poor dears… they’re really in for it with me when they leave. Must. Fight. Urge… to call and Listen. On. Phone…)

My mother would often sit in a chair and not say a word, but just observe us. She’d watch us and now I get it, to a certain extent, because she was an artist. If she’d just said something at the time, I wouldn’t have thought she was such a weirdo. If she’d just said something along the lines of, “I’m remembering this so I can draw it later…” (and she’d create a killer rendition of it, in her style), then I know I’d get it. I know I’d be less hostile and secretive.

She used to audio-record us. Major holidays especially. She had a tape recorder with her positioned under a linen napkin (she disliked paper napkins) and it used to unhinge us. She didn’t care. There was always something about Mom which insisted upon reliving the moment, a fear (almost manic and mortal) of moving into a future “space.”

I remember several instances of not really knowing about the recording going on, even though it would’ve happened a previous dinner and we’d discovered it then. It was like my “naiveté and total trust” vat was never ending. But she’d be caught when the tape inevitably ran out and that >CLUCK!< of the machine gave her away… She used 90-minute tapes too, so we’d sit at that table for 45 minutes, easy, as we got older. The tape had to be ejected and the machine had to be reset to begin recording on the other side… it was like an invasion of privacy. I bet when tape recorders were reengineered to have “auto-reverse” it was like Christmas for her. She never knew about MP3 recorders.

On all of those occasions, I remember feeling deeply violated by her recordings and then equally shamed by her for feeling that way. She would dismiss it, telling me I over-reacted. Telling us all that we were wrong to wish she’d not done that. That our protests of her recording us cast a pall on the evenings and we never felt “safe” anymore. That she was recording these moments for history and we’d be sorry one day when there were none. I don’t know if those moments of anger were ever recorded. Mom had a keen talent for revisionist history. I also want to say that she never participated in the regular table banter either, just sat at the table as though she was watching a ping-pong tournament. Once those moments were revealed and felt as though they were repeating, they created a rut in me. I never felt “safe” again having dinner there.

There was no point in protesting. She did it for years. Never really stopped. I’m not sure if she ever listened to the tapes or just kept an archive (which is a stretch, as she was not terribly organized). I have no interest in hearing those tapes. I resent them. She cheated — if she wasn’t present enough to enjoy the moment as it happened, she didn’t get to cheat by recording it and playing it again out of context. Maybe she did it when she would make her “listening” calls.

Knowing what I know now about her inner conflicts, I am remembering that many times she was medicated during those dinners.

This is hard. I really didn’t plan on writing about this. It just sort of happened.

I remember my older brother sending cards every Mother’s Day with a giant “MOM” written across the front of the envelope and our street address immediately below in smaller scrawl. It was always fun for me to see those envelopes in the mailbox. I remember thinking how fun that would be for me to do something similar after I moved away, sending her a card like that and waiting for it to be received.

She never liked to open the envelopes. She barely ever used gifts I gave her. I remember one Mother’s Day when I gave her an avocado and some fancy designer salsa so she could enjoy guacamole — I gave her food so she’d have to eat it or let it perish. I remember being at the house one day, years later, and seeing the salsa jar, dusty, still sealed. I have no idea about the avocado. She loved them, so I’m hopeful she ate it. I asked her about it, why the jar was still sealed, and she said it was not the same jar… that she ate the first one… maybe. She got mad at me for being mad and wondering. Sometimes there was no way to “win” a conversation with her.

I’m trying to remember some fun moments with Mom, because I know they happened. It’s the least I owe her, to remember her on Mother’s Day “week” in a soft rose light.

One of my fondest memories of Mom was when my father would travel for the Republican and Democratic National Conventions for his job. She and I would take his blank check (big mistake, Dad) and go to the grocery store and we’d practically empty the place. Mom’s favorite cheese was Saga bleu on those little rice crackers. She loved Coca-Cola (I never liked it), and we’d take two carts through the store. I liked Oreos and mint chocolate chip ice cream. She liked freeze dried coffee. I liked tea. I liked fruit. She liked chocolates. I liked Cap’n Crunch. She liked granola. I loved fresh roast beef. She loved to make pasta sauces. Some of her best were just the simplest: olive oil, garlic, black olives and tomatoes cooked to an oily reduction which clung to the pasta, the combination of starch and oil created a heavenly experience.

