Tags: memories


No, My Mother Didn't REALLY Feed Me Arsenic...

Happy Mother's Day, and Happy Birthday to my mom, who would have been 84 years old today.

Yes, my mom, the master manipulator and queen of cliches--and I mean that in the most loving and reverent way. She had her stock responses which, to this day, my siblings and I can recite by rote:

Whenever we messed with something we shouldn’t have messed with: “You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you?”

When we cried longer than deemed absolutely necessary: “Do you want me to give you something to cry about?”

When we asked what unidentifiable food was sitting on our plate: “Arsenic. Eat it.” If we declined she'd remind us of all the "starving kids in Europe." Always Europe. Never China. (Warning: Do not offer to send it them...)

When responding to noises in another room: “Whatever you’re doing in there, cut it out!” (Warning: Do not say "snip, snip!")

When things didn’t work out because we didn’t follow directions: “Well, that’s what you get!”

When we tried to do X and she didn’t agree: “If you think you’re doing X, you’ve got another think coming!” If we argued about it, she'd demand to know if we were “out of skull” and then suggest, “You need to get your head examined.” If we continued to persist, she'd throw up her hand and say "Fine! Do what you want!" which meant we sure as hell better NOT do what we wanted if we planned to live long enough to celebrate our next birthdays.

When my sister and I got a bit too big for our britches: “Who do you think you are, the Queen of England?” (Word to the wise: Do NOT answer "yes" to this question, nor infer that you're merely Princess Anne...)

When we said “So what?” she’d snark back: “Sew buttons on your pants.”

When something in general simply didn't work out: "Well, that's the end of that."

When we misbehaved she'd threaten to “send you to Jones Home.” Yes, there really was a Jones Home for wayward children. Once she went far enough to pack my suitcase. I was traumatized into my best behavior for weeks. Years, actually.

When we fought we were warned to “Keep you mitts to yourselves.” Always mitts. Never hands.

When we refused to do something, she'd say “All right for you” in a very hurt tone, which usually made us give in. Of course her ultimate guilt trip was “One of these days I’ll be dead and THEN you’ll be sorry."

Yeah, she was right about that one.

Funny how the things that annoyed you most about a person, you look back on with fondness once they’re no longer with you. The way she freely called females “broads” and “dames” in the midst of the women’s lib revolution. How, when we asked for funds for something special, she insisted she wasn’t “made of money”; then, when we protested that all our friends were going, she’d then ask if we’d planned to join them on their trip off the bridge.

Yes, she was tight with a dollar; as adults, if we encouraged her buy something for herself or take a vacation, she’d insist she needed that “like I need another hole in my head.”

She loved Sam Hill, whoever he was, and often invoked his name, as in “What in the Sam Hill do you think you’re doing?”

She loved Ricardo Montalban, coyly confiding that he was free to “put his shoes under my bed any day of the week” and Shirley Temple--"They sure don't make 'em like that anymore."

She loved animals; our house was never without at least one cat and one dog, and often more than one of each. She’d build bird and squirrel feeders (along with shrines to St. Francis in every backyard she owned) to ensure that no critter went hungry over the winter. She rescued baby birds and nursed them back to health, and fostered dogs; one of my earlier memories is of Daisy, an Old English sheepdog, licking my face. I probably wasn’t more than three years old at the time.

It was my mom who introduced to me to the magic of the public library, starting with the Little House series when I was seven. She loved to write; I think, in another time, under different circumstances, she might’ve become a writer herself. She loved music and played the piano. Blessed with a beautiful singing voice, she once recorded the song “Always” for my dad. If something struck her as funny, she'd laugh and laugh and laugh till, quite literally out of air, she actually wheezed--which of course made everyone around her laugh harder.

She wasn't a perfect mother by a long shot. Then again, she didn't have perfect parents herself. She did not have a perfect husband. She didn't have perfect children. My home life was often an unbearable train wreck; as a depressed, introverted kid I'd agonize over this, convinced that NO one had a family more F'ed up than mine. Only as an adult did I realize how far from the truth that was.

