Today was the day the doctors gave up. February 1, 2015. I didn’t know it, but she had another week to live.
As I walked into the hospital, having answered my sister’s tearful phone call, I still couldn’t believe my mother was going to die. Two rounds of chemo failed. The bone marrow transplant failed. It had only been six months. I stood there, numb, shocked. This really couldn’t be happening. She was only 62. She didn’t even get to retire. She was my MOM. She had been there, every day, morning till night. Your mom is eternal, like the sun rising every morning, or the seasons changing. You never think you will have to live without your mom.
I walked quietly into her room, where she sat, morbidly tired, with tubes puncturing her arms. I knelt by her chair. She gave me that weak little smile. She still wanted to smile for me.
“I know it’s ridiculous,” I murmured, “but part of me wants to throw myself on you and beg you not to go.”
Then, unexpectedly, I did just that.
My head fell to her arm, and I started weeping. “Oh, mom. Don’t go. Please don’t go. What will I do without you?”
“Oh, honey. I don’t want to go. But you’ll go on and be just fine. I want you to take nice vacations and eat crab legs and think of me. Don’t you cry too much, now. God wants us to enjoy our lives here.”
You don’t understand, I wanted to say. I get my strength from you. No one loves me like you do. Not my best girlfriends, not my husband, not my sisters. You’re my MOM!! You used to constantly tell me that the day I was born was the happiest day of your life. That you wanted a little girl so much, and since they didn’t have ultrasounds then, you were thrilled when I popped out, a baby girl. You loved me when no one else did. You were proud of me. You thought I was awesome. Every time my phone rang with your ringtone, I’d get excited because Mom was calling, and that usually meant something fun was about to happen. You were my go-to shopping buddy. You were the first person I wanted to tell when something awesome happened. We liked so many of the same things. How am I supposed to do this without you?I can’t do this without you. I CAN’T do life without you.
But somehow … I think she knew. Maybe since she did it with her own mom. She knew it would be indescribably hard; that my heart and brain would be ripped out for years; that you look for something to fill the void, and of course you never find it, because there’s no one like your mom. The first few years are awful. You want to die, too. The memories, the photos, even being around the family is just too painful. The grief washes over you like a rogue ocean wave, out of nowhere. It slaps you, it reduces you to a tiny heap. But every time I went to a beach, looking for her, she was there. She knew I could go on. She knew the aching emptiness never goes away … but the ragged, gaping hole of her loss gets soft around the edges, and other things, other people, move quietly to the forefront of life to make you miss her less.
All I could feel at that moment, on my knees by her chair in the hospital, knowing she was going to leave me, too soon … all I could feel was agony. But she was tired of fighting.
Oh, Laura. I love you. More than you know. It’s okay, honey. It’s okay. I’ll see you again.”
Exactly seven years ago today, I was feeling poorly. Actually, that’s a dramatic understatement. I had some intense lower-right-quadrant stomach pain going on, and I’d lived in my body long enough to know it wasn’t menstrual cramps. It felt even worse than an ovarian cyst (I’d had that before, too.) However, I was determined NOT to be a hypochondriac. I’d had a life history of jumping to the worst possible conclusions over slight ailments. I got a lump in my earlobe as a pre-teen, and thought I had cancer. I had slightly weird-looking areolae as a teenager, and thought I had cancer. I had crushing chest pain as a young adult, that my mom actually took me to the ER for. (They thought it was cartilage inflammation. Turns out it was plain old heartburn. I spent nine hours waiting to be seen and got misdiagnosed for that. Excuse me but WTF. This was why I had vowed to stay out of hospitals for the rest of my life unless I was, in fact, about to die. Granted, it was a pretty shitty north county hospital. Perhaps I’d have gotten better service at another one. Come to think of it, I could hardly have gotten WORSE service …) Also, my mother, God rest her soul, had been a NICU registered nurse, and my father was a pharmacist. I fancied myself more educated than the average citizen about health and physiology. My mom had told us several times about colleagues of hers that had gone to the ER, convinced they were having heart attacks, strokes or aneurysms, only to be told they were having attacks of gas or migraines. I had been known to have some gas on occasion. Granted, this was pretty damn bad. I picked my husband up at work, then had him drive home because I was doubled over in