Category Archives: mothers and daughters

My Mother’s Daughter

My daughter and I were out shopping for school supplies last weekend. We went to Target because they send me coupons, even though it typically turns out that we can’t use said coupons because we aren’t buying $20 worth of Crayola products or she doesn’t need to save $2 on a new backpack because she doesn’t need a new backpack. But there we were, standing in front of a monstrous display of folders that was one step away from avalanche proportions, when two older women (okay, older than I am anyway), turned into the aisle where we were. Despite their capri pants and T-shirts, I immediately knew that they were nuns.

I can spot a nun at 30 paces. Maybe it’s due to my years in Catholic elementary school and a Catholic college (the former a choice that was made for me, the latter a choice that was made by circumstances and finances). Somehow women who are nuns just always look happier and more peaceful than everybody else. At least they do to me.

There have been moments in my life when something in the universe tells me to talk to a certain stranger. Something told me to say hello to these women, so I did. They said hello back. Then I asked if they were teachers.

“Yes,” one said, and mentioned she teaches at a local Catholic high school. The other woman said she taught at a local Catholic college, which so happens to be my alma mater. They were at Target to “fill” four backpacks with school supplies as part of a back-to-school program for disadvantaged children.

“I’m an alumna,” I said. “And my mother used to manage the bookstore there.” My mother’s employment was the reason I transferred to that college in my sophomore year and the only reason I was able to afford to complete my bachelor’s degree without putting myself further into ridiculous debt. My mom was a single parent by the time I was ready for college. As the last in a large family, there was nothing resembling a college fund for me. She didn’t have the finances to give me money for college. Instead, she gave me support, encouragement, unconditional love, and a safe place to live as long as I needed it. And through her job, she gave me a bachelor’s degree.

When I told this woman, this religious woman who has devoted her life to teaching and serving others, who my mother was, her expression turned wistful.

“Your mother was so generous…” she began.

You know how when someone says something nice about something dear to you, your mind gets all fluttery with happiness and gratitude until you can no longer hear their actual words, just the emotion behind them? No? Maybe it’s just me. When I had my first short story accepted, the editor called me up me and I’m not sure I remember what she said after “Your story is beautiful.” I just knew they loved it. And that’s what happened here. This woman said something lovely about my mother, and my mind went all to mush.

I only had a few dollars in cash on me, but I pulled my money out of my pocket and said, “Can I make a small donation to school supply fund?”

Both women looked at me and said, “You’re just like your mother.”

My mom died 11 years ago. My daughter is the only one of her grandchildren she never got to meet. I talk to my child about her grandmother, but I know that there’s a level of displacement there. Pictures and stories can’t replace the flesh.

My role now is The Mom. At her school, I’m “E’s Mom.” In a store or restaurant or park or anywhere, I’m the mom with the cute little girl. With my own mom having been gone so long, it’s a rare moment when I have the opportunity to think of myself as a daughter. When these two kind women said I was just like my mother, I admit I melted a little bit, turned all to mush. Because you know what? Even after 11 years, I still miss my something awful. There are days when I have questions about being a parent or questions that I can’t seem to answer on my own or days when I just wish I could be someone’s child again.

After we chatted for a few minutes, the kindly nuns and I parted ways. As they turned the aisle, one of them said, “It was an honor to celebrate your mother.”

Indeed it was.

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The Most Rewarding Convo I’ve Ever Had with a Child

The kid and I went to the public swimming pool late this afternoon. After an overcast, unseasonably cool August day, the sun had come and things had warmed up to a balmy 68 degrees (or thereabouts). We were in the car, driving down the street to do some errands, when the warmth of the sun got to me.

“Wanna go to the pool instead?”

She thought as we drove by three houses.

“Yes.”

I made a U-turn, we went home, quickly changed and grabbed towels, and headed for the pool. Our town has two pools–a big one and a little one. We much prefer the little one. It just has a friendlier, more laid-back vibe. We know all the lifeguards and they know my kid. Every day at 3:00, when the lifeguards take a 15-minute break and everyone has to clear the pool, the ice cream truck pulls into the parking lot and rakes in the cash. The small pool never draws the crowds that the bigger one does, and every year, the city threatens to close it, but it keeps plugging away. I guess because of people like us.

