My mother had only one expectation of us: that we make ourselves interesting. “Only boring people get bored,” was her motto that stuck to me like a hotel shower curtain.
Of course, there were other words of sage advice, but the stand-out messages were:
“How would you like it if a big giant did that to you?” This was used in situations where we were poking eyeballs out of dead, bloated fish with sticks, or collapsing ant hills with even smaller sticks.
“You’ll go to juvenile detention centre for that!” This threat was often issued for a myriad of activities, like being on the roof of our house, reading my sister’s diary, honking the car horn in the parking lot, etc. There was no connective tissue between the “crimes” but we lived in fear the detention centre even though the mythical wherabouts were largely unknown.
“Don’t touch that, somebody could have pissed on it.” In my mother’s eye, people are pissing everywhere! It was difficult to earn a small income as a child collecting beer bottles chucked in the ditches of our country road because all the bottles had been pissed on. In my adult life, I have begun to question the merit of her warning. I have yet to intentionally urinate on a beer bottle, but maybe she has and is speaking from experience.
We were lucky. Tremendously lucky. The only wish my mother ever said no to was the Wet Banana. Oh, how we pined for that long strip of yellow plastic that we could slide our bikini-clad bodies across. Like a Slip n’ Slide, the Wet Banana was connected to a hose, and provided a horizontal water slide-like experience. But, we had a country well and zero water pressure and the Wet Banana was creatively replaced with a skateboard, a unicycle and a pogo stick. All of which proved to be extremely challenging to use as we lived on a gravel road with a gravel driveway.
We weren’t subjected to church or piano lessons (and for this we were/are forever grateful), or vitamins. Well, there was an attempt to ply us with cute Flinstone multi-vitamins for a short period, but we fed them all to our dog, Xanadu, and his fur and teeth fell out shortly after that. Clearly, the vitamins were full of poison.
Every Saturday (in my memory at least) we made our pilgrimage to the local library where we checked out stacks of books heavier than our body weight. Mom made certain that we were readers, because readers were never boring. We watched a necessary amount of television (Little House on the Prairie, The Jetsons, The Littlest Hobo), but when our TV intake began to climb, the television was relocated to the basement. The dreaded basement where mass murderers, boogeymen, ghosts and pits of snakes existed. This kept us from any TV-watching addictions and childhood weight gain.
As for weight gain, with my mother’s generous use of butter and sugar we should have been of pint-sized Sumo wrestler proportions. Our teeth would hum from her chocolate macaroons, marble brownies and Nanaimo bars. But there were rules. We could only have pop on Friday nights with take-out pizza.
When we discovered the fun that burping could provide (on those Friday pop nights), our behaviour was quickly curtailed when my mother implemented the Burp Tax. Each burp cost 25 cents (if she heard it). If the burp was disgusting, too long, intentional or at an inappropriate time, the fine climbed to a steep dollar. If they were funny burps, sometimes we could get her to laugh and not fine us.
My mother has always been adventurous in the kitchen, clipping recipes that sometimes requires my dad to make a substitute buttered toast dinner. The first time she made tofu for us she told us it was frog legs, which oddly, made it more appealing.
My sister, brother and I all played soccer. Sometimes all on the same night. My mother would avoid the sideline chatter and gossip of soccer moms and sit in the comfort of her car, surreptitiously reading and quickly beeping her horn if there was a sudden burst of cheering. My dad was the more pro-active cheerleader but my mother ensured we had our exposure to athletic activities too. However, at any given opportunity, she would remind us that it was okay if we wanted to quit. I remember a badminton match when I was 10 or so, and my doubles partner, Kyle, whacked me in the face with his racquet on a backhand. I left the court crying my racqueted eyes out. My mother followed me into the bathroom where I hid in the stall, my face with a heartbeat all of its own. “You can quit you know, I don’t care.” I can’t remember if I went back to the game or not, but I liked that I had a mother who supported me in quitting. Any perfectionist overtones that I have are all self-inflicted.
I can’t say that my parents were thrilled when I quit highschool to go work at an art camp up in northern Ontario, but my mother understood, eventually. In the fall, when I wanted to move to Vancouver to work as a freelance writer for Cockroach magazine (earning a whopping $400 a month) at 18, she understood that too. “I know you have your own personal geography to explore.” When I called home a week later saying I was going to protest the clear-cutting at Clayoquot Sound her only request was that I didn’t get myself arrested.
I didn’t find myself in handcuffs, but I became the Sir Francis Drake of my own personal geography. With her mild consent I signed up to volunteer in the jungles of Costa Rica for three months. My first choice of exploration was tree-planting in California but she thought the organization “Peace Trees” had cult written all over it and pushed me towards the jungle instead. I’m surprised she has any hair left on her head at all from my bold travels. Her emails when I’m abroad generally come CAPITALIZED and with several exclamation marks. ARE YOU OKAY? HAVEN’T HEARD FROM YOU IN 12 HOURS!!!!
I paved the way well for my younger siblings. Pierced nose, tattoos, a girlfriend with a motorcycle– there was no possible way they could surprise my mother. Even when I announced I was going to Africa for four months, her initial fear-based response turned quickly to a supportive role. How could she protest? She instilled my love of exploring, travel, birds and anything new.
My mother was our family trip organizer, she wanted us to see the world and as we grew older (and less likely to beat the crap out of each other in the backseat of the car), we drove further along the eastern seaboard of the states. We made our way through all the states clean down to Florida. The itinerary was strict, with army boot camp wake-up calls at 7 am and marathon driving expeditions between museums, cemetaries and wildlife sanctuaries. She could push aside hunger just to fit in one more must-see. My dad would be forced into the back of the van and Mom would tell my brother to turn up the heat to keep him quiet. “It’ll put your father to sleep.” My dad would resort to eating packets of hotel peanut butter before drifting off as my mother navigated and drove.
She has continued to support all my hair-brained adventures and schemes. There was no pressure to be a lawyer or doctor, she has only insisted that we are happy because life is too damn short. As for my writing, “just don’t write anything rotten about me.”
As if. I wouldn’t be able to think of a single rotten thing. Well, except for that time in grade nine when she confiscated the jeans I had carefully ripped a hundred holes into and carefully distressed with a razor and artistically bleached. Now, that was rotten.
Love you Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.