The shopping bills then… they were not INSANE, but they were a lot for just three people (me, Mom and my younger brother). But we didn’t want to shop again later in the week and Dad left us only one check. It was twice a summer every four years. There was no way around it for my father. We were going to shop. It felt as though bringing in those grocery bags, “double bag with paper, please!” (she would always ask) was a daylong sojourn.

I drove to the store in our little 1981 Honda Civic 1500 DX hatchback. It was a manual 5-speed. She definitely couldn’t drive stick and we had another car, but she didn’t or couldn’t drive then. Either her license was suspended or she simply never renewed. She was not a good driver. She was deeply anxious behind the wheel, completely lacking the calm confidence my aunts often displayed when they cruised around town.

My poor mother … all the demons in her head.

I have her to thank for being here. She brought me into this world and left me still wondering what the hell was going on. Will anyone ever have it figured out? I think not. And I think as a child, a human on this planet, it’s natural to expect our parents to have all the answers. It’s sort of mind blowing when you have your first of many experiences of your parent saying “I DON’T KNOW WHAT TO DO ABOUT ________.” It’s as though they’ve somehow fallen from Grace. I suppose it’s one of the reasons I, as a mother myself, often say to my own team, “Look, this is my first May 5, 2015 too… so give me some space here as I try to figure this out…” I think with my mother, she must’ve come from a world where mistakes and ignorance were simply disallowed. So when that happens: we lie and cover up and obfuscate and hide and snarl when confronted.

A few months ago, while looking for something at their house, I discovered her Virginia driver’s license from 1981. She was surprisingly cheerful in the image, but I’ve never known my mother to have a bad photo of her when she knows the shutter’s clicking. She was all smiley, full of optimism and excitement. I looked for a fake line or dead eyes in the image (inasmuch as municipal IDs allow details) but could find none.

I remember the first time I discovered her paperwork for a part-time job near the Virginia house. It was so odd, to see her handwriting on a government form. I had never known her to “have a job.” It seemed almost as though it were a rejection of her life as it was at the time — that she was going to bust out! and work at that shoe store and Make Big Things Happen!

But it wasn’t meant to be. She stayed there for a while, I remember that. But I also remember her (and have found notes relating such) working an angle with some of her co-workers to branch out, do their own thing, be their own bosses and start their own lines of handbags and shoes. Mom hated the idea of convention, that a “boss” was waiting at the end of the shift to initial her time card.

Who can blame her?

Those were really hard days. She was so manic and distracted and wild-eyed. Desperate-seeming to get away and redefine ____ in her life. I remember searching for her “in there” in her body… hoping she would reveal herself in a way that was relatable, that I could hook into or hold onto. Her sign was Gemini.

There’s no doubt to me that I loved her. In the way I could. In the way God gave us to one another with all our preferences and expectations and baggage. And she loved me, in her way.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I think actively of my children, less of my mother. Have I served them? Has my honesty been too much? In my quest to be the “anti-Mimi” I have lost sight of who I can be instead of who I avoid. That’s my wish for this coming Mother’s Day — to make good on it for 2016 and to begin to discover or maybe even embrace, as this next year unfolds, who I am instead of who I’m not.

So if your mom is still around, give her a pat on the back and a kiss on the cheek for me. Raising you was not easy — regardless of whether you were a “good kid” or not — we mothers (even in the best of chemical circumstances) have so much stuff swirling around in our noggins: carpool, lunch, our menses schedule, medicine dosage, vaccine schedules, our medical appointments, your well-check appointments, music lessons, menopause, school test schedules, summer plans, vacation booking, shedding a few pounds — always!, oil changes for the car, mortgage payment, car repairs, walking the dog / aardvark  / rabbit … that you’ve really no clue. If you’re a man or a growing male, just … make us dinner on Sunday and don’t give us shit if we decide to feed the kids cold cereal when you travel.

Thank you.