It was cool today. Scratch that. It was cold. When we arrived at the pool, we were the only ones there except for a bunch of bored lifeguards. The female guards had resorted to doing each others hair while the guy guards hung out and talked and bounced a basketball around. Once we showed up, they sprang into action. One of the guards was up on the chair, the mushroom sprinkler was on, and the water slide flowing before I even had my sandals off.

The water was cold. Bracing. And we loved it. I swam a few laps and felt my body fighting against the cold, felt myself warming up in spite of it. But when I saw the kid was shivering, it was time to go.

We went home the long way, via the frozen custard stand and a quick trip to the grocery store. Hours later, I realized the kid was still wearing her bathing suit under her clothes. As she changed, we had The Most Rewarding Conversation I’ve Ever Had with a Child.

Me: I’m glad we went swimming today.

Child: Me too. (Who doesn’t love an agreeable kid?)

Me: Even though it was cold.

Child: It was like a hot tub only the opposite. And I don’t have any body fat to keep warm. (Indication that she actually occasionally listens and retains information from Mommy.)

Me: Not like Mommy. (Said as I picked her up and started doing bicep curls with her. She is small enough that you can do that.)

Child: Yep, you’re fatter than I am. (She is bravely honest.)

Me: Thanks.

Child: You’re not fat. You look just like a teenager, only not as dumb. (There are no words. Only gratitude.)

Of Bicycles and Inspiring Cliches

I believe that bicycles are the most perfect form of transportation ever invented. While my husband isn’t a cyclist, I’m pleased that my seven-year-old daughter shares my love of two wheels. When she first mastered a two-wheeler sans training wheels, she rode around and around a big empty parking lot, yelling “I love biking!” There’s a lot to love about a bike. It’s the first vehicle most of us ever get to drive, our first taste of genuine autonomy. Walking and running are fine, but a bicycle can take you somewhere.

We have a trail-a-bike that attaches to the seat of my bike and turns it into a tandem. The kid is a great stoker. Sometimes when we’re out on the tandem she’ll say, “Mommy, stop pedaling,” and when I do, I can feel her little legs pedaling away, carrying both of us.

Most the time we attach the trail-a-bike to my old hybrid bicycle and just tool around the neighborhood or go to the swimming pool or to get ice cream. Last summer, we did our first organized ride–a 15-mile ride sponsored by a local university. For that, we hooked the trail-a-bike up to my road bike and we flew. When the ride was over, the kid wasn’t even tired. This year, we went for a bigger challenge. The local JCC held its first community bike ride and festival. The ride lengths were 10, 25, or 50 miles. The kid wanted to do the 25-miler.  And while I’ll routinely do 25 or 30 miles on my own, I wasn’t sure she was up to the distance and the somewhat hilly route. We settled on biking the 6 miles to the JCC, doing the 10-miler, and biking home.

The morning of the ride, we had a nice breakfast with my husband before he went to an all-day golf outing and had a little time to play before we dressed and got our things together. We put on our helmets and pulled the tandem out of the mud room and onto the driveway. Then I looked at the front tire. I had pumped up the tires on the tandem the night before, but somehow, between then and the morning, the front tire had gone flat.  I said a bad word.

“You owe me a quarter,” the kid said. Giving her a quarter each time I say a bad word in front of her was supposed to curb my potty mouth, but all it’s really done is give her something of a nest egg to buy art supplies.

“Yes, I know,” I replied.  “I’ll give it to you later.  I glanced at the clock on the cycle computer. It was  9:00 a.m. “Okay, it’ll take us about 25 or 30 minutes to bike there. The ride starts at 10:00, so if I can change this tire fast, we’ll be fine.” The kid looked at me with one of those all-trusting expressions that makes me feel completely inadequate to her vision of what I am capable and said, “Okay, Mommy.”

You know how sometimes events conspire to make you think perhaps the universe is trying to give you a message? I had one of those moments as I started changing the tire and felt the first rain drop.

“Do you really want to do this ride?” I asked.

“Yes, I want to do it.”

“Have you noticed that it’s kind of raining?”

“I like the rain.”

We (okay, I) got the tire changed and pumped up. We set off as it started to rain harder. After a couple of blocks, it hadn’t let up. I wasn’t feeling the joy of the ride. Not at all.