My mom was never one to discuss personal feelings. Once, not long before she died, I tried to talk out some of the issues of my childhood. I'd wanted to understand, to explore, blah, blah--or so I'd convinced myself at the time. Maybe, being selfish and self-centered and dealing my own load of baggage, I'd simply wanted to confront her. When I questioned her parenting skills, my mother grew rigid, looked me straight in the eye, and said, tearfully, "I did the best I could."

I was so ashamed.

Though my mom didn't live long enough for my own children to know her, they "heard" her every day whenever I opened my mouth: "Are you outta your skull?" "Get your mitts off that!" "You just couldn't leave it alone, could you?" "Sew buttons on your pants!" And, best of all, "Arsenic--EAT IT," an expression even my husband occasionally blurts out.

What is my mother's first greatest gift to me? My children. I see her whenever I look into my son's eyes. I hear her whenever my daughter exclaims over an animal in need.

Her next best gift is the gift of serenity. With every year that passes, my appreciation for my mother grows and flourishes. I understand her now. Though I need her less, it's like I want her back more if only for more time to get to know her better. Love is a tenuous thread that can either be broken or knotted. Mothers tie the knots. Children, even as adults, try to jerk them free. With her strained words--"I did the best I could"--she instantly stopped me from ripping that thread.

Manipulation? Maybe.

Well, thank God it worked. No, I am not defined by my past. I can see beyond the bad and continue to be grateful, eternally grateful, for all of the good things that fill my life. My mother was part of it.

All these years later, when I gather with my family and we talk about my mom, about her expressions and goofy habits and idiosyncrasies, and how my sister and I are so much like her ("No, you are!" "No, you are!")...it's absolutely true:

I laugh and laugh and laugh till I wheeze.

Braces: A Survival Story

carriejones asked for "good braces" stories today. This isn't "good" but it's gruesome. You know how I love gruesome. So do you, or you'd stop reading right here.

The orthodonist my folks sent me to was OLDER THAN DIRT. Bald, liver-spotted head, inch-thick glasses, and fossil breath. HE is the person I hold ultimately responsible for my TMJ: he'd make me sit there with my mouth wide open for 30 minutes at a time without a single break. That's when my jaw started cracking. That's when my jaw started to lock for no reason at all--once for 2 weeks straight until my brother punched me in the face and dislodged it. It no longer "locks" but it snaps, crackles, and pops. I swear it's one of the reasons I have so many headaches.

I never complained. I was brought up in a generation where doctors/dentists/and-all-adults-in-general-especially-those-in-white-coats-or-three-piece-suits were infallible gods. I was taught to never argue with my elders, which may be why I have such a big mouth now. I'm making up for lost time.

When my braces came off, Dr. Mengele tried to get me to wear a retainer. Not the usual retainer--a big, spiky thing that ripped open my lips and set my mouth on fire.

I refused to wear it, of course. I am by no means a masochist.

Then he got this bug up his butt about the space between my two front teeth. So he took a wire--one single wire--wrapped it around my front teeth and twisted it tightly with a pair of pliers.

Just imagine that.

Finally I spoke up and said something to the effect of: OWWOWWOWWOWWOWWOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWican'tstandit-getitoffme-i'mdying-i'mdying!

"No, you're not," said he. "It's supposed to hurt."

It's supposed to hurt? Oh, silly me.

I barely slept that night. When I woke up the following morning, I felt like someone had set a stick of dynamite off in my mouth. Eyes watering, head throbbing, I stumbled to mirror and opened my mouth.

No wire.


I looked closer, and closer, and then I realized--the wire had ridden up over the roots of my teeth and was implanted, invisible, in my freaking gums!

Alarmed by my screams of anguish, my mom called the Dr. Mengele and explained the situation.

"It's supposed to be under your gums," she reported. "He said that's how it works."

Oh, yeahhh????

I went back upstairs without saying another word, found a sharp scissors (yeah, go ahead and cringe)...dug it into my gum, hooked the wire, and stretched it out far enough to snip it off.

