Friday, August 04, 2006

An Ordinary Woman

When I was seventeen, my mom took me and my two best friends to Toronto for a performance of The Nutcracker. The journey was half the fun – we went by train, and on our return trip we enjoyed that immensely satisfying sensation of piling an empty seat high with all our shopping bags filled with Boxing Day bargains. I bought a dress from La Cache that weekend at 50% off, an old-fashioned dark brown floral print with long sleeves and gold buttons. I later added a Laura Ashley lace collar and wore it as a costume in my high school production of Nicholas Nickleby, in which I played Madeleine, Nicholas’s one true love, a role that required me to look sweetly romantic and to burst into tears convincingly (those being feats I was particularly well-equipped to perform in my teen years). As a shopping spree, our trip was a success, but alas, our ballet plans went awry: the National Ballet stage hands went on strike mere hours after we arrived in the big city, leaving me prostrate on the bed in tears - a reaction that now strikes me as uncomfortably familiar (the Bub comes honestly by his inflexibility and emotional intensity).

With no ballet to attend, the four of us put in the evening at Honest Ed’s Italian restaurant, eating spaghetti and listening to tales of all the boys my mom dated in high school, how the relationships began and ended, and how many months/years of tearful mourning ensued. Even I was forced to admit that my mother’s tales of high-school heartbreak outdid the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy for sheer entertainment value.

I’ve always known that my mother was the mom. She was never any good at arts and crafts – while other mothers wielded glue-guns with conviction and created original recipes for homemade turtle chocolates, my mother was always overwhelmed by such tasks. The day before one memorable birthday I arrived home from school to an unexpected treat: two round, one-inch-high slabs of homemade birthday cake that had failed to rise – the cake was dense and heavy, and my mother was furious, but I was thrilled: cake! A day early! (The next day, and for many years thereafter, my birthday cakes were made from Duncan Hines.)

Games were an equally daunting challenge for my mother. When, as a four-year-old, I managed to talk her into a round of CandyLand, she could barely conceal her boredom; later, I simply conceded that my mother had a strange aversion to anything fun. While the rest of the family was shrieking and laughing in the pool, she could be found hidden in the deepest shade, reading a book.

My mom was no fun. But she was the mom for all that: the mom who fulfilled her role more fully and completely than any of the other moms I knew. She was the mom to whom I could – and did – tell everything, and in whom my friends could always depend on finding a sympathetic listener. My mom has wisdom, and insight, and an uncannily vivid memory of what it’s like to be a child or, later, a teenager. It’s not merely that she remembers the past; rather, those memories produce an emotional echo of surprising intensity: all I have to do is mention the Bub’s birth, for instance, and my mother groans audibly, transported in an instant back to the corner of the high-risk delivery room where she sat huddled in the fetal position while we waited for the obstetrician to tell us whether it would be the forceps or the C-section. Either way, her daughter was about to be cut open, and I’m not entirely sure which of us was suffering the most in that moment. "This is a nightmare. This is a nightmare," she thought at the time, over and over again, and all I have to do is mention that room, or the mean doctor who wouldn’t up my epidural, and she starts to shudder.

My mom is not a writer, though it was she who taught me to read, who took me to the library and recommended Thornton Burgess, L.M. Montgomery, and later Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë. But if my mother had a blog, you would all want to go read it. When I first went away to university, I took with me an "interview" my mother had written up for a class reunion. Each member of her graduating class had to write a one-page report of who they had become and what they had done with their lives, and my mother entitled hers, "An Ordinary Woman." I stuck it up on my wall because it made me laugh and because, more than any photo, it reminded me of her and made the miles between us seem a bit less wide. Here it is (reprinted with permission).

Modern Woman magazine presents the first of a four-part series of interviews with ordinary women. Our first subject is J.C. of Lambeth, Ontario, who seemed to us to have a particularly lack-lustre existence.

