I don't, really, have any idea what it's like to be a mom. And frankly, I am terrified of the notion of ever entering motherhood without having my mom to rely on for advice. From what I gather from my sister and Em and the mommyblogs I read, being a mom is nothing short of madness.
Back when I didn't know, I deleted her emails. I threw out cards and letters. There was no reason to keep them -- it simply never occurred to me that my mom wouldn't be around forever. And between moving, and flooding basements, and cardboard boxes that don't do much to protect "saved items" over 20+ years, my sisters and I have far too few keepsakes. (As a Cancerian horder and daughter, I can't bring myself to dwell on this reality or my heart will literally break into a million pieces.)
Obviously, this makes the tattered remnants we do own all the more precious.
Two years ago, at my father's funeral, we hauled out the two photo albums he'd kept, and put them on display. And to our surprise, tucked into the pages of one of the albums was a handful of folded papers.
The papers, we discovered, were the notes that my mom wrote up for my aunt. I have only the vaguest memories of this, but my parents went away for a long weekend -- where? Why? -- and my Aunt Jane stayed with us.
Let me put this in context.
Based on the notes, I have to conclude that I was about 5, and Healy was about 2. (Sam wasn't born until a couple years later.) We were living in a very small home in Darien, Connecticut. If there was a "bad" part of Darien, we lived there, but it's not like it could be considered hard living. Darien doesn't really get very "street."
My Aunt Jane was one of the best Characters you could ever meet -- quirky and funny and good-humored. She and my mom were very good friends, and I feel that there were times in my mom's life when Jane was her only friend. I wish I knew more about those times.
Jane wore crazy jewelry and loved to wear big, loud watches. She was always carrying around some funky, multi-colored purse which she paired with funny little shoes.
Jane was not married and never had kids. She lived most of her life in my grandparents' house with them in Minneapolis. As a grown-up now, I realize how that seems, but throughout her life I never gave it much thought -- it's just How It Was.
The point is, as a kid, I simply adored my Aunt Jane (as an adult, too). A visit from her was better than a visit from Santa Claus. Probably because she didn't have children, she was totally fun to hang out with. She always treated me like a person, not a child, and seemed to find me as funny as I found her.
All this said, please imagine what it would be like to leave two smart, sweet-but-capable-of-great-brattyness kids under the age of five with a child-free aunt who otherwise lived halfway across the country.
Here were the notes my mom left for her. I think it paints a great picture of Jane, of me and Healy, and of my mom. And of the kind of special, personal crazy that each family shares. (May mine forgive me for posting this.)
The writing at the top of the page says:
Put make-up on in my bedroom bathroom with door closed and tv on - they'll follow and you can hear what's going on.
No drinks for kids outside of kitchen
Turn plant spot light on at night (over piano)
And so it begins with Saturday.
Mrs J. will show you around and please sleep in our bed if you wish. I'm sure she will have dinner ready. Bedtime for Healy about 8 pm - Kiki 8:30 or anytime thereof you can get her down! Always put 2 diapers on Healy at night.
I bet when my mom started writing this, she thought it would be a nice, neat page or two, and perfectly straightforward. It's kind of fun to watch how her mind worked as she realized all of the details that go into a weekend with her kids.
I like that there's an eraser mark on the word "thereof" -- I don't think that's the word she meant to use. I think maybe she meant "thereafter" but got lost in the note-writing frenzy.
BTW, Mrs. J was our next-door neighbor. She was an Italian Grandmother who would babysit for us regularly. My most vivid memories of her are of us playing outside -- me and Healy and some neighbor kids -- and her watching from her chair. She has a scarf wrapped around her head, and she has a stick. The stick was to shoo flies away. Who sits on a chair and uses a stick to shoo flies? Maybe everyone is crazy.
Sesame Street on twice in AM (#13) Sunday
Sun. - Change Healy soon as she wakes you.
Mrs. J will come over to give you a break -- she'll tell you Sat. what time
Breakfast -- Healy likes bread or toast [*bottle first] with butter and/0r jelly (sometimes light peanut butter too), eggs, cereal, french toast, or anything breafasty -- feed Cronie 1-2 pkgs -- ask if he wants to go outside + he'll eat!