the passenger seat, begging him to hurry. At home, I chomped down about eight Xtra Strength Gas-X, screamed in pain as I gingerly eased into bed, and proceeded to pass out for the next eight hours. In hindsight, the fact that I slept like the dead all night, not even waking up, is fairly mind-boggling. I suppose my body was shoring up for the adventure ahead. In the morning, not a thing had changed. My husband wanted to take me to the Urgent Care, but I sent him to work with our only car and waited to feel better. I then did what any semi-educated, freaked-out, former hypochondriac would do: got on WebMD to diagnose myself and effect a cure. Fun fact: if you put in “stomach pain” on WebMD, you will get a bewildering variety of ailments that you will immediately be convinced that you have contracted. It’s one of those symptoms that can be anything from the aforementioned simple gas to bubonic plague. I made a list of my possible ailments:
— intestinal blockage
— bleeding ulcer
— irritable bowel syndrome
— kidney stone
— ectopic pregnancy (unlikely — I had not missed a pill in a decade)
— cancer (ovarian, uterine, colon, stomach, or gall bladder)
— pelvic inflammatory disease (which I recognized from watching ER as “the ol’ PID shuffle”)
— endometriosis/uterine fibroids
I added the highly unlikely possibilities of dengue fever, yellow fever, parasitic worm and alien infestation. I was fuddled because it seemed appendicitis was the most likely culprit, but I was missing most of the symptoms. I had no fever, nausea, vomiting, painful urination or coughing. Discouraged, I logged off and tried to rest on the couch. By noon, I had been off my head with this pain for 24 hours. I called my husband and told him to come home and take me to the Urgent Care. I should’ve listened to him in the first place. They didn’t have the facilities to make a more definitive diagnosis, but going simply on the classic lower-right-quadrant pain, they advised I get my ass to the ER posthaste. Ten minutes later (bless living close to a hospital!!), we were at the admitting desk, proving I was who I said I was and that I would not leach off the taxpayers for my medical treatment. I then writhed in extreme discomfort on a gurney-bed for about an hour while they ran tests, and my poor helpless husband sat by my side. One of the nurses came in to try to relieve some pain. “I’m going to give you a shot of morphine to try to take the edge off,” she explained. “Oh,” I murmured. “I thought that was only for amputees and gunshot victims.” She smiled and said, “I’m only going to give you a low dose, because you’re such a tiny little thing.” (At this point in time, I had just finished a 7-month quest of going on Weight Watchers and, in fact, had lost 31 pounds and looked damn good. I remarked to my husband that “She called me tiny!”, causing a wry smile. I should have asked for a whopping great dose, because it did precisely NOTHING.) While all this had been going on, there had been snow and ice outside for the previous two days. There was about a quarter-inch of ice on the roads at this point, and the people in my city, famously, cannot drive in any kind of weather. Despite the fact that we are Midwesterners and deal with this LITERALLY EVERY WINTER, they continue to drive maniacally and/or distractedly, convinced in their own superiority over the elements, simply because they have four-wheel drive or a big truck cab. Ugh. My mother lived about thirty minutes away down the highway, and I did NOT want her out in the elements. “Tell mom to STAY PUT,” I ordered my husband. “We’ll tell her something else when the test results come back.” Sure enough, it was appendicitis. When the nurse told me this, I burst into tears. I was well aware that this was probably the most routine surgery in America, as she (no doubt alarmed by a 37-year-old, grown-ass woman bursting into tears over such a simple thing) tried to explain to me, but at that point I’d just had too much. Two full days of excruciating pain; a place I loathed being in (see moronic hospital mis-diagnosis, when I had trusted in the medical system, above); and my mom not being there, had just broken the camel’s back. I was done, at emotional max gross load, and tired of trying to find the answer and be strong. I just wanted someone to take care of me and get this over with. In addition, I was scared. I’d never even been in the hospital before. I had never had a baby, never broken a bone, never even needed stitches for anything. I led a fairly boring life, and liked it that way. They put me in a room by myself. But no matter how exhausted you are, you cannot sleep when you’re off your head with pain, scared, worried, and people come in every hour to poke, turn or measure you. A nurse came and sat with me at 3:00 in the morning and talked with me for a while. She was very nice. I wrote the hospital a glowing review about her. I hope she got a raise. Or at least a closer