Family and/or Autobiography

Mom in the Morning

I love my mom a lot, but she really hates it when I write about her. So let’s keep this re-post just between us, OK?

Shh.

Mom's vacuum

When my age reached double digits, Mom let me stay up late on weekends. Not just late, but as late as I liked. This was heady stuff to a 10-year-old, so I spent my Friday nights adjusting the rabbit ears for UHF, staying up until the wee hours to watch cinematic classics like Glen or Glenda and Terror in Tiny Town. The movies were beyond terrible, but they were also on late, so they were awesome.

Mom’s generosity, however, came with a catch. She didn’t care what time I went to bed, but she did care what time I got up. Anything after 9 a.m. was strictly forbidden. If there was even the slightest chance I’d oversleep, she would give me The Wakeup Call.

Continue reading “Mom in the Morning”

Family and/or Autobiography

Iron Man

My mom always considered ironing to be a kind of hobby, something that helped her to relax, something that made her happy.

Ironing leads to happiness? It’s a difficult concept to wrap one’s brain around – until I tell you that my mom is German. If Mom’s side of the family taught me anything, it’s that Germans don’t know how to stop working. Instead they find ways to combine work with leisure.

Mom would set up her ironing board in the kitchen. The kitchen in our house adjoined the family room, the location of the house’s only color TV. While she waited for the iron to begin angrily sputtering steam (and that iron could spit with the ferocity of a pit viper) Mom would slam Psycho into the VCR. Then, for the next hour and a half, she would make pants creases so sharp and starchy that Norman Bates could’ve used them to slice open Marion Crane.

Mom loved cans of spray starch and used them with gusto. While it made our shirts, pants and hankies crisp, clean and perfect, her liberal starch application meant that some spray mist ended up on the kitchen’s linoleum floor. This created a permanent slick spot that would send passersby skidding into the dishwasher.

I was usually that passerby. The bruises on my knees and ankles didn’t entirely heal until I moved out.

This is why I hate ironing, I think; it’s just too easy for me to associate it with leg injuries and serial killers.

This is a problem, for I am a fully-fledged house husband. I am the designated iron-er.

I try to avoid it when I can. When I glance into the clothes drier and discover a garment that is sort of wrinkled, I hear myself say, “It’s not that wrinkled.”

I then fold it up and put it in a drawer.

On the rare occasion I find a garment too wrinkled for me to say, “it’s not that wrinkled,” I hear myself say, “I’m gonna donate this shirt to a homeless person!”

This strategy works just fine for my clothes. When the wrinkled garment in question is Ellen’s, however, things get more complicated.

Ellen’s eyesight is bad, so bad that without her glasses she is almost legally blind. Yet, by some horrible miracle, she can spot a clothes wrinkle at 30 paces. I don’t know how she does this, but I’d wish she’d stop. I also wish she’d start wearing more cotton. That stuff never needs ironing – and on the rare occasion it does – zip zip zip – I can touch it up before a Psycho VCR tape makes it past the FBI warning.

But Ellen dresses professionally. Well-dressed professionals do not wear cotton. They wear weird fabrics that are created in laboratories by brilliant, sadistic Germans who dedicate their lives to creating new and exciting ironing challenges; something that’s delicate, shiny, ruffled, layered, pleated and susceptible scorch marks; something that can miraculously manufacture new wrinkles while you’re ironing out old ones.

Despite these hardships, I give ironing my best effort. I am a house husband. Ironing is my job. And, when I can’t avoid it, I take that job seriously.

One day last week as Ellen stumbled though our front door hunched under the weight of her take-home work, she found me waiting for her in the foyer.

“I ironed your ruffled blouse thing!” I announced. I held the blouse up for inspection and awaited kudos.

Ellen squinted for a moment.

Ellen does not have what one might describe as a poker face. At any given moment I can tell what she is thinking. In that particular moment she was thinking, “Oh, that’s sucky.”

She didn’t say that, of course, because my wife makes an effort to be thoughtful. Instead she said, “It’s good, but I think I need to touch it up a little.”

I was aggrieved by the suggestion. I had set up the ironing board in the family room and labored over that stupid, shiny, ruffle-y, wrinkly blouse half the morning. I invested way too much time and effort and starch on this stupid thing. And now Ellen was going to tell me that she’d “touch it up?” Oh, I don’t think so.

Besides, I knew Ellen wouldn’t touch it up. She’d be too busy to touch it up. For weeks and weeks that awful blouse would sit by its lonesome in the ironing basket. Every day it would mock me and remind me of my ironing failure.

So, to save face, I said, “No, I’ll take care if it.”

“I think it looks good,” she lied. “I can just touch it…”

“I’ll take care of it,” I said again.

“It’s really no tr–”

“I. Will. Take care of it.”

Sensing that the German part of my heritage was flooding my brain, Ellen let the matter drop.

And I am pleased to report that, after many trials and tribulations, I finally did get that awful blouse perfectly ironed.

It was quite simple really.

I invited my mom over, revved up the DVD player, rented Psycho from the library, uncapped the starch can, and resolved to live the rest of my life with black and blue ankles.