Instant relief.

I handed the bloody wire to my mom. "I AM NEVER GOING BACK THERE!"

"You have to go back! He's not finished with you!"

Oh, yeah, he was!

I never set foot in his office again. My teeth--in spite of NOT wearing that medieval torture device he tried to pass off as a retainer, and cutting off that damn wire, are perfect to this day. Too bad about the jaw, though.

May he never rest in peace.

BookList (no, mine, not theirs)

Inspired by melissa_writing here is a list of my previously written/trashed/published/soon-to-be-published/hopefully-will-be-published/will never see the light of day novels:

First, back in high school, a contemporary YA trilogy about a girl named Kelly who, after getting thrown out of multiple boarding schools, is sent to live with her father on a remote Scottish island. Yeah, like I've ever been to Scotland.

Book #1: I barely remember, other than Kelly's a brat and she has a governess (do people still have those?) and she wants to fix her dad up with the governess, but Dad marries someone else and totally pisses her off and gives her another excuse to be an even bigger brat than she was at the start of the book. Riveting? N-o-t!

Status: Trashed.

Book #2: Kelly's father's ex-girlfriend Françoise (yeah) sends her wimpy daughter Cecily to spend the summer with Kelly. Midnight antics, horse shows, and surprise twin siblings for Kelly. Oh! And Françoise was a wonderfully WICKED, insane, filthy rich and Positively Obnoxious Character! Kelly's old governess ends up marrying Françoise 's current boyfriend--the only interesting storyline in the book. I guess this is what happens when you watch too many French films + suck up all those nasty romances your mother warned you about.

Status: Trashed.

Book #3: Kelly moves back to New York with her family, attends a public high school for the first time, gets involved in the drama club, and falls in love. Zzzzzzzzzzzz! Sounds like a lot of the twit-lit currently floating around out there now, doesn't it?

Status: Trashed.

OK. Then, a few years later I wrote Book # 4: A Hint of Madness which was ripped off from just about every gothic book/movie/whatever I'd ever seen or read. Alethea runs away from her (second) abusive husband and returns to her spooky old home town that she hasn't seen in 20 years when, as a child, her mother inexplicably dragged her away from there and refused to discuss it since. Alethea moves in with her old best friend, Barbara, and strikes up a romantic relationship with the guy next door. But, wooooOOOoooo!!! Things are weird. Barbara has two sisters--Bonnie, who was mysteriously crippled, or blinded (hell if I can even remember) years ago, and Brynn, who--more woooOOOooOOOooo's!--was recently released from a mental institution! Gee, that's never been done before, right? Anyway, it turns out that Barb's in love with Alethea.

Status: Trashed. Go ahead. Steal it. Make my day.

Book # 5: Before/After (contemporary YA) published in 2007.

Book # 6: Say the Word (contemporary YA) to be published next winter.

Book # 7: My current WIP, tentatively titled Love Me Back (contemporary YA...gee, ya notice a pattern emerging???) which I need to finish, revise, and then it's up for grabs, assuming anyone wants to grab it.

Status: Not Trashed.

Book # 8: Working (joke) title: The Dogfather--not your typical A Boy and his Dog story. I have a couple thousand words. I was going to make this an MG but decided the gory end might be too traumatizing. Also, I may do this one in free verse. If I do it at all.

Status: Not Trashed YET.

Book # 9: A "sequel" to Before with about 40K done. Actually, not a sequel, but another character's story. If Before ever goes anywhere--which so far it has not--I may finish this one. Otherwise, I'll chalk it up as a lot of fun.

Status: Probably Trashed.

Book # 10: A Shawna sequel, taken place a year after STW ends--which I trashed because she'll be 19 and too old for YA. But I was pretty far along before I decided to can it.

Status: Trashed.

My fingers are out of breath.

ETA: I forgot MY GHOST STORY! Halfway through the first draft and currently collecting dust. And this one is not YA.