parking space for a month. At about 4:00 a.m., I got notice the surgeon was on his way in. I dimly wondered if he’d gotten enough sleep to be fresh by operating time, as I was well aware (again, from watching ER and various news stories of medical mishaps) that physician fatigue was definitely A Thing … but as they wheeled me down to pre-op, circles darkening my eyes from abject misery and lack of rest, I figured at that point that if Dr. Surgery-At-Dawn simply wanted to bathe my abdomen in whisky, cut me open with a steak knife, yank that infected little fucker out, and cauterize my insides with a fireplace poker, that actually would be really fucking fine with me. I’m sure at this point, I no longer even cared if I died. They parked me in a small room … and suddenly my mom was there. The darn woman had driven miles over a quarter-inch of ice to be with me. As relieved as I was to see her, I was annoyed she’d exposed herself to danger on the roads. She hugged and kissed me, then sat down and opened her Bible. “Would you like me to read you something?” she suggested. “For God’s sake, mother, I am not dying,” I snapped. (I NEVER called her “mother.” She was mom or Mumsy. Another component of being off my head with agony.) “Well … it’s not just for dying,” she said gently. I told her fine, to read me a Psalm. I blacked out as she was reading. A doctor must have come in and anesthetized me. Rather sneaky of him. Something very drug-dealer, first-hit’s-free about the whole thing. I woke up midday as they were wheeling me back to my room. Having never been under anesthesia or the knife before, I learned some more fun facts. First, it can take a while to come out of. I mean, they have literally drugged you into a near-death state … it takes some time to shake that shit off. I couldn’t move my arms or speak. But I realized my chest hurt terribly, both feeling squeezed and like something heavy was sitting on me. Why did my chest hurt?? Had a medical mishap occured?? Did I have paralysis??!! I tried with all my might to lift my arm and massage my aching collarbone. Finally I managed to choke out, “Chest. Hurts.” “Oh, yes, that’s probably the result of the gas we blew into you,” someone said. UM EXCUSE ME WHAT. WHAT THE ACTUAL FUCK WITH GAS. “We blow you up a little to have extra room to maneuver, to lessen the chances of nicking anything,” the someone repeated. “It will dissipate on its own as you move.” Well. They certainly never covered that on ER. Second, they usually don’t need to “cut you open” anymore. I had a laparoscopic thingamajig that left me with only the tiniest scar along my belly button ridge. Pfffff. As if I cared. Some surgery patients must be very vain. I was extremely lucky. Even after 48 hours of bone-grinding pain, my appendix had not burst and I had no peritonitis. In hindsight again, it’s amazing to me that thing didn’t burst. It certainly had enough time. I can only fall back on the amusing adage I once heard, that “God takes care of fools and babies … and I know I ain’t no baby.” Third, all that messing about with your various organs is a shock to the system. It might take several days for things to be All Systems Go again. I had to pee right away. So I was relieved that was in working order. But it would be four days before I successfully pooped. By the third day, I was beginning to think I might never poop again, and envisioned horrific scenarios of going to dialysis, or simply exploding from the belly in some sort of impacted shit-shower. But thankfully, on the fourth evening, things moved along fine and I sent my mom a text with the little shit emoji, in all caps. A joyful “I POOPED!!!!!!!” Being a nurse, she shared my joy. As annoyed as I was with her for braving an ice-covered interstate at four in the morning, I was nonetheless overjoyed that she was with me. Even lying in a hospital in agony is not so scary if your mom is there to take care of you … at any age. When I was back in my room, I asked her to sit on the bed with me and hold my hand. She glanced at my husband, busily texting our friends and family to keep them updating, and said, “I feel like I’m usurping your husband’s place.” But she came and sat on the bed and held my hand. (My husband was — and is — magnificent: he stayed with me for nearly 24 hours with no sleep and little food to make sure I was taken care of. But he was busy at the moment and I wanted mom comfort.) I’m glad she “usurped” my husband’s place and sat for a few minutes at my hospital bed. She died three years later, and I’ll never have that chance again. Of course, I am also planning to NEVER EVER go into the hospital again. Do you hear that, gall bladder? And any other unassuming, nonessential organs that may be fomenting revolt? Just cut that shit out right now. The one time I was NOT a hypochondriac, I NEARLY FRIGGIN’ DIED. So I’m gonna be super vigilant from now on. I’m on to you, body. farts Ahhhhh. All Systems Go.
