Thursday, April 3, 2008

On The Other Hand, Lessons She Learned

The things the Matron's mother taught her could fill a book.

Indeed, if she wasn't so busy being a bitterly under-employed underappreciated adjunct professor and full-time mama -- while already working on a different book, the Matron could very well pen such missive.

But since she is so over-scheduled, we will skip the book and hit the highlights.

Remember that fierce and significant silence regarding the Opposite Sex? The single mother, as in: single. Without Man. No Tall Dark and Winsome in sight.

Young Miss grew up with the complete and utter certainty that women--specifically mothers--were in charge of Absolutely Everything On This Planet.

If the oil needed changing or a fuse popped, Young Miss's Mother attended to said task. Shoveling? Flat tire? Done.

Income, health insurance, food and clothing for four people even when you originally signed on for Marriage, which meant laundry and lunch and the general domestic shuffle (financed by someone else)?

Got that covered, too.

Not only did the Matron not going looking for a husband or reek of desperation at thirty, she honestly did not understand the entire concept of such Need in the first place. Love sort of stumbled upon her. But she was not shopping for marriage.

Nor did the Matron particularly desire children.

Because Young Miss's Mother was perpetually locked in Desperate Struggle for Survival, children seemed like oh so many roadblocks. Big fat balls and chains, mouths to feed and all that sort of trouble.

Young Miss nurtured this theory regarding children for several years, then approached her mother.

Young Miss: "If you knew then, what you know now --- like how hard it is to raise children alone - -- would you have kept us or given us to Dad?"

Mother: "I probably would've never had you in the first place. Certainly, I would've let your father take you."

Good to have that cleared up now, wasn't it?

That conversation ---seared onto the Matron's memory (and even though she will agree that memory is selective and Freud reigns, that exact exchanged transpired) meant that children were not only unnecessary, but absolute DOOM.

So Young Miss never pined or planned for offspring.

Indeed, after one woozy bottle of wine, she and her new husband had a laughing conversation about Contraceptive Russian Roulette and how everyone else seemed to love children (of course, they didn't).

After ten minutes of serious planning for the future while under the influence of Pinot Noir, they decided that if they did not use birth control and conceived within the next few minutes, they were destined to be parents.

Please do not imagine the phone call three weeks later.

Youngish Miss: "You cannot believe this! I am @$@%% pregnant. Oh my %$#$#% God. I have not finished my #$#%% dissertation! What are we going to do!?"


Youngish Miss: "You there! It's your fault, too!"

Another thing the Matron learned from her mother?

You look fine without make-up. There was none of that stuff in the house. The Matron still does not understand mascara. The wand looks like a vehicle of Medieval Torture.

And, you need this:Education was the gold ticket out. Young Miss's mother picked up household and moved across the state to complete her education - a single parent with children 9, 8, and 5. That makes her more of a rock star than Bono.

Finally, the Young Miss understood that no matter how flawed or complex, there was nothing compared to Mother Love.

Forget that sun. Solar eclipse or moon showers.

There's your mama.

The Young Miss was 7 years old. She and her little sister (6) went to the neighbor's house. The parents were conveniently not home. The boys -- ages 10 and 12 -- harnessed little sister and told Young Miss that unless she returned with A BUCKET OF TOYS they would stab that sister and kill her.

This might seem like hyperbole except -- those boys? They were holding butcher knives.

Young Miss scrambled home in terror, looking for bucket and toys. Weeping and shaking, utterly undone.

It took her Mother about eight seconds to figure out what was going on. Mother stormed through the yard, into the neighbor's house, liberated her youngest daughter and turned those boys over her 27-year old knee to render those bottoms beet red, near bloody.

Then, she called the police and had those children arrested.

To this day, the Matron understands the value of terror and maternal rage.

Thank you, Mom.

So when a dear friend's daughter was being tortured -- tormented -- for FIVE years by one mean and unhappy boy-child (who the Matron knew well because she volunteered in the classroom and the Montessori system means you can be with one bad egg for a decade) and dear friend's daughter was so rightfully miserable the Matron nearly wept at her feet. . . . the Matron did this.

The children were heading out of the classroom to bus and parent in one long line. She pulled aside said unhappy and mean boy-child.

