Archive for July, 2010
When my cousin married she moved from the country to the city and took her widowed mother with her. My aunt was short in stature but she made up for her lack of height in width. As a child I had never seen a fatter woman. Her eyes were like tiny raisins in leavening dough, and when she laughed all four of her chins trembled for minutes after her mouth had calmed. Despite all that, she was elegant and graceful, and had the most slender feet on which she liked to wear jeweled heels, three or four inches high.
Soon after my cousin’s wedding, the three of them moved into a second-floor three-room apartment in the new part of the city. The building, a square concrete block type, ten stories high popping up all over the country at the height of communism, lacked both a working elevator and lighting on the stairwell. My aunt though, accustomed to attention from men despite her size, rarely lacked for an arm to lean on, or a hand cupping her elbow as she made her way up. After she was seen to her door, she had a habit of inviting the gentlemen in and packing them plates heaved high with her delicious pastry before sending them back to their families.
One day, possibly the hottest day of the year, my aunt was baking Dobos cakes for a wedding that weekend, dressed only in her silky undergarments when the kitchen caught on fire. She ran, threw open the windows and yelled, “Fire! Fire!” before collapsing on the floor in a state of panic. Within moments her admirers broke down the door and got to her. Because she could not stand on her feet, four of them carried her out, two holding her underneath her armpits, and two underneath her knees. But she wouldn’t allow them to go down until two other men running around in circles and not doing anything helpful, promised to run in and rescue her precious shoes.
They crawled on all fours through the smoke to the bedroom wardrobe where the shoes were and while the men ran down the three flights of stairs with my aunt, they shoved her shoes off the balcony, all the while blinded by the smoke and coughing their lungs out.
It was a good thing that the fire department finally decided to show up. The men were saved, the apartment was saved, but most importantly, the shoes were saved, and my aunt was even talked into procuring a fire extinguisher in place of a new pair of dainty pumps, should a fire happen a second time.
My aunt learned two things that day, and none of them had to do with putting out a fire. The first was to keep her shoes within easy reach of the front door, and the second, no matter how hot the day or the kitchen, to bake fully dressed.
This is a work of fiction. For more, please visit Magpie Tales.
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A quarter of a mile up the road from our house, the woods begin. On a hot summer day, we grab our water bottles and sweaters, and head out. Within five minutes we’ve left the city behind, with its noise, its traffic, its suffocating heat. We follow the dirt path that meanders through the firs, the jasmine, and the wild blackberry bushes, the only sound that of the gurgling stream, and birds calling to each other.
The deeper in we go, the cooler it gets. We don our sweaters and button them up. The kids race up ahead, my son gathering salmonberries, naming ferns and mushrooms, my daughter picking wildflowers she presents to me, or down to the stream looking for salamanders. They jump from one rock to another, wanting to be the first to get to the opposite shore. I watch, my heart in my throat, and caution them. My husband laughs and tells me to relax. He goes to join them, a protective hand hovering above the little one.
Finally we arrive at remains of the old Stone House. This is our turning point. Husband and I sit on a log, quench our thirst, and the little ones prepare to put on a show. The old stone structure is their castle, the forest their kingdom, their dad and I, their subjects.
On our way back down, I offer up a little prayer of gratitude. For my beautiful family, for the magic of childhood, for the trees, and the flowers, and the sun, and the air we breath. I am amazed and moved to tears. It is in the midst of nature that I feel closest to God.
It seems like my boy was just born, we had just been discharged from the hospital and were on our way home, the car packed with all types of necessities, our heads crammed with all kinds of practical advice we were already forgetting. Yet, here he is! Already ten, and almost a half. He’s just come home from a weeklong camp, away from us for the first time ever. And I missed him and worried, constantly. in some ways, despite all our reading and all our prayers through the years, and all the advice that we even now receive, we’re still just as clueless as we were then. I look at my parents who had raised five children and at my in-laws who had raised seven, and wonder. They deserve to be congratulated and respected for this accomplishment, for it wasn’t easy.
My mother’s idealism and desire to fill our lives with goodness and love shaped us into the adults we are. I reflect upon those carefree childhood days when the only worries we had were which playground we were going to visit, and which friends we were going to play with. She was conscientiously indulgent with her time, with her patience, and with her possessions; nothing was too good for us.
Her gentle rebukes and reminders rarely humiliated our fragile selves. She was fair and consistent in her expectations and her discipline. I try to remember that whenever I lose it and scream my head off for some tiny, inconsequential offense I believe is aimed at me; aimed at showing me what a failure I am as a parent. And I am afraid that the parental will within me, added on to all my ignorant fears, renders my son helpless and angry during the years of his life when he should be untroubled.
Because I don’t want my son disappointed in me as a parent (and to be honest, sometimes I’m too tired, too busy, etc.), I often resort to a dirty little trick: I turn to my husband for his opinion, thus making him the definitive factor in whatever issue is at hand. I resorted to this last night. For one, I was too exhausted to really go into detail about why a certain behavior is not allowed, and two, it didn’t really seem like such a big deal anyway, so I couldn’t come up with a good enough argument to convince my boy (and my boy is not easily redirected).
My husband did a wonderful job explaining, as he usually does. I cuddled my son next to me on the couch and smiled across the ottoman at my husband, congratulating him for his words of logic. Yet all the while relieved that I wasn’t the one put on the spot, my words were not the ones objected to. Not long after, it dawned on me that unless I grow a backbone and stand firm on my own opinions and decisions, my son would still be disappointed. My role as a mother is not an invisible role, nor a diminished one. I need to own its existence. I need to embrace it. I need to grow in wisdom. I need to nurture and comfort and love and admonish. And I need to figure out how. And quick!
P.S. This is a repost with very few changes. You’d imagine I’d gotten smarter in the last year and a half, but it isn’t so. I’m just as clueless.