[I wrote this essay several years back, but it still resonates today.]
1983. Age: 9. Wake up languidly around 8:30 a.m. Instantly and simultaneously realize two things: Mom has not woken me up for school, and that means it’s a snow day. Mom watches news religiously and weatherman was predicting at least six inches of snow, so went to bed knowing this was entirely possible. Huge smile spreads over face. Stretch once, then hop joyfully out of bed and put on robe and Garfield slippers. Mom is already in kitchen making breakfast. Have scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and orange juice after running to window to check depth of snow. Marvel at how pretty everything looks with no cars going by on street and huge drifts of snow blanketing bushes, driveway, trees. Hope snowplows cannot get out. After breakfast, defer playing outside and acquiesce to younger sister’s request to play Connect Four. Whup her ass because I have two years on her and thus strategic part of brain is more developed. Snow time further delayed due to mandatory viewing of “The Price Is Right,” which is special weekday treat viewed only on summers and vacation days. Rejoice when favorite game, Plinko, is on. Moan with contestant and audience that not once does Plinko chip slide into $10,000 slot. Vaguely wonder if Plinko game is rigged. Finally suit up for snow play. Entails outrageously high knee socks, long pants, snow pants over those, shirt and sweatshirt, heavy winter coat, knit cap with bimple-bomple on top, scarf wound around face approximately five times, thick padded gloves clipped to coat sleeves, and moon boots with squishy insides like foam mattress. Dash outside with sister and proceed to defile virgin snow by breaking paths through knee-high drifts. Complete requisite construction of several snowballs and pelt each other with them (not near face to avoid wrath of mom). Snap icicle off tree and eat it. Follow mom’s dictate not to eat yellow snow. Brush snow off swings, slide and trapeze on swing set, as this is “being helpful” to mom. Lie down and make snow angels, giggling madly. Begin construction on traditional snowman. Younger sister makes head; we both make middle and bottom. Find rocks to use for eyes and mouth. Snap spindly branches off tree for cool-looking snowman arms. Knock on back door and request carrot for nose and extra scarf for snowman. Know better than to drag snowy boots through house to get them ourselves. Mom obliges. Snowman complete. Return inside and de-suit, leaving outerwear in heap by door, for lunch of grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup. Much to our delight, mom has made fresh chocolate chip cookies. Gorge. Fortified and sugar-buzzing, re-suit for afternoon play. Foot had slipped out of moon boot during morning and boot interior became cold and soggy. Mom insists on boots for outside. Improvises by having me put on regular shoes and shoving two Wonderbread plastic bags over shoes, securing them on calves with giant rubber bands, rendering shoes waterproof. Hurrah! Snow has resumed falling. Spot neighbor children, good friends Adam and Susan Biggs, clattering out their back door. Invite them to hop chain-link fence and join us. They oblige. (Even padded with clothing like a tick about to burst, hopping chain-link fence is not difficult.) Decide snow fort would be industrious and productive use of time. Discover difficulty of constructing adequate walls with absence of tools other than hands. Stand in snow and think hard. Struck by heavenly inspiration, knock on back door and request Tupperware containers from mom. Receive rectangle-shaped containers and proceed to construct large, perfect snow bricks. Skip He-Man and Voltron cartoons in favor of seeing how much of snow fort can get done. Spend afternoon happily piling snow bricks into fort, leaving space for door. Thrilled with architectural prowess as can actually walk in and have room to sit down. Succeed in building snow fort almost head-high. Make snowballs to pile inside for arsenal. Sun has set and streetlights have