Matron: "I know what you're doing to X."

Boy: "So?"

Matron: "I am watching you every single second. Even when I'm not there. I have eyes in the back of my head. If you hurt her, I know."

Boy: "You're lying."

Here, the Matron firmly holds Boy's arm and looks into his eyes with a gaze that makes burning in Hell seem like a fine time, a good idea.

Matron: "No. I am magic. You will never understand. I know what you are doing to X and if you do it again, I will come after you. I will get you. I will make sure everyone in the world knows how mean you are to X. I will get you. And it will be horrible."

Boy: "uh."

This was totally unacceptable parental behavior. Politically incorrect. Mean. Really, we should have called his mother.

He never, ever bothered that little girl again.

Thank you, Mama. Dearest?

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Things My Mother Forgot to Teach Me

The things the Matron's mother forgot to teach her could fill a book.

Indeed, if she wasn't so busy being a bitterly under-employed underappreciated adjunct professor and full-time mama -- while already working on a different book, the Matron could very well pen such missive.

But since she is so over-scheduled, we will skip the book and hit the highlights.

First, there are functions of the Body. Yes, that Matron cuts right to the chase, does she not? When the Matron was a Young Miss and about 9 years old, her Mother found her reading this:

Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret.

Seizing the moment, the Mother took this opportunity to give the Young Miss her most intensive, intimate discussion of Body and its functions, ever.

Mother: "Did you read the part about where she gets her period?"

Young Miss: "Yes!"

Mother: "Well, that's all true. Isn't it past your bedtime?"

Things picked up quickly after that. Later that same year, the Young Miss stumbled across this book.

Because this was a 'grown-up' book and Young Miss generally compliant (then), she asked her mother if she could read said text. The Mother flipped through same pages and gave Hard Thought.

Mother: "Yes. Actually, it's a good idea to read this. Everything you need to know about sex is in this book. It's good, it's beautiful, it's true."

That was the complete sum total of discussion regarding sex. To this day, the Matron recalls "it's good, it's beautiful, it's true" and remains puzzled. The book or sex?

Brief digression to the next book the Young Miss stumbled upon:

Rather than ask for permission to read what she knew would be forbidden, Young Miss hid the goods under her mattress and did the most dangerous thing in the entire Universe: that nine-year old read The Exorcist at night, in the dark, with a flashlight in a bed (that could start shaking at any second).

For better or worse, those two books shaped her world view. Lest one take that statement in jest, remember that she named her only daughter, Scarlett.

Another slice of life that didn't enter the Mother's radar was this:


The Young Miss was raised by a single mother who seemed pretty happy with the adjective, single. Indeed, not only was there no dating or romance, there was a fierce and significant silence surrounding the entire topic of the Opposite Sex.

This one-time conversation took place just before the Young Miss left for college.

Mother: "You're living in a co-ed dorm?"

Young Miss: "Yes!"

Mother: "I guess you can just go ahead and shack up with somebody right away then, huh?"

Thus schooled in elements of good decisions and sound judgment, the Young Miss pretty much did just that.

While in college, Young Miss also signed on for Counseling Services, of which she was very much in need (considering all that sound judgment). During one session, she made an offhand comment about her hair, drying split ends and all that.

Counselor: "Why don't you use conditioner on your hair?"

Young Miss: "Conditioner?"

True! Young Miss missed that lecture on personal hygiene. Other topics would include shaving your legs and wearing underwear when you ovulate.

While some children may learn basic culinary arts in their mother's kitchen, one Thanksgiving Young Miss feasted on this:

She remembers going home with a friend from college and being puzzled by the Martian-like entities cluttering the kitchen counter.

Friend: "Mary, that's squash."

Young Miss (in Foreign Tongue): "S-q-u-a-s-h. "

Friend: "Haven't you ever seen squash? You know, you cut them open and bake them?"

Young Miss: "With a knife or some kind of saw?"

Before the Young Miss met her future husband, she thought the following items were as close to home-grown, real food as it could possibly get. Indeed, John is fond of reminding her that when they met, this was all she had in her cupboard:

While the Matron's culinary skills--and palate--have greatly expanded, remnants of childhood render her unable to cook these without setting off all of the downstairs fire alarms:

Matron: "What do you guys want for breakfast?"

