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It took almost 37 years, but I’ve finally turned into my mother – and not in the way you’re thinking.
My mom has a lot of great qualities. She’s kind. She defies aging. She can turn a can of English peas and a box of pasta into a dinner large enough to feed 80 people.
These are not the qualities I’ve adopted.
No. I turned into my mother yesterday, at 3:47 p.m. when I took my dog to the bathroom to inflict discipline.
You read that right.
I took my dog into a public bathroom to give her a “talking to” about ignoring me. I’m creative, but even I can’t make this stuff up.
My three-year-old English pointer mix Starla and I were visiting one of the many dog-friendly businesses that we frequent.
Initially, Starla was unsure about encountering so many other dogs. She soon warmed to the experience, and as all three-year-olds eventually do, decided she no longer needed my input to have a successful and happy outing.
She blissfully ignored me when I called her name. Later, she pretended not to hear my command of “come,” and instead jumped onto the lap of a woman she’s met exactly twice in her life. She played happily with the other dogs; so happily, that she leapt onto a three-legged puppy and knocked her down.
That’s when we visited the bathroom.
I shut the door and wheeled on her. “I am disappointed in you! How could you jump on that poor puppy?”
Starla tilted her head and listened to my rant with canine interest.
“You know obedience! Did you forget everything you learned in puppy classes?”
Those classes didn’t come cheap. She sat, as if to emphasis that she remembered something.
I narrowed my right eye. Snarky dog.
I pointed a finger at her brown nose. “When I say ‘come’, you had better come, missy!”
She gave me a patronizing look that a teenage human would envy.
I sucked air. My right eye twitched. I didn’t know it then, but I was about to transform from my usual self into a taller, less culinary version of my mother.
“Don’t you talk back to me young lady!”
I paused, stunned.
Where had I heard that before? A flashback to every argument with my mother from early childhood to my late teens (ok twenties) flashed through my mind.
I stared at my reflection in the mirror in horror. I still looked the same, but I sounded exactly like Mom.
I shot the dog my nastiest look. This change in me was plainly her fault. Never mind my shock when she jumped on the puppy. Now, I was furious!
She had turned me into my mother. Fine. Mom was no slouch when it came to meting out punishment. What would Mom do?
I had the answer and suddenly regretted not giving Starla a middle name. Mom would have growled Starla (middle name) Blithe! Then, Starla would have known she was in for it!
It is an extraordinary thing when the dollar amount on a person’s paycheck is equal to that person’s view of his or her own worth.
It rarely happens. Furthermore, the opposite is more likely. The work in which you most invest yourself, usually pays the least.
Take the work you do around your own home, for example. Housework is the worst paying kind of work because usually it pays nothing; unless you count the immeasurable reward of not tripping over misplaced shoes during your 3 a.m. visit to the potty.
Scrub, clean, leave germs quaking in fear of your purification prowess though you may, you will never receive a direct deposit of funds for your work.
Worse, the people who share your home likely don’t appreciate your sterilization efforts.
Unless the colony of mildew you eradicated from the shower was growing in a curious shape (such as it faintly resembled the face of Mother Teresa or looked mildly like a wedge of cheddar) you will be lucky if your family even notices that you cleaned.
You can forget about hearing a thank you, never mind a promissory note.
Even professional housekeepers who do receive a paycheck for cleaning would say it isn’t enough.
When I worked as a pet sitter, I witnessed firsthand the horror a housekeeper faces. I was often grateful for their visits because they cleared a path for me to walk from the door to the litter box without the need of mountain climbing gear.
Some people, you know who you are, leave your home so messy even FEMA won’t get involved. I feel for the poor people who have to clean up after you, and once went so far as to suggest to a housekeeper that she should invest in a hazmat suit.
And we’ve only considered the cleaning. We haven’t even discussed the other household chores, the things that the responsibility of adulthood forces us to brave, or repel, as necessary.
