Driving with the Top Down

In honor of my mom’s 94th birthday on February 28, I’m dedicating this post to her, mothers, daughters

ocean City NJ, Atlantic OceanI am here again, traveling along the same flat road, watching the tall green maples and oaks turn to scrubby, smaller bush and pine. What is it about my primordial need to return to the ocean – the Atlantic Ocean – every year?

As I breathe in the hot humid New Jersey air, a mixture of dirt, gas, grass, asphalt and salt water, I wonder if it’s just a childhood memory that needs to be rewritten and retold yearly.  After all, as a child . . .

“Why is he traveling so closely behind you?  How fast are you going?” my mother interrupts my slow, careful thoughts. Continue reading

As Easy As Peanut Butter and Jelly

peanut butter and jelly, mothers and daughters, family, breakfastWe are always children to our parents.

No matter our age.

I find that comforting.

This past week I flew across country to visit my mom. I have adult children now. I have grandchildren, but my mom waits on me as if I’m still her (young) child whom she must care for and nurture.

You know how tenderly we parents watch over our 3-year- old, our 11-year-old, our 16 and 20-year-old? Well, guess what? We do the same when they’re 29, and 45, and yes, even older.

“I bought a wheat bagel for your breakfast, just what you like,” my mom chirps at 8 a.m. our first morning. I don’t eat bagels. I munch on wheat toast with organic peanut butter and blueberry jam every morning, but I so appreciate the thought that I slice the (just thawed) bagel and search for the toaster.

wheat bagel, breakfast

“I don’t own a toaster,” Mom explains five minutes into my opening and closing cabinets.

“Oh.” I turn on the oven to Broil.

“I’ve never used Broil. Do you think it works?” Mom asks, her voice tinged with wonder and curiosity.

I never use Broil either, at least not for toasting bread, so we stand in front of the oven and wait for four minutes.

I open the door. Bagel’s still soft.

Mom rinses some blueberries and raspberries, throws a few on her cereal, and makes me a bowl. “Sit down and eat,” she demands. “I’ll watch the bagel.”

I ignore her and open the oven – bagel’s still soft.

She pours milk into her bowl and I order her: “Eat before your cereal gets mushy!” She ignores me, and we check the oven.

Bagel’s still soft.

Simultaneously, we hit the Broil button off, and then I select Bake at 450 degrees. “Really, Mom, start breakfast. I’ll be right there.”

Mom stares longingly at her now soggy shredded wheat waiting for her on the dining room table but says, “Let me get the peanut butter out for your bagel,” as if I can’t reach up to the cabinet and pull out the Jiffy jar.

I check the bagel – it’s actually getting a little toasted. Nonchalantly I ask, “Do you have some jam?” but inwardly kick myself as soon as the words are out of my mouth.

Crestfallen, she opens the refrigerator and responds, “How about Seville Orange Marmalade?”

“Um, no, I really don’t like marmalade.”

“How can you NOT like marmalade? Here, try it.”

I hate marmalade. Don’t know why, but I have since I was a kid. So like a kid, I shake my head no. I probably pout too.

Mom pulls out another jar. “Oh, here’s Apricot Preserves.”

whole wheat bage, peanut butter, breakfast“Isn’t that like marmalade?” I ask. By now, I’ve pulled out the crispy browned bagel and start spreading it with peanut butter.

“Try it!”

“I really don’t…”

A spoon with some apricot preserves is suddenly swung in front of me, so I place a smidgen on my bagel and take one bite, making a face. “Nope, don’t like it. I’m fine with just peanut butter. Now, let’s eat.”

Her head is still in the refrigerator. “Aha! Red Current Jelly! Want to try that?”

“You’re kidding me, right?”

I walk to the table with my plate of, by now, cold toasted bagel. “Mom – come on.”

She makes a noise and produces another glass bottle from the refrigerator. “Look! Fig Butter. That could taste good…?”

“Why the heck do you have fig butter?”

She shrugs. “I bought it for a recipe. Umm, that could have been quite a while ago.”

I give her a peanut buttery smile. “Join me.” Her cereal is now indistinguishable from overcooked oatmeal that is dotted with some red and blue berries.

Giving up, my mom sits down at her place, only to pop up with an excited exclamation. She races back to the refrigerator and presents me with her find:


I groan, “Noooooooooooooo.”

She shrugs.

I begin to laugh so hard I can’t take another bite of baked bagel.

How wonderful is it to have a mom who still treats you like her special little girl, the daughter she still wants to keep happy?

But still, I don’t touch the cherry pie jelly.

My mom, making me dinner as I watch and admire.

My mom, making me dinner and still taking care of me.

Turning Into An Age

age, mothers, daughters, birthdays

Blowing away age myths.

My mom just turned ______.

Well, I’m not going to fill in the blank. Let’s just say she turned yesterday.