come on, illuminating still-falling snow and bathing snow fort in Hollywood-esque light. Decide finishing touch is needed. Borrow extra yardstick from mom and tie yellow plastic Post-Dispatch wrapper to stick, crowning snow fort with homemade flag, which looks more like windsock. Cold but far from tired, retire inside, delighted to find favorite dinner of frozen chicken nuggets and Ore-Ida crinkly fries with ketchup. Compliment mom on her “cooking.” Puzzled when she responds by rolling eyes. Still snowing. Probability of second snow day discussed. Sister and I snuggle on couch wrapped in sheep- and duck-printed wool blankets. Mom puts in “Sound of Music” videotape, taped off network television. Settle in for three hours of singing and dancing, with bowls of popcorn and a glass of Pepsi each. Wonder what Liesel ever saw in Rolf. Unanimous agreement of the von Trapps’ bravery for singing at the festival before fleeing the Nazis. Finally retire for night. Snuggle with Heart-to-Heart Bear (teddy bear with heartbeat). Mom tucks in and kisses forehead. Say prayers. Fall asleep immediately with utter sense of contentment, safety, happiness and peace.
2009. Age: 33. Bolt awake at 2 a.m. Panic. Quietly raise window blinds of bedroom. Fully aware of previous night’s forecast of six to eight inches of snow, peer outside to check road condition. Swear inwardly as view street blanketed with snow and drifts on lawn nearly burying flower garden. Sinking suspicion that eight inches has already been reached. Swear further at absence of snowplows. Pray that highways are being cleared. Attempt to stockpile more sleep. Don’t so much “awaken” as swim blearily toward consciousness at 6:30 a.m. Sigh into electric blanket. Grab robe, nearly trip over inquisitive cat, check school closings online. Am employed by seminary which closes only in cases of massive ice storms or citywide power outage. Doubt that eight inches of snow will dissuade them from educating future pastors. Suspicions confirmed. Seminary opening only 30 minutes later than usual. Vividly and colorfully swearing inside head, put on work uniform and top with heavy overcoat, scarf wound around head five times, leather gloves and 14-year-old Timberland waterproof boots. Retrieve snow shovel from garage. Begin laborious and highly distasteful task of shoveling eight inches off driveway. Sweat profusely and become short of breath. Upon reaching end of driveway, invent new curse words when realize city plowing has created hard-packed ridge of snow to be cleared. Remark to self on incredulity of snow being so heavy. Husband sticks head out door and begins to criticize shoveling technique. Respond that if he knows what’s good for him he’ll see if there’s a second snow shovel in garage and lend assistance at once. Husband shuts door in pissy manner to suit up. Lean on snow shovel despondently at end of driveway, dreaming of hot breakfast and coffee. Realize driveway only one-quarter cleared. Dream of fast-forwarding 30 years to retirement. Think dismally how much 30 years resembles life sentence. Resume shoveling despite growing ache in lower back. Husband appears and searches for second snow shovel. Husband asks with amazement and contempt in voice why I am shoveling from edge instead of starting in middle of driveway. Not at best at 7:30 a.m. with no food or coffee, not to mention freezing and tired with dread of two-hour commute ahead, exchange heated words and insults with husband. Upon completion of my side of driveway, fling snow shovel to ground in dramatic display of temper and frustration. Stalk inside. Realize have sweated so much in work uniform as to require shower. Strip and enjoy hot shower. Phone rings. With foresight, have brought both landline and cell phone into bathroom in case of boss phoning. Congratulate self on advance planning. Boss notifies me of office’s late opening. One leg in shower and one out, hold phone at distance from ear to adequately hear, yet avoid getting shampoo in phone. Ask boss, since work has been slow, of any possibility of taking day off. Boss