There’s laundry to wrangle, budgeting to account, grocery shopping to navigate, unruly hedges to defy, renovations you brashly tear into, then, of course, the necessary clean up after. There are children to cultivate, pets to rear, spouses to compromise with and whenyou’re done with all that, there’s still the most dreaded chore of them all: dinner must be cooked.
It’s a good thing the professional world doesn’t pay us what we’re really worth. If they did businesses would be perpetually in arrears!
We couldn’t get them to cooperate, so we thought we’d outsmart them.
I’m talking about the property management company from which we rent a house. Like all companies of the type, they offered excellent customer service right up to moving day. Once we were in the house and they had our money, customer service packed its bags and went on vacation to Tahiti.
I phoned maintenance and told them of its demise. The man I needed to speak to, the man whose only job is to handle maintenance calls, wasn’t in. I left a voicemail. Later that day I received a text message assuring me someone would be out to look at the mailbox.
It was the next day before I heard anything more. A man hired by our property management company to replace the box called and told me he’d be by later that day with a new mailbox.
He never showed.
Two days rolled by. No mailbox.
I called again. No answer. This time, the voicemail was full so I couldn’t leave a message. I called again.
A week and a half after my first call, I lost my temper. I found an empty hole in the voicemail and left a blistering message.
Never tick off a writer. We know exactly what words to use to compel cooperation, and we’re hell when unleashed on a review website.
I had a new mailbox that day.
My husband Brian and I were relieved that the door was shut on the mailbox drama.
Then, a wheel broke off the bottom rack in the dishwasher.
It took a week and a half for the mailbox – a job that didn’t require me to be home to let them into my house. How long would dishwasher repair take?
We didn’t think we could survive round two.
Brian crammed the wheel back on, and we smirked that we didn’t have to fuss the “property management” (ha!) company.
Sadly, we were destined to discover how long dishwasher repair would take after all. The broken wheel, we could ignore, but we couldn’t ignore it when the dishwasher stopped working entirely.
I left another voicemail and waited.
Three days later, I was informed that someone would be out the following week. I did dishes by hand and fumed.
A week later, a dishwasher repairman arrived to save me from dishpan hands.
He opened the dishwasher and looked inside. He found the problem immediately. The wheel we’d so cleverly crammed back on had broken free and was wedged inside an important part of the dishwasher: the part that lets it know that it needs to spray water – a critical component of a functioning dishwasher.
Brian and I shrugged. We might have been too clever for our own good when it came to the dishwasher, but we’ll stop it there. When our lease is up, we’ll be clever enough to find somewhere else to live!
In his lifetime, our cat Hemmy tried to kill himself more than once.
He swallowed a needle, picked a fight with a Labrador retriever and when I married Brian and moved in with two additional cats, he began spraying in our home. This was especially dangerous because he once sprayed on an outlet. Fortunately, our vet prescribed a medication to calm him and the spraying stopped.
Yet the terror of each of those encounters pales when I reflect on the time we found a lump on his belly.
The genial brown tabby liked to have his belly rubbed. He was more doglike than our actual dog, and would gladly roll over for a tummy scratch. It was during one of these sessions that I first felt the lump. Hoping I was overreacting, I called my husband Brian into the room.
“Feel Hemmy’s tummy,” I said to him. He complied. When his hand paused suddenly and he locked eyes with me, I knew I wasn’t imagining it. There was a lump on our sweet boy Hemmy’s belly.
We rushed to the vet.
She prescribed antibiotics and scheduled a follow up appointment for a week later. During that week, I closely monitored the lump.
To my horror, I realized it was growing rapidly. On the day we were supposed to go in for a follow up appointment, we drove Hemmy to the vet for surgery to have the lump removed.
With trembling hand, I signed the form acknowledging that anesthesia is risky and our cat might never wake from surgery.
Shaking, Brian and I left our buddy trustingly in the hands of our capable vet.