Status: Not Ready To Be Trashed Because Certain People Will Kill Me.

Monday Me

Work: Yeah, I had to work Easter Sunday. Not too bad of a shift till the very end, when it took 10 people to subdue a single patient. I gave the injections, which reminded me of a scene out of M*A*S*H except we remembered to pull down his pants. Don't you love those shows when they jab the needles right through the clothes? Uh, that never happens IRL.

Easter: When the kids were small, we'd color eggs together, hunt for Easter baskets, dress up and go to church, visit relatives, enjoy a huge meal, and stuff ourselves silly with chocolate and jellybeans.

Times have changed. This year I dragged myself home from work, sprung Grandma from the nursing home--and this was our "Easter" dinner: cheeseburgers with mushrooms and onions, French fries, and chocolate cake. But with just the four of us (Nate was working) and with my having to work day shift, it seemed a waste of time (and utterly impossible) to cook a major meal. Most of my family celebrates Orthodox Easter, anyway, and that's not for another month. Beth and I exchanged boxes of chocolates, Grandma got a bunny and candy, and that was about it. No church, of course, since I can't be two places at once, but I did take a few moments for some serious reflection. Later I conked out in front of one of my favorite old movies--

Mildred Pierce.

--and didn't wake up till 9:00 this morning.

Edits: Yes, I have the bulk of the work done. Slash, slash, slash. Add, add, add. Slash, slash, slash. I hope to turn this version in by the end of this weekend. Editing a second book is nowhere near as intimidating as editing the first. Maybe because I'm not as pathologically attached to every.....single.....freaking.....word? Things are moving along.

Me: Anyone else desperately in need of a DIET??? Please say yes!

Blizzard vs. Blizzard: A Monday Memory

Well, as bad as this last winter storm was, it was nothing compared to the Blizzard of '78. With the power completely out in my apartment building, I had to creep down four flights of stairs with a flashlight. Of course my car was buried and frozen shut, so my dad came over with, I dunno, a blowtorch or something, and got me into it. After my shift, I couldn't even go home; everyone called off, plus you couldn't even get to your car in the lot (assuming you could find the frickin' lot) between the snow and the cold and the 60 mile an hour winds. I worked ob-gyn at the time, so after my second shift I spent the night on a bed in the delivery room--ugh, ugh, ugh, just think of it!!! I worked day shift the next day and finally got out at 3:30 p.m.. I chiseled my way out of the parking lot and started for home, only to get stuck on the Clark Avenue bridge where total strangers sprang to my rescue and pushed me to safety.

Dedication? Or stupidity? I still haven't figured it out. But the next time they have to haul in the National Guard, I am soooo calling off sick.

In the meantime, I'm out of my favorite coffee and trying to choke down a cup of Maxwell House. Bleeach!

Road Trip: A True Story

I never thought about my own mortality when I was younger--say, at age 20 when my friend Rosa and I loaded up her canary yellow Dodge Challenger and drove to Canada with nothing but a road map and some money.

This included no hotel reservations.

In Toronto (which, when you drive 90 miles an hour, is only four hours from Cleveland) we couldn't find one single hotel. We drove, drove, drove around in circles and finally found an utterly cool, very old hotel called The Lord Simco. Coincidentally, I'd stayed at the same hotel at age 10 when my sister took me to Canada as a birthday present. Rosa and I probably booked the last available room in the whole city.

The following morning we met a guy on the street, a total stranger who swung open his car door and offered to "show us the sites."

I know, right?

Naturally this was before all the CSI shows. We were young and trusting and naive, and simply amazed by this perfect stranger's unbelievable generosity. It must be a Canadian thing, we decided. So yes, we went with him, and..................

..............he drove us around for a couple of hours, showed us the city, we talked and joked, and thanked him profusely when he dropped us back off where he'd picked us up.

And did not think twice about it.

Then we drove up to Montreal. Neither of us knew a word of French other than oui and non-. Rosa spoke German and Yiddish. I barely passed Spanish with a C- in ninth grade. Again, no available hotel rooms (this was August). But this time there was also no Lord Simco awaiting us.