thinks for several seconds and grants request. Elated, hang up and wipe water off phone. As finish shower, bless boss for her kindness and praise God for amassed hours of paid time off. Ask God’s forgiveness for swearing and childish behavior while shoveling. Instead of feeling better, feel worse for snapping at husband. Grumpily mutter to self about shoveling being man’s work anyway. Mean side of brain mutters back that husband has done laundry and cooking for past seven years. Snap at brain to shut up. Change into sweats and thick winter socks. Make fried egg sandwich for breakfast. Read paper rescued from snowdrift. Cat jumps into lap and gets kiss on head. Husband’s earliest clients have cancelled because of snow, pushing his work start time to 2 p.m. Answer emails from friends. Call mother-in-law in boonies to assure she has power. Debate possibilities of reading novel, sewing, doing scrapbook page or cleaning bathroom. Worn out after start of day, chuck all options and lie on couch. Curl up with sheep-print wool blanket still in possession from childhood. Do not watch “The Price is Right” since Bob Barker retired. Watch “Little House on the Prairie” marathon. Marvel at how stupid Italian immigrant is who went to Deadwood with Ingalls to pan for gold, running down street of Deadwood hollering of good fortune. Correctly predict Italian immigrant will be shot and robbed within 20 minutes. Eat two pieces of cheese for lunch. Husband leaves for work. Channel surf and watch show on beaches on Travel Channel. Wistfully remember honeymoon in Mexico. Try to remember what 80 degrees feels like. Would like to get mail, but on principle will not step foot outside again. Make huge mug of Ghirardelli hot chocolate and mourn absence of mini marshmallows. Make popcorn. Watch part of “Casino Royale” for twentieth time. Appreciate Daniel Craig’s beauty. Snuggle lower on couch. Cat jumps on couch, curls up on gut and goes to sleep. Self follows suit, dozing off for full hour. Wake to setting sun. Make plain spaghetti for dinner. Am in possession of frozen chicken nuggets and Ore-Ida crinkly fries but am too tired for all that trouble. Wish was at mom’s house eating meatloaf and homemade mashed potatoes and playing with dog. Return to couch and watch classic Disney movie from 1960s. Experience happiest moment of day when one cat lies on lap and another lies on chest and both go to sleep. Get ready for bed. Check street conditions outside. Slushy yet passable. Curl into electric blanket and read favorite author. Fall asleep slowly and with great difficulty while worrying about friend’s marital problems, state of economy, personal finances, what’s on docket at work tomorrow. Think how long it’s been since felt happy, peaceful and safe all at once. Remember how nice it was when mom tucked us in and kissed foreheads. Realize that last vestiges of childhood fall away when one acquires mortgage and curses snow. Contemplate moving to Gulf Coast in 30 years to enjoy white sand beaches and pretty blue-green surf. Remember hurricanes. Count blessings.
[Theological Aside: I am fully aware that I am both inherently wicked and perfectly sinless under Christ’s grace … if you don’t get that dichotomy, ask a Lutheran. They love dichotomies. Can you tell I like the word dichotomy? It’s so erudite. Anyway …]
We all have that side we don’t show the world. The shameful little character flaws we try so hard not to reveal. You know what? I bet people have more in common with these skeleton-closet personality traits than we let on. Here are some of mine. Hang on.
Every once in a while, a baby will appear on my Facebook feed and before I can stop myself, I think, “Holy shit, that is a really ugly baby.” (I’ve even done it to friends’ babies. I told you I’m evil.)
I would totally laugh if I saw any person trip. Even, dare I admit it, a blind person. I would hope to catch myself in time and clap a hand over my mouth to muffle it, but that horrible original impulse remains. OF COURSE, I would then get control of my diabolical self and step in to help them up.