To distract ourselves while we waited, we transported our bikes across town and planned to ride them along the river. Within moments of our arrival, my cell phone rang. The number on the readout was our vet.
Fear gripped my gut. It was too soon! I shouldn’t hear from the vet for at least an hour. To hear back so quickly must mean that something had gone horribly wrong.
I swallowed and forced myself to answer the phone.
“Something was nagging at me about Hemmy’s lump,” my vet began. This was not the apologetic, I’m-sorry-your-cat-is-dead tone I feared. It was too soon to be relieved, but fear was giving way to curiosity.
“I took a closer look at the lump, and I expressed it,” she said.
“You expressed it?” I asked stupidly. How could she express a tumor, unless it wasn’t a tumor?
“The medication he takes for spraying bugged me. It can cause a false pregnancy in dogs, but I’ve never heard of it happening in a cat before,” she went on.
False pregnancy? The vet continued to speak, but realization made me interrupt. “My male cat. My male, neutered cat thinks he’s pregnant?”
“Yep,” she replied. “He doesn’t have a lump. He has milk.”
Relief flooded me and I erupted in laughter. Brian stared at me quizzically, waiting for an explanation.
“Hemmy’s outdone himself,” I told him. “He doesn’t have cancer. He thinks he’s going to be a mommy.”
Needless to say, we stopped the medication. Hemmy came home with a shaved belly, clean teeth and was certified cancer-free!
Hemmy sporting his shaved belly and waiting for a tummy rub.
It was three a.m. when I admitted defeat.
The unholy sounds reverberating from my living room would have driven a lesser woman to murder, the ache in my shoulder yielded to no painkiller and the guttural sounds of a cat yaking a hairball began again, in what must be a new feline record.
I wanted to sleep, but death was beginning to look appealing. At least no one would disturb me.
“Oh gosh!” The cry came from the living room.
My mother-in-law, who was “sleeping” next to my father-in-law on the pullout sofa, objected to our dog Starla stepping on her. Starla isn’t allowed on the bed, but tell that to the in-laws. I say my mother-in-law was, “sleeping,” because no human should be able to sleep next to my father-in-law as he snores.
I marveled that she hadn’t smothered him with a pillow.
His sleep apnea outmatched the earbuds I used to pipe restful music into my ears. I thought fondly back to bedtime when I fancied they would help.
It was also at bedtime that my cat Seti horked up his first hairball. Something otherworldly, possibly demonic was taking place in my cat’s intestines. He was working on his fifth (or was it his sixth?) hairball of the evening. I thought I should probably call Guinness, but couldn’t muster the will.
I sat on the side of the bed and listened to my father-in-law snore. I briefly considered smothering my father-in-law on my mother-in-law’s behalf. I’m pretty sure she would thank me.
I would thank me if I were her.
Suddenly, my husband Brian began to snore as well. Like a pack of wild dogs, they called to each other, father and son, snorting from across the house.
I eyed Brian with venom. I may not be able to smother my father-in-law, but my spouse was near at hand.
Instead, I shuffled to the bathroom and took more ibuprofen for the pain in my shoulder. It started after my workout at the gym. You try to do something good for yourself, and you’re punished with a pinched nerve. I chased the ibuprofen with Benadryl in the hopes it would make me sleep.
Dear God, let it make me sleep!
I took a deep breath and mustered the will to try to sleep again. Surely, the medicine and a renewed attempt with my earbuds on full volume would help. Feeling more positive, I headed for bed.
As I returned to my bedroom, I stepped on something wet. Hairball squished between my toes.
I sighed. Death, where are you when I need you?
“Have you seen Mermaid and Boppy?” my sister asked me. Her voice was strained, her hair frazzled and there were tears in the corners of her eyes.
“Code red, code red!” the voice inside my head screamed.
Her daughter Nicole’s favorite plush toy Mermaid and blankie Boppy were missing, and only Nicole knew how long she would last before erupting in a volcano of tears, spraying the hapless, surrounding villagers (us) with her wrath.