“Why are we doing this again?” I called over my shoulder.

“Because I want to!”

More rain, a slight uphill, then a little voice from the back of the bike said, “If we believe in ourselves, we can make it.”

In my youth, I watched a lot of television. The number of hours I spent watching crappy Saturday morning kids’ shows and After School Specials and made-for-TV movies is roughly equivalent to the amount of time needed to earn a bachelor’s degree . Enough that hearing a character utter the words “If we believe in ourselves, we can make it” would make me roll my eyes and wonder why they couldn’t find a a screenwriter who didn’t deal in cliches. But hearing those words come out of my child’s mouth as she’s happily stoking away on the back of the tandem, uphill, in the rain? When she said that, the rain stopped, the sun came out, the pavement became smooth and unblemished beneath our tires, and it was downhill both ways.

Okay, none of that happened. What did happen was in that moment, I realized that I don’t always have to be the cheerleader. As a parent, especially as a mother, I sometimes feel that there’s an unwritten law that says Mom needs to keep the peace, keep everyone’s spirits up, and yeah, make dinner and clean up when it’s all over. And sometimes you don’t feel like doing that, just like sometimes you don’t feel like changing a tire and biking in the rain. I realized that I don’t have to do everything.  And I realized how fortunate I was to be riding uphill, in the rain, and feeling her pedaling away behind me, pushing both of us forward.

–by Susan Petrone

Tales from the Kid Planet

I had a girls’ night out the other evening with my daughter, who just turned seven. We ate Indian food and she told me about the goings on in first grade. At one point (okay, a few points) during our meal, she started making up words (we had a pretend conversation in babble), and a  couple other times she kind of spaced out, staring at people in the restaurant, or just got silly.

At one point when she was being a total goof, I asked: “What planet are you from anyway? The Kid Planet?”

“Yes. That’s where I go sometimes.”

“Like when I tell you to put on your shoes and socks in the morning and ten minutes later you’re in your room, barefoot, singing to yourself and coloring, that’s where you go?”

“Yes,”

I heard a lot of details about the Kid Planet. I used to call it the Six-Year-Old Planet, but then she had a birthday. And as I discovered, it’s really for all kids, not just six-year-olds. Nobody lives there because, she tells me, “There aren’t any bedrooms,” but kids go there sometimes during the day when they appear not to be listening to the adults. There’s a quiet room and a noisy room, a swimming pool that is 2/3 the length of the pool at our local YMCA (she was very clear about this). Actually there are two pools–one for swimming to burn off little kid energy and one for playing. My kid goes to both. And there’s another room where kids can just go and run around and burn off energy.

“What about babies?” I asked. “Do they go to Kid Planet too?”

“Well, they’re in a separate building next door.”

“How old do the babies have to be before they can move up to the other building?”

“Like three or four.” My guess is that the babies are pretty much in the Baby Building on Kid Planet 24-7 with occasional excursions into our world. From what my daughter tells me, the move up to the Big Kid Building seems be based more on milestones and personal preference than strictly on age. Which makes sense because there are no adults on the Kid Planet, and I can’t see any of the kids actually making and enforcing rules. The whole thing seems to be a sort of anarcho-collective, which I find deeply appealing.

To get into the Kid Planet, my daughter told me that “You just go up to the gate and tell them your name, and then they let you in.” She says this will not work if you’re an adult. Little does she know.

Last year for Halloween, she dressed up as a Magical Creature. She had wings and antennae and ton of glow sticks attached to her clothes. She is an inventive, clever, kind, funny little person. To my mind, she is a magical creature every day.

People say that your kids keep you young. That’s physically impossible. We get older; they get older. So it goes. What our children do is remind us of the little people we once were, of the magical creatures we used to be. We were magical, you know. Those magical creatures are still in us, still part of us. They surface when we forget our adult selves and climb a tree, jump into a pile of leaves, or run through a sprinkler. In short, when our kids remind us of the glorious little people we once were.

The next time you’re in a meeting at work or letting your mind wander while you’re doing the laundry or the dishes or mowing the lawn, take a visit to the Kid Planet. Don’t be afraid. Go up to the gate and whisper your name. If you let yourself remember, they’ll let you in.

–by Susan Petrone