People who knew my mother probably think it was all fun and games being her daughter. It was. Marge celebrated everything.
If she wanted to exercise, she’d put on a recording of “West Side Story,” bravely kicking to the jazzy music like a Rockettes wannabe, snapping her fingers, smiling and singing to her imaginary audience and anyone who happened by. After five minutes, she’d have had enough, and would move on to more important things, like getting her hair done.
If she wanted to inject more fun into my childhood of endless multiplication tables and memorizing U.S. presidents, she’d send notes to school:
“Kathy will not be in school. I’m taking her on an educational outing” (lunch, ice cream, Broadway show) … “a practicum in math” (shopping at Bloomingdale’s for prom dress, practicing fractions at 20 percent off rack) … “science in motion” (popcorn and movie, chewing and cinematography technique).
On birthdays, there were always family celebrations, colorfully wrapped, fun gifts, cake, ice cream and parties with friends.
See, Mom carpe diem-ed before people knew about carpe-ing the diem. Later, I did my best to pass this on to my own daughters.
I mention this because this spring is big for me. There’s Mother’s Day – plus, I’m turning a very big age. Really big. Bigger than a breadbox. And celebrate I will. One does not necessarily have to be female to celebrate in the ways Mom and I did. But it helps.
So, my husband Ted and I are at Staples. We are checking into memory devices for my computer to back up my writing. We settle on one, and I reach for it.
“Uh, let’s not get it now,” he says.
Huh? Mr. Gimme-Every-Electronic-Device-Invented, who buys anything with wires hanging off it, doesn’t want to buy this?
“I have to leave some things as surprises,” he whispers, smiling conspiratorially.
“An external hard disk is not a birthday present. Writing is my work. Work. Work is not birthday,” I bark.
I know. It’s not nice to be that way pre-birthday. It just looks bad.
“Why not wrap up a scrub brush for me? A can of Lysol? A shoe horn, while you’re at it,” I mutter, as he leads me out of the store.
“What do you really want for your birthday?” he asks later.
I can’t help thinking, Mom would know.
“Nail polish. Movies. Pretty things,” I say, pulling up the driveway.
We get out of the car.
“Hmmm,” he says, pointing downward. “These floor mats are a mess.”
I turn in fury.
“Because of your testosterone-induced misuse and disrespect for them, shoving them around under your boots all winter,” I shriek, “and new floor mats are not, I repeat, not a birthday present. True, they are in shreds and true, we need new ones. But not for my birthday. How would you like a garden tool for your birthday?”
His eyes light up. Bad example.
Later, he makes suggestions for gifts or activities. All my answers include the words “but not for my birthday.” I do not want: 1. A trip to the dump; 2. My annual dental check-up; or 3. A book on insects that he wants.
If Mom were around, she’d help him. But she isn’t. Yet, the beauty of life is that Ted starts getting phone calls from my daughters. I hear their voices loud and clear emitted from his cell phone.
“I hear you. If you are talking about birthday plans, I hear you. We’re in the car, so call him tonight. I love you,” I shout.
Later, he tells me he’s talked to both of my daughters.
“I don’t know what to do,” he says, looking absolutely woeful. “Sally’s talking about parties and videos.”
“Oooh, I love that,” I say.
“And Cassie is talking about Disney World, can you believe it?” he says, downtrodden.
Oh. My. God. I gasp in excitement. I’m hearing verses of “It’s a Small World” in my head.
“I’ve got to find a way to discourage her,” he says.
I look at him. I take a long look at this man who loves me but is so out of touch with what I like that we could be the poster couple for John Gray’s “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.”
From somewhere, I sense Mom and her philosophy of celebrating each day. Looking at Ted, I realize I have to straighten this out.
“Ted?” I say. “You’re right. All that sounds absolutely crazy.”
I have his attention.
“But,” I continue, “Maybe we could go on a trip. See a different country. Or several. Maybe even take a safari. Different foods, excitement. How does that sound?”
His eyes brighten, and he starts nodding his head, as I turn and pick up the phone to call my oldest.
“Cassie?” I say. “Book that place in Orlando. Now.”