Stryker: "Where's Dad?"

Matron: "I can make pancakes."

Scarlett: "I want Daddy."

Matron: "Eggs?"

Merrick: "Me need Daddy."

Matron: "I can make pancakes."


Stryker: "No offense, Mom, but we'd rather you didn't."

Nary a cooking secret was divined to that Young Miss, although rumor has it that her sister learned how to make peanut butter cookies.

Because we are just hitting the highlights (and--big secret! The Matron has a self-imposed rule: no more than 30 blogging minutes a day and that timer has been ringing), here's the final entry.

Generally speaking, if you were a single mother of three in 1967 (especially one whose former husband pretended to sell encyclopedias for a living) you were not exactly raking in the dough.

Indeed, you would be engaged in Desperate Struggle for Survival.

Such struggle rendered money both desirable and utterly unfathomable to Young Miss.

Remember the wise college counselor?

Young Miss: "Well, I have to go now because I have to walk a mile to the bank for a money order."

Counselor: "Money order? Haven't you ever considered getting a checking account?"

Young Miss: "You mean, the kind of thing that comes with a checkbook?"

When the Young Miss and her future husband joined households, she routinely wept over the state of her banking account.

Young Miss: "No! I can't write that check! That will make me overdrawn by $22."

John: "How can that be? The bank statement says you have $4,5601.35 in your account?!"

Young Miss: "Don't trust them. I'm broke."

John took the Young Miss and a decade's worth of bank statements to the actual institution (in the days when people would sit down and look you in the face) and there uncovered the truth about his beloved's bookkeeping methods.

Bank Clerk: "Mary. You actually do have $4,5601.35 in your checking account."

Young Miss: "Mine says minus $22."

Because for ten years, the Young Miss rounded numbers. If she wrote a check for $13.82, she subtracted $15. from her account. Deposit $367? Better make that an even $300, just to be safe.

Guess who manages the money in her current household?

Now that she is a mother herself, the Matron is certain she is cutting her own corners and has already forgotten Vital Life Lessons she planned to instill in her children while she was just pregnant with them, not actually confronted with the real breathing creatures -- whose simple maintenance (eat, bathe, don't cause undue injury to sibling) leaves her in a state of shock and exhaustion.

She's certain she's doing her part to insure that some day, years from now, her children will chortle and snort over what they missed out on! Those poor dears. But she is already nailing those discussions (multiple! frequent!) regarding sex. (as God is my witness, I will never go hungry -- or perpetuate fear of Bodily Function, all sort -- again!)

The Matron can't even imagine what that would be like--to miss out on a vita life lesson-- now, can she?

Things your mother forgot to teach you, or lessons you're planning to skip?

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Matron's Favorites

The Matron has a confession.

She rereads her own blog posts. And essays, short stories, and novel chapters--over and again. She chortles, weeps and sighs with pleasure when the prose is deftly done, just so.

You see, she enjoys writing -- the process and result, even when it's not all that good! She never tires of this process. Indeed, she never tires of herself! Some people are simply self-absorbed. The Matron likes to think that, while she may also be self-absorbed, it is in a way that is very interesting to others.

This is not necessarily a desirable attribute, but, it is the Matronly state.

Thank you, John, for living with this and loving her.

Of course, the writing don't always work out. Sometimes the message falls flat or prose putters and dies. Still. She enjoys the journey.

So while the Matron tools through the center of contemporary civilization (sorry, Paris), here are a few of her favorites, for both nostalgic (in real time) and writerly reasons. She picked lots from the early days, so go ahead and get to know her better.

The vacation ends Monday.

John shops for the Matron's Birthday

200th Post

How the Matron met her man

My Cinderella Story

On a somber note, but so beautifully done (if she says so herself)

Books the Matron was reading this week

Merrick's Birthday Party

Stryker (this one and the linked within)

Recent, but she really likes the Hip Mama analysis.

Real comments from student evaluations

Raven and her lost brother

Better Stage Mother moments

Scruffy and the Hit Man

Just what a kind and diplomatic teacher she is

Mom, Can I call you Missy?

Grandma Mary

Way to go, John

Behind the scenes with a stage mother (this one)