My mother, now gone from this Earth – bless her heart – was a mysterious creature.
She was a health nut who forbade her children any sugar, while she smoked. She was quick with a laugh when you belched or farted, but went full-on Hulk when you accidentally spilled the milk. And, honestly, she was the asker of a slew of daily questions that made no sense. Until now.
I finally get it, mom. Behind these bizarre questions lurked a conscientious multi-tasker. Behind those questions for which there was no logical answer stood a woman who, at times, disguised her humanity out of a profound love for her children.
Here are the then-puzzling questions she asked, now so clear.
1. What should we have for dinner?
This was always asked when her five kids were slurping the last of the no-sugar granola cereal, washed down with goat’s milk. Today, I ask my three girls the same question as they finish their Toaster Strudel.
Otherwise, how am I going to know what meat to defrost? Or that I need to remind myself to pick up a jar of spaghetti sauce on my way home from work? (By the way, this question was really a form of speaking out loud. No way in hell would mom consider, when we answered in unison, “McDonald’s!”) I’m not really looking to know what my kids actually would prefer for dinner, either.
2. Can you read this?
Mom was forever shoving recipes under my nose to read the temperature to preheat the oven. Yes, Mom, I can read it and have been able to since I was 5.
Now in my 40s, I can’t read the back of medicine bottles. So, I grab the sick kid and ask her, “Can you read this?” I’m assuming she can and will relay the necessary information to me, thus preventing her own overdose. I could search the bottom of my bag for the granny glasses. But who has time for that?
3. Are you going to wear that?
You’ve showered, styled your hair and come into the room where your mom is sitting. Where do you go with this question? I’m not GOING TO wear this outfit, I AM ALREADY wearing it.
And, yet, when one of my children walks in the room wearing a slip of a sundress in the middle of winter or any garment that shows too much of the jigglies, I ask the same question. I’m doing them a kindness, I now realize. I’m choosing love. So was mom.
4. Did you take my keys (wallet, sunglasses, birth control)?
No child in my house is old enough to drive, much less have birth control be of any use. But admitting that I have misplaced yet again something that I should have kept track of would be admitting to my girls that the adage “everything has a place and everything in its place” is an unworthy aspiration.
We want our children to have it easier than we did, right? Of course we do. Knowing where your stuff is, is step one.
5. What did your dad say?
Of course my mom knew that my dad said no in response to whatever I was asking her about. Somewhere I wanted to go. Something I wanted to buy. Someone I wanted to be with.
But, man, it’s tiring being the heavy all the time. Let dad say no and take the heat for once. It’s so much easier to just reply, as my mom did and I do, “Well, if your dad said no …”
6. Are you OK?
You’re bleeding. Or doing the ugly cry. Or you’re making strange animal noises. And mom asks if you’re OK. She knows you’re not OK. Trust me.
This question is a space filler, allowing her to perform triage. Before you’ve finished telling her that no, you are certainly not OK and here’s why, she has formulated a plan for complete healing and comfort. She’s going to do whatever she can to make everything alright again, whether that means finding the best surgeon in the country or canceling girls’ night out to stay home with you to gorge on Ben & Jerry’s.
Mom cares, and if taking your anger out on her for asking stupid questions helps, she can live with that.