Thursday, September 22, 2005

Don't Trip Over the Hose


On a bright and warm day, a day typical to Connecticut in early summer, I was walking up the path in front of our little stone house in the woods, breathing the air, enjoying the sun, and although I don’t remember specifically, more than likely headed to the beach. I was around 19. Suddenly, the peace and tranquility was shattered by a shriek from my mother, who was screaming my name in a voice that put every bird within 500 meters off its perch and sent every furry thing running for cover. I whirled around, sure that she had put a kitchen knife through her hand (or through my dad), and when I could hear over the clatter of the birds and forest creatures struggling to regain their composure, said


My mother, her eyes wide as dinner plates, standing in the front door, looking fully terror-stricken, and pointing at some peril past me on the walk, and obviously unnoticed by me (thus the alarm) – I dared not turn around to face what must surely have been evil incarnate – replied

“Don’t trip over the hose!”

I turned and saw, sure enough, that there was a bright green garden hose lying across the flagstone walk. Still. Benign. As apparent and unthreatening as Barney on quaaludes.

I looked back at my mother with a face that I can only imagine said to her, without the need for words,

"Are you TOTALLY out of your gourd?"

Honest. True story. Now to the point of this post.

Next week, some 15 years after the occurence of my brush with the grisly garden hose accident described above, my mother is turning sixty.

This is serious.

I don’t mean “serious”, like “your chocolate is in my peanut butter” serious. I mean serious as in “your car keys are in my larynx” serious. Not “get me the police” serious; “get me the President” serious. Not “my nose hair needs trimming”, but “my nose hair has mutated, become aggressive and engulfed my head.” [n.b.: here I must profess, to anyone familiar with my writings, a bit of a fascination with nose hair. I acknowledge it. Call it a hobby.] My point is that this only goes down once. It needs to be handled with the utmost care and, if ineptly handled, it will almost certainly result in some yet undetermined annual and painful reminder of just how ineptly I once handled an occasion as important as a 60th birthday. To be clear, this reminder would almost certainly come from my beloved wife (as part of her ongoing, well-intended quest to needle me into raving, drooling insanity) and not from my beloved mother, who almost certainly does not give one rodent’s hirsute hindquarters about her birthday and is likely to wish a pox upon me for even mentioning it. Still, as a dutiful son, I feel compelled to give the matter due consideration.

Unfortunately I, being located the breadth of a continent away from my dear mother, need to do something susceptible of being done from afar. Popping over for breakfast and a “Day of Mom” with flowers and excessive coddling is, to my undying disappointment, not an option. So what to do? A gift? What possible gift within my pitiful budget fits such an occasion? “Happy Birthday Mom…enjoy your bacon. It’s applewood smoked!” No. I feel pressure to perform. Were it that I could buy the Taj Mahal, have it deconstructed and reassembled in Central Virginia, as a shrine to my little mother…okay, good enough (the Taj Mom-hall?) Anyway, short of that, no deal.

After a great deal of thought, internal debate and alcohol-fueled but ultimately pointless brainstorming, I concluded that the best thing I can do for my cherished mommy on her 60th is to try to impress upon her the impact she has had, and continues to have on my life and how I live, love and generally conduct myself each and every day. And the best way I know to do that is to write it down. To that end, the remains of this little rambling is entitled:

“Don’t Trip Over the Hose (or, Things I Learned From My Mom)”

In thinking this matter through, I have realized that I not only literally owe my mom my very existence, but that from her I learned just about everything I ever really needed to know to make that existence full, happy and productive.

From my mom, I learned that actions speak louder than words; that no person is perfect, but strong effort and good intent are meaningful and people who demonstrate those qualities are best.

I know that the only perfection in this world is found in the unconditional love a parent has for a child, because I feel my mother’s presence every time I look into the eyes of my own children -- my absolute love for them is born of her absolute love for me. The joy I feel looking at them is paralleled only by the joy I imagine she feels looking at me, looking at them.

I learned from my mom that a strong person greets failure and adversity with the same relish as success – that it is in those challenging moments that each of us has an opportunity to prove to ourselves who we are, and what we are made of and to grow as a result. Ironically, I also learned from my Mom that it’s OK to cry, and that even the strongest person needs love and support. Some people admit that, and accept support when they need it…the rest are not being truthful.

Under the tutelage of Mom, I have learned that a sense of humor will carry you far, protect you from a great deal of self-pity, and is to be guarded and if possible maintained front and center at all costs and in most situations. It also makes you more fun at parties.

IMPORTANT: Mom taught me that garden hoses can be deadly, and that tripping over one is always a very real risk, even for an agile-footed teenager with perfect vision, walking down a path in broad daylight and complete sobriety. Extreme caution is advised. No kidding. Mark my words. I have it on good authority that Willie Nelson has written a soon-to-be-released cautionary ballad entitled: “Mommas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up And Trip Over Hoses.” When Willie talks, I think we all know to listen.

My mom has demonstrated for me perseverance and tenacity, but also grace and calm composure. She has shown me the value in serious and critical thought, but also whimsy and lightheartedness. She instilled in me a love of things beautiful and poetic, but also shown me how to search for beauty in the tragic. She showed me it’s a gift to be smart, but it’s funny when you’re stupid. She’s my hero, my buddy, my counselor and often my partner in crime. She tickles me with most every word, and in return, I try to tickle her back. She’s my mom, and so, so much more.

I decided to go ahead and, despite its destined failure to measure up to the occasion, buy my mother a “gift” for her birthday. It’s a necklace…a very simple heart at the end of a very modest chain. I put “gift” in quotes, because I don’t really intend it as a gift in the usual sense. Instead, I hope it is a simple, constant reminder of my boundless, undying, absolute love, affection and respect – a little fob she can put around her neck as she sees fit -- as simple, unassuming, and beautiful as the relationship with her that I treasure so.

Happy birthday Mom.