Lunch Feed Healy about 12:30 -- usually soup that's sort of drained -- more in pantry down the basement
Kiki can eat anytime. Change Healy after eats lunch
*Healy's nap at 1:00
Healy also likes sandwiches; tuna with mayo, peanut butter, cheese with butter and mayo only make 1/2 though. She also likes some fruit -- apple peeled, orange [lost]
Our big sheepdog was named Cronopio, or Crony (alternate: Cronie). This is because my parents were huge NYTimes crossword puzzler people, and this was a regularly appearing word. Plus, they liked having a dog named Crony.
I enjoy seeing how much more difficult my sister was than I. Ha!
(I converted this and the remaining pages to thumbnails; click for larger)
[cont?] make them TV dinner to split with fruit and cheese and ice cream dessert if they want. I usually feed them about 5 or 6. Five works out on week days because Sesame Street is over with and they can watch Mister Rogers (Channel 13) on Kiki's TV at dinner in kitchen -- bring it from Kiki's room.
A bath at 7ish is great. You can stick them both in and referee from kitchen leaving bathroom door semi-open. Don't bother washing their hair or you'll be in big trouble. *Make sure Kiki's hair is braided well before baths or you'll have a rat's nest on your hands!
Mon. - Sesame Street on at 9 on the dot -- Healy loves the theme song -- Channel 13. After SS, Romper Room at 10:00 Channel 9. Kiki will skip dancing class!
Tues. - Toni will pick Kiki up at about 5 minutes to 9. Make her wear play clothes only - if snowy or muddy have her wear party shoes and boots if not have her wear boat shoes as usual (boaters dont' fit under her boots)
I suppose it's worth noting that I took several different dance classes throughout my pre-adolescent years and eventually had to come to the conclusion that I have rhythm, but no grace. Pop songs allow me to shake it like a pro, but for any real dancing purposes, I am a complete clod on the dance floor.
*1.) Please watch ashtrays and cigarettes - keep deep on counter when not using and when dumping ashtrays make sure all butts go far deep into garbage bag and out of sight.
Ah. Back in the days when smoking was just a part of parental life.
2.) I will wash and braid Kiki's hair before I go. Whatever you do don't let her wear it down. Just take out braids one at a time, brush through and re-braid.
3.) Vitamins in Am Chewable Poly ViSol and Chewable Vit C's
4.) Feed Cronie 1(-2) bag fulls at breakfast time then let outside Tuesday AM however, keep him inside until Kiki leaves for school or let him back in just before. He will bark to come in throughout the day. I usually feed him before I let him in. Because of next # he'll bark for water in toilet so let him in and out of bathroom. Try to make sure he's outside on Mon and Tues at 2:30 so his barking at the mailman doesn't wake Healy.
I do not understand this note entirely. "I usually feed him before I let him in" I THINK means that she puts food in his bowl before letting him in the house, but it's hard to say. Also, I have no idea why "next #" would result in him barking at the toilet, but I guess that's where he got some of his water. Fascinating.
He averages between 5-6 packages of food a day and watches his weight automatically. He usually sleeps in the bar or in our bedroom alongside me on floor so watch yourself on your midnite trips to the bathroom!
5.) Keep bathroom doors closed at all times otherwise Healy will go into 1/2 wet tub fully dressed or brush her teeth in the toilet.
HAHAHAHAHAHA. I really love that there are no exclamation points or anything, this was just a matter-of-fact statement.
6.) Keep screen door in kitchen locked at the top whenever back door is open!
7.) Keep basement door closed at all times - even if just running down for a minute. Make sure Healy is involved in TV before making the trip (or deep play) or else put her in crib for the few minutes.
8.) Freezer - Lots of stuff in it, help yourself. The key is over the phone in the kitchen. Allow yourself extra time the 1st run to figure out key. Ask Kiki where light switches are.
I had forgotten until writing this about our freezer in the basement. The entire basement was fodder for my childhood nightmares, and I was convinced an evil witch lived in the furnace room. Thinking back on it now, I can say I was probably right.
9.) Whenever you take out any meat, please put freezer bag and darn twister thing back in "Hefty" Freezer Bag package in long cabinet - top shelf. [???] Relock freezer!
10.) "Pantry" has extra soups, vegs, mayo, jelly, peanut butter etc. Don't forget it's there. (In basement.)