On the subject of tripping — once when I worked in retail, I fully tripped a kid who was running unsupervised and demonic around my store. On purpose. OH SHUT UP — he was like six or seven, it’s not like he was fragile. Besides, he was being a holy terror — screeching, knocking merchandise over, throwing food on the floor … if you’ve never worked retail , you will never, ever understand this. (Cue “He Had It Coming” from Chicago. Trust me. He did. And oh God, it was glorious. The crowning factor was that the little bastard didn’t even realize I did it. He just looked around, silent and befuddled, like, “What’d I trip over?” HAHAHAHAHAHA.) #StealthTrip
I like animals better than people. Because let’s face it, people suck. I fully smile and say hello to dogs on walks and totally ignore their owners.
Twice a day, in rush hour, I pray for a pandemic.
I tell my nephews things that are patently untrue, but usually well-meant, because what are kids for but to screw with? Examples: a.) The real name for otters is “water sausages.” b.) Of course I’ll catch you if you jump off the deep end of the pool. c.) Your mom knows everything. (That one backfired. I said it to my 5-year-old nephew in a moment of admiration, because my younger sister is so smart and sweet and accomplished. She told me the next day that my nephew had asked who the smartest person in their family was. Confused at this apparently apropos-of-nothing query, she replied that everyone in their family was smart in different ways and all good at different things. Processing this for a few seconds, my nephew then replied, “But Aunt Laura said you knew EVERYTHING!” Haha. Oops.)
I do, however, tell them that when they are grown-ups, they can eat ice cream for dinner if they want, and stay in their pajamas all day, and drive their cars anywhere they want. I left out the unfortunate qualifiers of working 40-60 hours a week, paying for everything else they need first, the unfairness of income and property taxes, and the ever-present crippling companion of adulthood that is existential angst. They can find that out on their own.
Sometimes when I’m hanging out at my sister’s, my 9-year-old nephew will make rounds and ask if we want anything to drink. Usually he has a little notepad to write it down. Oh my God, it’s so cute. The first time he did that, we were sitting in the hot tub and he brought me a soda. I was so overwhelmed at this display of benevolence that I gave him a $2 tip from my wallet. Now the little comedian does it all the time, and raises his eyebrows, like he knows a tip’s coming. You know what? I usually give him a dollar or so. Do you realize how cool it is to have drink orders taken at family gatherings??! Damn right I’m subsidizing that shit.
Of all the teens and kids in my family and belonging to my friends, I totally admit I have favorites. I suspect they know this, but I don’t care. If you suck up to Auntie, she’ll suck up to you. That’s how the world works. LOLOL
Every time my husband gets on the roof to clean the gutters or check the satellite, I think, “I’m just one accident away from an insurance payout that could change my life.” (And I LOVE him. No, really.)
I am particularly susceptible to flattery that is not an outright lie. It comes from being ugly the first 20 years of life, I suppose. That small spark of desire for admiration never fades. I’d truly like to get to the point where I give no shits what anyone thinks of me. The odds of this happening are distressingly low.
Since I cannot cook, I am very food-motivated and will likely do almost anything if you feed me.