We drove...and drove...hitting one hotel after another. No luck. Plus we were at a disadvantage because of the language barrier, and the fact that yeah, at our age we had limited funds. Finally we stopped in a parking lot and sat there, at loss. And just as we decided we might as well sleep in the car, we heard a knock on the hood.

Three Indonesian guys, whose spoken English was a tad better than our French, beckoned to us. "You lost? You hungry? You got no place to stay? We take you to dinner! You stay with us, at Y.M.C.A. You American, right? We take good care of you!"

I know, right? So..............

............Rosa and I got out of the car and climbed in with the guys. Yes, we did, I swear to God. They drove us to an Asian restaurant and paid for our dinners and drinks. Afterward, they drove us back to our car and instructed us to follow them to the Y.M.C.A. "Only eight dollar a night!"

So we followed the trio. Yes, we did. The Y.M.C.A. turned out to be an ancient stone building, and creepy as hell: riddled with bugs, no window screens, and a community shower room/bathroom at one end of the very dark, very dingy hall.

The Indonesian guys hovered--they were all a bit lit, as were we--and very flirty. The person at the desk (who thankfully spoke English) informed Rosa and me that it was "against the rules" to share a room. Period. So, like, how did they enfore that? Make room checks with a flashlight they way we do at work?

Well, there was no way in hell we were going to sleep apart in this dungeon. We paid for two rooms and walked (no elevator) up to a third floor room.

The dudes followed us up. They also followed us into the room.

One skinny single bed, a screenless window that bordered a roof (yeah, Pierre the Ripper could pop right in--funny we didn't think of this when we were tooling around Toronto with a perfect stranger) and a single bare lightbulb dangling from a cracked and stained ceiling. This is movie stuff, folks. Rosa and I exchanged looks of horror. Suddenly sleeping in the car didn't seem like such a bad idea.

"OK," we told the Indonesian guys who, by this time, were getting a bit, um, aggressive? "You can go now. Thanks for dinner, blah, blah, blah..."

"No, no! We stay! Keep you company, yes?"

"No. You GO! We're fine. Thanks a lot, uh, thank you, yes...you can go...byeeeeee!"

They proceeded to argue. "No! We have fun!" One counted off: "See? Two girls. Three boys. We have extra boy! Ooh, one of you LUCKY!"

No. Lucky was the fact that the guy in Toronto didn't rape and murder us both and leave us in a ditch behind Casa Loma. Lucky is NOT the fact that we are trapped in a dinky flophouse in a foreign county with 3 horny Indonesians.

"Oh, but we are so tired!" Rosa and I pleaded. "Go guys go to your own room and let us get some sleep and we'll meet you in the morning."

"For breakfast?"

"Yes, for breakfast?"

"You promise? You will meet us? We will have fun tomorrow?"

"We promise, we promise!"

It took a bit more prying (like 30 more minutes) but we finally got them to--reluctantly--leave our room. Needless to say, Rosa and I barely slept, and it wasn't just because the two of us were crammed into a single, smelly, suspiciously stained bed.

At five a.m. we jumped up, dressed, grabbed our stuff, snuck downstairs, checked out, and SCRAMMED!

Then we drove to Quebec City, and ....

What idiots we were.

Bullying, and a Bit of Self-Disclosure

thebadgirl2007 posted a great link on her BLOG to about bullying.

These are some of the things they suggest you tell your children:

"If they see someone else being bullied they should always try to stop it. If they do nothing, they're saying that bullying is okay with them.

"The best way to help is probably to tell an adult. It's always best to treat others the way they would like to be treated.

"Show the bully that they think what they're doing is stupid and mean. Help the person being bullied to tell an adult they can trust."

For those of you who work in the school systems...are these some of the things kids are taught right off the bat?
I hope so. I hope it's ingrained in them from pre-school on.