When we celebrate a birthday, why do we exclaim that we’ve “turned”? Like, “Joe just turned 60 and he’s so grumpy.” Or Jilly turned 13 last week and is now a true teenager.”What happens to us, when we “turn” into a new age? Do the wrinkles around our eyes suddenly crease deeper? Do our muscles turn stiffer, or weaker, on our birth date?

Or is it more ethereal than that. Do we suddenly turn into a “new” person, a different person,because the calendar says we’re now one year older?

All I know is that if I filled in the blank in the first sentence of this post , my mom would never talk to me again. Or worse, she’d talk to me, but believe me, her words would not be loving or kind.

And I understand that  –  now.

age, age discrimination, birthdays, mothers, daughters

Cute as a button, at any age.

When I was a child, I never knew my mom’s age. She never revealed it to my brother and me. Of course, at 5, or 10, or even 15, who cares how old our parents are? They’re ancient and we’ll never be that old.

But I do remember the time, when I was in my 20s, when my mom turned a certain number, let’s guess 53, and she told everyone at the birthday party that she’d just “turned” 43. I did the math, and wondered if she really gave birth to me when she was only a teenager. Because all along, I’d been told she didn’t have her first child until she was almost 30.

I approached my dad with the sensitive subject. He kind of smiled nervously, shrugged his shoulders, and suggested I ask my mom. From the nervous tic in his shoulders, I figured that was a bad idea.

For years after, I noticed that my mom gave a different number to her age anytime my bro or I asked her. One month she was 51, another time 48, three months later, maybe 52. And we were in our late 30s by then!

By the time I was 40 and lying about my age as competently as my mom, I snuck up to my dad and begged  him to tell me how old mom was. He shook his head at me in disappointment.  As sagely as the good witch telling Dorothy that all along, all she had to do was click her red heels to go home, my father said, “All you’ve had to do is check out her driver’s license.” After a pause he added, “but don’t ever tell her I gave you that advice!”

birthday, birthday party, greatgrandchildren, parents, mother/daughter

Sharing her wish with great-grandson, not her age.

So, I’m ashamed to admit right here, to my readers across the world, that I did just that. Me, a parent, an upstanding citizen with no arrest record (and just one speeding ticket…or two), flew across the country to supposedly “visit” my mother. Then I sent her off for an errand, and like a thief lusting for a hidden diamond ring, I peeked into her purse and found her driver’s license.

There it was – in black and white and I felt sorry all over.

mother, grandmother, age, birthday

Teaching her grandson that attitude is everything.

What did it matter how old she was? Age is only a number. Attitude is everything. She looks at least 20 years younger than her “licensed” age, she acts 30 years younger (I’ve been known to whisper to friends who ask: “my mom is 80 going on 18”). She’s beautiful and trim, laughs a lot, surrounds herself with delightful friends, yells at me if I try to carry her suitcase when she visits (“I’m perfectly capable, thank you!”), and reads voraciously.Honestly, I can’t keep up with my mom – her energy is friskier than a puppy’s, yet her wisdom hits the mark whenever I need a mother’s words to get me through life’s kinks.

 “People have perceptions of what 60 is supposed to be, and 70, and 80 and beyond. I don’t want to be categorized,” she insists.

Mom, I salute you.

And I’m so glad you didn’t “turn” into anything other than your most wonderful self on this birthday.

mother and daughter, birthday, age

Mother and Daughter – Ageless

“It Never Rains in California, but It Pours, Man It Pours” – A Writer’s Tale

Books Inc., book store, author reading, rain, trafficOne of my stories was published in an award-winning book, yet I didn’t attend my reading debut in a California bookstore on a wet Friday November evening.

Sad, but true.

Author Lynn Henriksen had chosen to include my story, “Traveling to the Ocean” in her book TellTale Souls Writing the Mother Memoir: How to Tap Memory and Write Your Story Capturing Character and Spirit (http://www.amazon.com/TellTale-Souls-Writing-Mother-Memoir/).  A long title for a smart, emotional guide to writing memoir.TellTale Souls: Writing Mother Memoir

Lynn’s book helps writers of any level access memory and tell true tales in just a few pages. And in each chapter, she adds poignant mother/daughter (or son) stories written by selected contributors.

My story was one of those, in the section entitled “Using Descriptive Imagery.” How exciting is that? And then, to top it off, Lynn asked me to join her and some of the other writers to read at the Catching Spirits Event at Books Inc. in Alameda, a book store known as “The West’s Oldest Independent Bookseller.” (http://www.booksinc.net/Alameda)

So did I send the news to my 500 closest friends?


Did I proclaim my publishing success on Twitter and Facebook?

Well, yes, but just two hours before the event began. I may be a writer, and I may want readers, but I’m still shy about my ‘stuff’ (yes, my fingers shake every week before I hit ‘post’ on WordPress), and I didn’t want people to brave the highways and byways of the East Bay just to listen to little ole me read a story.

I was so glad of that decision when my guy and I left our home an hour and a half before the event. Normally a 45-minute ride, we factored in that (a) we’d be driving in Friday evening commute traffic and (b) the rain was falling hard enough to make my hair frizz, all the better that I’d not encouraged family and friends to attend.

