Growing up in Rochester, I was surrounded by a large, local extended family. At any time, I could bump into a cousin at a store, park, festival or concert. I wouldn’t know it, of course, being a kid who shied away from contact with strangers, but my mom would. And she would let me know exactly how they were related to us since she has the family card catalog locked in her brain. Her mind’s a vault chock full of obscure data. Without hesitation, she would rattle off genealogical lineage: who gave birth to them; on which side of the family; where they grew up; who they married; who they divorced; how many kids they had and whether or not they served time. And then to my horror, she would drag me over to meet them. It’s only when you get older, that you begin to appreciate the little things that your mother did for you.
Children have never been good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. – James Baldwin.
Now, looking back on my childhood, I can laugh at the embarrassing moments my mom put me through, like dressing me in white saggy leotards and making my brother and I wear matching outfits. Despite those incidents, I turned out okay. (My brother is another story.)
The family. We were a strange little band of characters trudging through life sharing diseases and toothpaste, coveting one another’s desserts, hiding shampoo, borrowing money, locking each other out of our rooms, inflicting pain and kissing to heal it in the same instant, loving, laughing, defending, and trying to figure out the common thread that bound us all together. – Erma Bombeck.
Before he was born, James was in charge, but being new to this whole parenting thing, Rob and I had no idea. We arrived at the doctor’s for a routine prenatal check during my 30th week of pregnancy. When we asked when baby would be due, the doctor replied in accented English, “Baby come when baby come. Baby in driver seat.”
And so Rob and I sat back and tried to enjoy the ride, though rocky in the beginning. Neither Rob nor I appreciated just how the changes in our lives would affect us. We caught a ride on a roller coaster without brakes: the anticipation of giving birth and the irrepressible joy of holding our newborn son had collided with the anguish of losing our first dog on the same day.
Dear, dear! How queer everything is today! And yesterday things went on as usual. – Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland 1865, Lewis Carroll.
One day, after I washed my breast pump, and in my sleep-deprived haze, left the parts to dry on the tub ledge, I didn’t think about my puppy’s attraction to things that might smell like breast milk. Like a bloodhound, Ruby sniffed them out and devoured the soft, rubbery tabs that went on the container.
When I couldn’t find the tabs later, I told Rob, who looked around for them, but after a minute, we knew. Fortunately, we kept our sense of humor, even if we didn’t have our sleep. A few days later, Rob announced that Ruby had pooped out the tabs and they appeared to be whole, and then asked if I wanted them back.
“No thanks,” I said. “I’m good.” Together we laughed.
Laughter and tears are both responses to frustration and exhaustion. I myself prefer to laugh, since there is less cleaning up to do afterward. – Kurt Vonnegut
I recall the day James invited me to play in the snow. I thought of all the reasons why I couldn’t stop and play with him. There was a self-imposed deadline, the tug of email, an uncomfortable phone call. I simply couldn’t just stop to enjoy the snowy day. Or could I? I stopped in the middle of my thoughtful, but completely irrational list of unfinished projects. I looked at James’s face and eager, expressive eyes. Junk it.
James and I pulled on our warm, wooly gear and ventured into the frosty December air. We toddled upon the frozen ground like chubby babies taking their first upright steps. Together, we clambered onto the red, plastic toboggan; James in front, while I took the rear. Once settled, I pushed off and we careened down the hill, squealing with delight as the powder snow smacked our faces. All the while, Beck chased after us, barking. We toppled over, laughing, and then made our run again. We threw snowballs for Beck, who pounced like a cat and then licked and chewed his kill. That morning, the snow fort grew, brick by brick. When we finally decided to come inside for hot chocolate by the fire, we had rosy cheeks and ice balls stuck to our hats. Tired and happy, James settled into the couch watching television, and I turned back towards my work, which was still waiting for me.
A man travels the world over in search of what he needs, and returns home to find it. – George Moore.
Sometimes I think: If only I knew what I wanted, then I’d have what I need. But I already do have exactly what I need – my family. A messy, clingy, loving, silly, sweet, noisy, warm, caring, forgiving, forgetful pile of wonderful, who loves me just the way I am. They’re always with me, no matter what.
Love begins at home, and it is not how much we do… but how much love we put in that action. – Mother Teresa.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers of the world!
Thanks for reading. If you like this post, please feel free to share it with your friends or send me a comment. You can also post a comment on my blog or Facebook.
Thelma De Palma
Kristine, I really enjoyed reading this essay! As one of the many relatives that you referred to, I cherish our family ties. Your grandmother Evelyn and I are first cousins (and the same age) sharing your happy growing up years with me.
C Linda Argento
Thanks Kris for this memorable musing! You are so great at putting down onto paper what most people think about but seemingly can’ articulate. I especially love the way you take the writings of others & sprinkle them into to your sandwich of
love! You gave me the best Mother’s Day gift ….
Love you, yo mama