I froze. I knew the screaming fit of horror that awaited my poor eardrums if Mermaid and Boppy weren’t located immediately.
Nicole received Mermaid as a first birthday present. They’ve been inseparable ever since, well, inseparable if you don’t count the numerous times Mermaid was lost.
Her dejection at an earlier loss of Mermaid was so great that her parents purchased a second Mermaid, which my niece dubbed ‘Nuther Mermaid. When both Mermaid and ‘Nuther Mermaid were tragically misplaced, a cousin purchased a third plush mermaid which Nicole then named Stacy Mermaid after our cousin.
Over the years, ‘Nuther Mermaid and Stacy Mermaid met their natural ends, which were not dissimilar to the ending of many of our dog Starla’s toys: threads frayed, seams opened and fillings spilled out. The remains were secreted to trash bins hidden away from small, sad eyes.
Our mother hurried to us. “Have you found them?” she asked in a tense whisper so Nicole wouldn’t hear. “Start looking, both of you,” she urged us.
My sister flung pillows from the couch. My mother dumped the toy box and filtered through its contents. I edged toward the door. I’ve seen my niece when her toys are missing. More importantly, I’ve heard my niece when her toys are missing, and I didn’t want to experience the sequel.
My mother spied me. “Don’t even think about it,” she snapped.
My sister shot me a hateful look.
“What?” I asked sheepishly.
“What kind of aunt are you?” Mom scolded.
“One who values her eardrums,” I muttered, but I moved to help them search and secretly, I hoped that if I didn’t find the missing toys, I’d find a set of earplugs.
Ground searches, candlelight vigils and prayer services ensued for the missing.
I wadded up Kleenex and stuffed my ears.
Finally, our prayers were answered. Mermaid was discovered wrapped snugly in Boppy inside a toy refrigerator where her “mother” Nicole had placed her for a nap.
Few things can bring a child to her knees like the loss of her favorite toy, and few things can bring grown adults to a frenzied, panicked search like the impending threat of a child’s eruption.
I abandoned my work and drove to a nearby café for a fix, questioning as I drove, my place in this world and my purpose in life. My morning was that bad!
My favorite café recently installed a drive-through. I’ve been skeptical about using it. How can I get the full café experience without smelling the coffee and seeing the bagels toasting? I decided to risk it on that morning. It wasn’t as if my day could get much worse.
I pulled to the speaker and placed my order. “I’d like a chocolate chip bagel to go please.” I paused realizing my mistake. “Of course it’s to go,” I corrected myself. “I’m in the drive-through. That was a stupid thing to say. Sorry about that.”
The voice from the speaker ignored my rambling apology, and politely asked me to pull forward.
When I arrived at the window, I was greeted exuberantly, enthusiastically, zealously by a woman with a short bob and a big smile.
“That was great,” she effervesced! “You made our entire morning.”
“What do you mean?” I was confused, too absorbed in my own wallowing to realize that I’d done something funny.
I rarely miss when I’m being funny. Don’t believe me? Ask my husband Brian.
“You are the only person whose ever said ‘to go’ in the drive-through and caught themselves! We loved it!” One of her coworkers grinned at me over her shoulder.
I laughed. “I guess I’m just used to ordering at the counter and needing to specify,” I told her.
“Do you want a cup of coffee on the house or something? You made our day and we want to do something for you!”
“No thank you,” I laughed.
“Are you sure?” she pressed. She was serious about how much they’d enjoyed my ordering flub.
I waved her off. “It’s enough to know I made someone’s day.”
I paid for my bagel and reached for the bag. She passed me two bags. I blinked, confused again. In one bag was my bagel. In the other was a chocolate cookie.
I thanked her, and the drive-through team waved goodbye as I pulled away.
I looked at my cookie and fought down a sob. My place in the world is the same as it’s always been: to make people laugh.
I just needed a little chocolate to remind me.