An hour later, we were still in bumper-to-bumper, rain-soaked, slick streets racing (about 3 minutes per hour) toward our destination. Since I tend to motion sickness, I opened the window every so often, allowing sprays of spittle-like moisture to soak my face and my hoped-for straight hair, which now resembled an SOS pad.

7 p.m. The event was beginning, I was supposed to be the first reader, and yet my man and I were still enmeshed in a sea of moving metal bodies. My head throbbed in motion distress, and my stomach thanked me for not eating anything.

Finally, we reached the city of Alameda, sighing that our journey was almost at an end. I texted Lynn to not give up on me. As we got closer to the treasure – the bookstore – I searched desperately for a parking place, seeing nothing but parked cars on the metered spaces and red brake lights in the dark drear night.

We followed directions for a parking garage, two blocks away, and followed a line of similarly wandering souls. Turning into the small garage opening, we drove UP, and around, UP, and around, UP and around, until my head pounded in protest.

“Must be space at the top,” I murmured hoarsely to my man, “look at all the cars coming down the opposite way.”

Well, four more times we went UP, and around, UP and around, until we reached the top, the sky, and not one open space. All those cars we passed going the opposite way? They’d had no luck either. What kind of garage has no sign that says: FULL?

Didn’t matter. At that point in time, my body was full of motion sickness. I couldn’t walk, much less talk or smile or hold a book for sale.

“Take me home!” I croaked.

The rain stopped for our drive back. So did the horrible traffic. In fact, we soared home, and I crawled into bed like a sick child.

But stuck in my head, all night long, was the 1980s tune, “It never rains in California, But it pours, man it pours.”

[ Lyrics from: http://www.lyricsmode.com/lyrics/a/albert_hammond/it_never_rains_in_southern_california.html ]Songwriters: HAMMOND, ALBERT/HAZLEWOOD, MIKE

Got on board a westbound seven forty-seven
Didn’t think before deciding what to do
Ooh, that talk of opportunities, TV breaks and movies
Rang true, sure rang true …

Seems it never rains in southern California
Seems I’ve often heard that kind of talk before
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours

I’m out of work, I’m out of my head
Out of self respect, I’m out of bread
I’m underloved, I’m underfed, I wanna go home
It never rains in California, but girl, don’t they warn ya?
It pours, man, it pours

Pressing Matters

Pressing, iron, texting, mother, sonI call my son Sean on his cell phone, at work, 11 a.m.

I don’t usually call my boy during the day. After all, he works, in the big city, in a big high-financing job that I understand absolutely nothing about. I hear his explanations of investing, solar, banks, corporations, tax credit, energy, but to be perfectly honest, at banks and tax credits my brain gets fuzzy and my eyes roll back so I just nod my head and say “Ohhhh!” as if I’ve understood every fast-speaking, super-intelligent thing he’s said.

But today, I just want to hear his voice. I miss that, now that he’s not the little boy who absolutely and completely loves his mother, buying her flowers when he’s driven her close to distraction, and offering a huge smile and hug every night until he leaves for college.

My son is MINE until he meets his match, his sunshine, the chink to his armor, the woman he’s dreamed of before he ever met her — his wife.

Now he’s hers, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be, the way I want it to be.

Until I call him at 11 in the morning and he doesn’t answer his phone, and I think, “Sean doesn’t have time for me right now.”

mom, son,family,children, love

Before pressing matters.

The truth is, he doesn’t, not now that he’s married and the father of three little boys and commuting to the big city and worrying about bills and pre-schools and property taxes and how to celebrate each anniversary (at their third, he discovered the traditional gift is leather – and by god, he bought his love … a leather bracelet).  By the type of man he is, the husband he is, the father he is,  I know I did good. But I just want to hear Sean’s voice and let him be my little boy just for a minute.Please!

But five minutes after I call, I receive a text. Let me explain that I am at work myself, so I’m happy to see a text, since I really can’t take the time from work to talk then anyway – ah, the vagaries of motherhood.

But the text takes my breath away.

Here it is.


“In meetings all day. Can we talk tomorrow? Anything pressing?”


“Like an iron,” I text back angrily without thinking.

When, oh when, did I get to the point of being a person in my son’s life whom he has to find a schedule for, whom he can only talk to if it’s “pressing,” whom he…

“You’ve been married too long to dad,” he texts back.

I smile. My man is known in our family circle as a frequent (though not necessarily accomplished) person-who-puns.

I pause. Sean did text back soon after my missed call. He did make sure I was okay, then asked if we could talk later.

son, baby, family, love, mother

Sean with one of his pressing matters.

I text him a funny face  :+)  and let go of my loss.He’s still my son, but he’s not my little boy.  He still loves me, but he’s expanded his heart to love a wife, three children. He’s made a life, a family, and where do I fit in?

I’m his mom.


Illustration thanks to Pam Rubert, http://pamrubert.com/about/press1/