Malcolm McDowell Woods
Baloney on Wry

On becoming your mother

By - Sep 1st, 2009 12:01 am
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Kathi Gardner. Photo by Stephanie Bartz

Jay and I are at State Fair, standing behind a group of ‘tweens dressed in the latest fashion and glowing with youthful exuberance. I am busy watching the crowd, one of my favorite pastimes, when a snatch of conversation catches my attention.

“ . . . like, I am so not like my mom. Every single time I leave the house she’s like, ‘Be careful, sweetie, drive safe.’ I will never, ever say the same thing like that to my kids. It makes me so crazy!”

I raise an eyebrow at Jay, and we share a knowing smile.

I wonder what the actual statistics are. How many of us have vowed at some point in time that we would never, ever be over-protective/ask too many questions/repeat ourselves/tell our children what to do: that we would never, ever be like our parents?

It’s a universal vow, and one that I’m sure we firmly intend to keep. Sometimes, though, things just don’t quite work out that way.

When I was a kid, my parents’ favorite forms of entertainment were hopping in the car on Sunday afternoons to go for a ride, and sitting outside on the lawn on warm summer nights, watching the stars. As you might imagine, to a teenager this was the lamest, most embarrassing thing a parent could possibly inflict upon their offspring. Other people’s parents did things like go bowling, play Sheepshead, even learn square dancing! (Somehow it never occurred to me that the children of those adventurous folks might find such activities equally lame). I promptly decided that my adult life would be full of exciting, sophisticated activities that would broaden my social circle and deeply enrich my existence.

At the time, I wasn’t anticipating a few messy details like a forty-hour-a-week job, housework, cooking, and the need to squeeze in eight hours of sleep at least two or three nights a week. To say those things would eventually infringe on my frivolity would be sadly understating the case. But I came out swinging. Compared to the central Wisconsin community I came from, Milwaukee was rife with opportunity. In the summer there were concerts in various parks, activities at the lakefront, church festivals, Summerfest – the list was endless. Then in the winter there was theater, opera, and ballet. My only problem was what to do first.

But the inevitable slowdown crept in. As most of us know, going at life nonstop when we are in our twenties is doable, but by the time the forties roll around, we need to pace ourselves a bit. I have never been much of a ‘sitter’ (I drive Jay crazy by hopping up to do this or that even when we are watching a movie) but even I began to value a few quiet evenings when I could read a bit or catch an extra hour of sleep.

And we weren’t the only ones getting older; the house was, too. Time began to take a toll on the place, and there were an ever-increasing number of projects; a fresh coat of paint for all the rooms, a beautiful old hardwood floor that needed to be re-finished.

Then one by one, people left our lives. There was my grandparents’ home to empty, then the home farm. Gradually, there became fewer leisure hours, and the few he had were spent with close friends over a quiet dinner, or at home with a warm fire, a good book, and each other for company.

When Jay retired in June, he settled into his favorite Adirondack chair in the gazebo with the newspaper every morning. Before long it seemed natural to enjoy breakfast there so we could watch the gathering of finches feeding from the thistle bags and listen to the fountain bubbling in the corner of the yard. In the evenings, the fireflies put on a lovely (if disorganized) production number too good to miss, with the stars as a backdrop.

For the last few weeks, Jay has indulged my yearning for water by taking me to the lakefront. We walk the pier, sit awhile to watch the stars come out, and stroll back. Last night, the broad, beaming smile of a full moon accompanied us. People fishing along the pier nodded their greetings, and there was a soft, mellow breeze. It was an exceptionally lovely night, even for early August. It was the kind of night my mother and father would have relished.
Perhaps being like our parents isn’t such a bad thing after all.

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