11.) Bridget's birthday party is coming up but she's not sure when. Her presents are in basement on left of dryer in large brown bag labeled Bridget's Birthday.
Bridget was my next door neighbor. She was the second youngest of five, and came over to my house pretty much every day. Her parents were from Ireland and both had accents I had a hard time understanding as a kid. Her mom's name was Kathleen, which her dad pronounced "Kat-leen" and her father was James and had a temper and would threaten his kids "wit da belt." I don't know that he ever used the belt, I just know that the concept of it was a useful deterrent. Bridget's older sisters were named Cecilia and Mary, and her older brother James was known in the family as Shamus. Her younger brother was little Johnny Joe. My most prominent memory of Johnny Joe was that he loved Ponch and John from CHIPS and rode around the neighborhood on his plastic HotWheels that was fashioned to look like a CHIPS motorcycle. He wore a police helmet.
Bridget was very shy and always afraid of our dog. She was a very good dancer (she learned traditional Irish step from the age of 3) and did gymnastics. What amazes me is how, even at age 4, you can know how you Are, versus how someone else Is. I was loud and bold and assertive and I loved school. She was quiet and reserved and physically adept where I excelled verbally. I was tall and strong and she was tiny and meek. But she was beautiful and I envied that she could be demure. Even at age 4 I knew I was the bull in a china shop.
12.) Emergency #s on side of refridge and call Mrs. J first if you need milk or anything.
13.) Throw dirty clothes in laundry basket in linen closet.
14.) Healy may point to:
A) long cabinet in kitchen and say something incoherent - that means pretzels - give some at a time in paper cup with salt shaken off first.
B) The refrigerator and say something incoherent. If it sounds like "cheese" she's faking but will demand it and eat some. Otherwise it means "ice cream" (use small amount)
C) Kitchen sink and say "Wa-Waf" meaning water in small paper cup
15.) Healy's approx changing times -
1. When she gets up
2. Mid-morning usually a [poop] between Sesame St. and Romper Room
3. After lunch (before nap)
4. Mid-afternoon 4:30ish
5. 2 diapers before bedtime
16.) Healy's bottle time
1.) First thing in morning
2.) First thing after nap
The rest of the time she'll ask for "moi" and you can also give her small amounts of juice or milk in paper cup with meals.
17.) She calls her blanket Me-Me and must sleep with it.
18.) Children's aspirin on bottom shelf of cupboard right of sink.
19.) All "kids" real cups - middle shelf cupboard right of stove.
20.) Straws and paper cups left of stove (over)
21.) Extra paper towels in basement pantry
22) Keep soda cans in garbage with lid for return
23) Oven on lg. dials on both sides clock bake and temp
By now my mom has gone from leaving a few guidelines to including directions on how to get the stove to work. Even though I can't make heads or tails of "Weird Stuff" #23 to save my life.
That said, can you imagine leaving your kids in someone else's care for three full days before we had cell phones?
24.) She calls bread B and will get it out herself and will look for butter or point to refridge.
25) Best way to handle what she asks for is play 20 questions. She'll say no 19 times then the 20th guess she'll nod her head.
26.) When coloring or drawing or painting she says "moi papa" meaning more paper and wants each paper torn out individually from tablet before art begins - Kiki too. Fun, huh?
27.) Take your showers at night after they're in bed or better yet at 1 PM right after you put Healy down for her nap. If you start at say 2 while she's asleep the shower will wake her up. The kitchen sink is another alternative for hair.
This sounds like the kind of thing that motherhood bestows upon you that no one prepares you for. I.E., quietly washing your hair in the sink so as not to wake the incoherent monsters...
28.) Sesame Street on 2x's Sat & Sun AM and 9 Am and 4 PM weekdays
In the days before "cable" and "DVDs," I note how important Sesame Street was to the sanity of my mom.
But the last part has got to be the best part:
Don't be too nice and be at their beck and call. Do things on your own and say you're busy. Remember you are going to have to live with them and they'll expect you to be a playmate forever and take and take unless you make your own space right from the start. In other words - if you ever want your privacy again take it from the start.
It's as if she's preparing my aunt for battle. Which, I guess in many ways, she was.
On that note, on behalf (very indirectly) of my mom, I wish a Happy Mother's Day to all of you entrenched in that special kind of warfare.