Family and/or Autobiography

Mom in the Morning

My love and respect for Mom knows no bounds. She taught me persistence, how to deal with failure, and how to relentlessly — yet morally — pursue my passions. In other words, she is a big reason why I am a writer.

And, as the following proves, Mom also taught me how to become an early riser.

***

In the early 1980s, when my age finally reached the early double digits, Mom let me stay up late on weekends. Not just late, but as late as I liked. This was heady stuff to an 11-year old. If I wanted to stay up to watch the late, late movie on UHF, I could! It didn’t even matter if the movie was crappy (because it usually was). It was late late! Woo!

There was, however, a big catch to Mom’s flexible bedtime rules. Though Mom didn’t care what time I went to bed, she did care what time I got up. Anything after 9 a.m. was strictly forbidden. If there was even the slightest chance I’d oversleep, she would give me The Wakeup Call.

The Wakeup Call soon became a cruel, cruel Saturday morning tradition. It was divided into three parts.

Part One:

“It’s almost 9 o’clock,” Mom said brightly as she entered my room.

I squinted at my alarm clock. It said 7:30.

7:30 is not “almost 9 o’clock” to anyone. I tried to explain this to Mom, but she had already hustled off to another part of the house wielding a laundry hamper and a can of Pledge. Mom, then as now, couldn’t stand still for very long.

I, on the other hand, could, then as now, stand still for quite a while. I was even more skilled at lying still — and I demonstrated this skill by immediately falling back to sleep.

Part Two:

“It is now 9 o’clock!” Mom announced with a stridency in her voice that wasn’t there in Part One. “Get up!”

She turned on the lights and raised my shades, filling the room with the weak morning light. The morning light was weak because the sun had barely begun its journey over the horizon.

It was 7:45.

Then, as before, she exited just as quickly as she had come, leaving my door slightly ajar.

“OK,” I said to the empty room. “OK, OK, OK…” I put a blanket over my head and wondered how my mom became a teacher without ever learning how to tell time.

Part Three (which I believe is outlawed by The Geneva Convention):

Part Three began downstairs as Mom’s canister vacuum cleaner commenced its industrial strength assault on the family room carpet. Mom’s vacuum was not like other vacuums. I think she had it custom made with Harley-Davidson parts. No corner of the house could escape it’s iconic roar. Not even my dreams.

“What’s that noise?” a breathless, bespectacled Lynda Carter asks. “Is it an earthquake?”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing” I reply with irresistible confidence and elan.

“You’re my superhero,” she sighs, looking deep into my eyes. We resume our embrace…

KA-TUNK! KA-TUNK! KA-TUNK!

With the ground floor now free of dust, Mom ascended to the second floor, slamming the vacuum against each step as she climbed. There were 13 steps. She ka-tunked every one.

And my lovely Lynda was only a wistful memory.

My childhood room was at the very end of a long, carpeted hallway. In my half sleep, I heard the vacuum’s slow, inexorable approach. It didn’t sound like a Harley anymore. It was more like a caged jaguar riding an elephant driving a combine harvester.

And, as each second passed, it grew louder and louder.

At the end of Part Two, Mom left the door to my room slightly ajar. Mom never did anything by accident. As the vacuum reached my room, she had no need to turn the knob. Without breaking stride, she used the head of the vacuum as a battering ram. The door slammed open and my room was alive with noise.

Mom didn’t tell me to get up. That ship had sailed. Now the vacuum did the talking. When I still failed to move, Mom rammed it against the legs of my bed, creating a noise I felt more than heard – one I couldn’t escape no matter how tightly I wrapped the pillow around my head. My teeth rattled. My head throbbed. My stomach flipped. My joints ached.

“I’M UP!” I shouted. “I’M UP! I SWEAR TO GOD I’M UP!”

And Mom couldn’t quite conceal her smile.

I stumbled downstairs and found Dad seated at the kitchen table looking as exhausted as I felt. When Dad was dog-tired, he would stare at his coffee as if he had suddenly forgotten what he was supposed to do with it. The kitchen clock read 8:05.

“Mom got me with the vacuum,” I said.

“Oh, poor you,” he replied. “I got up to go pee an hour ago, and by the time I got back, the bed was made.”

Through our haze we stared at the TV. On it was the scene at the end of Psycho where the psychiatrist rambles on about Norman’s condition. This, too, was part of The Wakeup Call. Every Saturday morning Mom slammed the Psycho VCR tape into the machine. It was, I suppose, her housework soundtrack. By the time I’d make my way downstairs, the psychiatrist speech was always about to begin. To this day, both Dad and I have his speech memorized. It is our party trick.

We were not allowed to turn the movie off. No matter where Mom was in the house, she always knew the moment we tried to change the channel.

“PUT THAT BACK ON!”

“OK!” Dad and I would shout back in unison.

We did as we were told, neither one of us daring to complain. For, despite our weariness, both of us noticed that the house was dust free. The furniture was polished. The clothes were laundered. The dishes were put away. The house was perfect in a way that only Germans can make a house perfect. Man oh man did we feel lazy.

So Dad and I sat and watched the movie as Mom half listened to the dialogue from some distant corner of the house with that  vacuum by her side – a weapon she could wield with such terrible accuracy as to put Norman Bates and his pathetic butcher knife to shame.