We met our subject at her residence where a middle-aged woman with a nondescript hairdo, wearing a faded "ROOTS" sweatshirt welcomed us with a smile that revealed a rather distracting gap between her front teeth. The house itself seemed to have great potential if one could manage to turn a blind eye to the décor which could only be described as dated.


M.W. Ms. C., you have a lovely home. What family do you have?

J.C. Well, I have a daughter who is 19 and in university and another daughter who is 16 and attends a vocational high school. And of course, there’s my husband, who is a chartered accountant. Oh, and I mustn’t forget my two boys Mack and Lucky.

M.W. Mack and Lucky?

J.C. Yes, they’re our cats, but they are almost human. As a matter of fact –

M.W. Uh, Ms. C., to get to the point, don’t you find your life as a housewife to be somewhat monotonous?

J.C. Oh, no. I’m quite busy. I teach Sunday School and volunteer. Then there is the ever-present challenge of getting the downstairs clean before the upstairs needs it again. And then being somewhat of a hypochondriac, I make all our baked goods from scratch, using whole grains and baking powder without alum, as well as canola oil instead of palm or coconut oils.

M.W. What? Oh, I’m sorry, I must have nodded off for a minute. Seriously, are you not afraid of losing your husband to a less boring woman?

J.C. No, he’s just as boring as I am.

M.W. Oh that’s right. You did say he was an accountant.

M.W. Do you not miss having a career?

J.C. I’m not sure. I used to be a nurse, and occasionally I dream I am working at the hospital. Then when I wake up, I’m always disappointed that I’m not – but I suspect I just want to be young again.

M.W. Yes, I see what you mean. You know, an eye lift would do wonders.

J.C. I know, but Barbara Bush is my role model.

M.W. Then there’s no point in mentioning porcelain bonding?

J.C. No.

M.W. Well, I suppose the one good thing about your life is that you don’t inspire envy in others.

J.C. Oh, I’m sure that’s true, but I really like my life.

M.W. Of course you do dear.

Note from the Editor: On reconsideration, this concludes our series of interviews with ordinary women.


Karen said...

I like your mom already.

And I'm here to spread the warm and fuzzies a la Pajama Mama and my sis.

Piece of Work said...

I LOVE your Mom!

Mrs. Chicky said...

Your mom is my kind of woman. She actually sounds a lot like my mom did. Right down to the teeth!

Jaelithe said...

Your mom is awesome. I totally want to steal her "interview" to send in for my own class reunion . . .

Mayberry said...

Brilliant. Count me in a huge fan of your mom too.

bubandpie said...

I can't wait to tell her she's got an online fan club. If only she had a computer (or knew how to use one) - then she could come visit you all!

Her Bad Mother said...

I love this. So banal to say so, it's the standard comment, blah blah, but I do.

I could so tell a similar story.


kittenpie said...

hee hee, you gotta love a woman who is so keenly aware but who can laugh at herself.

OddMix said...

Sounds like a wonderful mom, indeed. Get that woman a blog, pronto!

Jenny said...

Hee! You're mom totally rocks.

You crack me up.

The June Cleaver Diaries said...

I'm LOVIN' your mom! She totally could have hung with me at the Lacrosse game...

Veronica Mitchell said...

I loved her interview.

And telling your mom everything? Your mom was a brave woman. I'm not sure I want my kids to tell me everything.

sunshine scribe said...

I really love your mom. She sounds like my kind of woman too. Please count me in her online fan club. I adored this post G.

lildb said...

wow. she sounds beautiful. my idea of beautiful, anyway.

no wonder you're such an amazing person. you got some good mothering, lady. (that's not to suggest you're not to be given most of the credit for your amazingness, but you were clearly given a good start to it.)


bubandpie said...

lildb - I have no problem admitting that anything good in me comes directly from my mother. (Wait a minute. That's supposed to be God, right? Well, then, God via my mother - an assessment she'd probably agree with.)

crazymumma said...

Real... she is...thank goodness. Anne