I used to intensely dislike children. It was kind of legendary among my family and friends. I just couldn’t relate to them. They’re SO. FRIGGIN. LOUD. They smell. They’re inexplicably sticky. They, like horses, can smell fear and will exploit this. Watching them eat is like a horror show of disgust. Have you seen the shitshow when they sneeze, and a huge bubble of alien snot blooms out of their nose? And, even worse, JUST HANGS THERE??! Excuse me while I barf in my mouth. Then, little by little, creeping up almost undetected, like rust eventually taking over the underbelly of a car … something happened. My infant nephew peed on me while I was holding him, all wrapped up in a cozy, snuggly blanket, and he was so adorable that I didn’t even care. My nephews grew up a little and got personalities. The older one made me a placemat for a family dinner that said “Ant Lora.” I loved it so much I took it to work and stuck it over my desk. They sit in my lap and lean back against me and murmur, “I love you, Aunt Laura.” My best friend’s little girl will reach her arms out in the “hold me” gesture as her eyes light up when she recognizes me. Then my stepdaughter told me I was going to be a meemaw. I have no earthly idea how to be a “proper” meemaw. I am only 43, for God’s sake. I make raunchy jokes and drink just slightly more than is good for me. I will probably teach the kid to play blackjack as soon as he can count. I have no compunctions about playing for his allowance to teach him that life isn’t fair. I am 100% sure that I will accidentally cuss repeatedly in front of him. Then he will probably call another kid in his daycare a rat bastard and then I’ll REALLY be in trouble. But … you know what? I will always let him lick the batter. I will always slip him pocket money and whisper, “Don’t tell your mom and dad!” I will read him books on my lap for five hours straight if he wants. With accents and sound effects. We will build Lego houses and play demolition derby, really loudly, with his Matchbox cars. I will buy him a zoo membership every year, learn what his favorite animal is, and we’ll sit there for an hour or two and I’ll tell him a fake name for his favorite animal. (“That manta ray is really called an Ocean Flap Flap.”) If he plays sports, I’ll buy one of those stupid shirts that says Team Name Here Grandma. And I will sing to him when he’s two days old, and wonder what he will grow up to be passionate about, and watch with an odd mix of longing and confusion, because I never had my own child, so it will sort of be like he’s mine, but twice removed. And he can always ask me anything, or tell me anything, ever. And while I might tell him a harmless, patent untruth from time to time … he will always know that I adored him before he even drew a breath. And that I would do anything to make him happy.
If the image of my befuddled self wearing a muppet-skin coat didn’t tip you off (yes, they actually sell those at Target), I’m not one who takes things too seriously any more. I’m a middle-aged white girl, and I don’t care if someone calls me a middle-aged white girl. (Hell, as long as you refrain from calling me a fat cow to my face, we’ll probably get along fine.)
I was born in a much less stringent time … namely, the 1970s. I ate nutritionally-worthless white bread with real butter. I drank out of the garden hose. My birthday cakes had lard-icing roses and Care Bears on them, and when my mom took pictures of them, we had to wait for her to finish the film off, then wait another week for them to be developed to see if they turned out any good. After-school hours were filled with playing Frogger on our one-joystick, one-button Atari controller. I was over-the-moon excited when we got a VCR and a cable box.
I had a single mom who was a nurse, and thus, always tired … so much so that I’d feel guilty when I got sick. I was ugly and bullied relentlessly. One kid took my lunch desserts for an entire year (Kenny Stroot, I am vindictive enough to hope that you’re now diabetic). I knew something was “off” when I was about 8 years old … but I didn’t start getting help for another 24 years, because no one thought kids or teens had depression back then.
There have been a lot of road bumps we could talk about, that you’ve probably experienced, too … a job layoff, a hospital stay, dealing with depression, crises of faith, wanting to punch your husband in the throat … and absolutely the worst, losing my mother. Any of these could annihilate the average person at any time. I certainly came very close. And while I admit to being average in many respects, Life By Laura keeps going — and even succeeding — because of all the bumps overcome. And because I realize this world is absolutely ridiculous and we just need to take the sticks out of our asses and friggin enjoy it.
So, if you, like me —
Still think Pluto is a planet,
Occasionally discuss poop with your friends, because that’s real friendship, yo,
Get weary and slightly annoyed trying to remember all the letters in the most recent social movement, lest you not appear WOKE,
Realize and accept that adulthood is really just Googling how to do shit and wondering where your bruises came from,
Mourn the loss of your freakish hummingbird 21-year-old metabolism that allowed you to eat an entire stuffed crust pizza in one sitting; and are now wearing jeans sizes in the teens, but still realize that you’re pretty damn fabulous,
… then come and sit by me, my friend. We have a whole lot to talk about.