I have to admit, I've been on both ends of the bullying spectrum. Growing up, we were taught in Sunday School to be kind to others--but the actual "bullying" issue was never addressed by name. It was never addressed in school, either. Bullying was rampant and little, if anything, was ever done about it.

This is embarrassing to admit: But when I was in 3rd grade or so, there was another girl in my class, Sharon, who was very heavy. Other kids made fun of her. Once, I joined in.

I made her cry. And I felt horrible--I deserved to feel horrible--and I never did it again.

I felt guilty about it for years. Yes, I carry baggage around forever. :) Even though I moved to a different school the following year and never saw Sharon again, I never forgot the look on her face when I called her "fat."

What goes around comes around. In 8th grade it was my turn. And trust me--not that ALL of you don't already know this--junior high school kids are a helluva of lot meaner than third graders. Girls who had been my best friends in 7th grade suddenly turned against me in 8th. Although it was never physical (except for one close call) they made my life holy hell for the next 2 years. Even now, decades later, I look back on this as one of the most disturbing experiences in my life.

Did *I* tell anyone? Well, one teacher called me up after class and asked was everything was okay. Was I haveing any problem with anyone? Was there something I wanted to talk about?

To this day I'm grateful she noticed, and took the time to reach out. But all I did was stand there and shake my head. The last thing I wanted was to be known as a ratfink (yeah, that was the word of the day). I denied it all. She sighed and let me leave.

I did tell my parents who gave me the standard advice; "Just ignore them and they'll leave you alone." Yeah, riiight. But that's exactly what I did. I was the epitome of self-control. As far I was concerned, those girls didn't exist.

Did it work? Nope. Although I refused to respond to anything they said, ignoring their behavior didn't stop the bullying. It didn't make them go away and leave me alone. It didn't make them respect me. It just went on and on and on and on throughout the rest of 8th grade and pretty much through 9th.

By 10th grade these girls lost interest in me. In fact, one of them and I kind of "made up" in high school though we were never as close as we'd once been. And we never discussed what happened! Talk about "denial" in its purest form.

What I got out of this experience was a greater appreciation for the feelings of others. I'm aware of it all the time, always wondering how my words will affect others. This is mostly good because I do go out of my way to treat others with respect. It can also be bad, because at times I hold back on my own feelings because I'm afraid of coming across as a "bully"--even when dealing with idiots who seriously need to be "told off" (no, I don't mean my patients, lol, I mean other people in general--and I hope nothing I write in this blog ever offends anyone to the point of no return). I think I'm very attuned to people's emotions. Sometimes too attuned.

With my own kids, I made it a point to teach them right from the start to NOT gang up on other kids. To my knowledge they never did. But I have to admit I never thought to tell them what they should do if they noticed it happening to someone else. It's not enough to simply not join in. But I can also see how some children might be afraid to take a stand out of fear that these bullies might turn on them as well.

What are your thoughts? Do your children come to you, as teachers or even parents, to let you know one of their peers is being bullied? How do you handle it? What advice do you give?

Party Pictures

Last Friday night was Mary and Kenneth's wedding reception. It took me a solid week to download the pictures. Actually, hubby got stuck with the job since I'm so technically challenged, but here we are:

Mary and Kenneth:
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

I look more than a little blitzed here. Actually I only had one drink, but had just finished a six-hour revision marathon: Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
(Eeuugh, I CANNOT believe I just posted this picture. I must love you guys.)

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket ...and Beth (after half a Margarita)

My sister Karen and niece, Leah → Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
My nephew, Matthew--

--and his fiancee, Molly (anyone besides me think she looks like Diana Gabaldon?): Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Grandma Mary

My brother Tommy → Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Even LYDIA looks smashed!

In fact, we all look a little high, LOL, except for my two beautiful nieces:

Genevieve→ Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
and Sophia

And Corey, of course, had a TERRIFIC time, as always! Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

NOTE: I'm taking a temporary break from LJ, emails, message boards, etc. If I don't stay off the internet and DO SOME WRITING I will never finish this manuscript.

So Happy Easter to everyone! See y'all soon.