Now that we're past the first day/week of school, all of us parents can let out a collective sigh. We've survived the supply lists and the redo of the supply lists; "I thought six glue sticks were a little too much!" and my personal favorite, "Mom! My Spanish, Social Studies, Health AND LUNCH teachers all forgot to post supply lists! I need (three pages) of stuff by 7am tomorrow!"
I don't know about all of you, but I flop back into my recliner and relax for about five minutes before I realize that the "Running of the School Year Activities" is also about to begin. My stomach drops and a headache tries to bust through my temples, but I've got this. I know I need to go to a "happy place", and I think of a time when I didn't have to worry about sign ups and activity fees and oh! the car pooling! (There's always the one kid who, in the dead of winter, acid farts and blows up the car, never admitting it was them, but forcing you to roll down all of the windows...sometimes it's even necessary to pull over and open the doors!)
My headache retreats and my muscles relax once more...Thirty minutes before the school bus is due to pull up, one hour before three consecutive dance classes, and three hours and forty-five minutes before I get the final pick-up call of the night...the moment after I've kicked off my shoes and am raising the wine glass to my lips...
I close my eyes and smile...I've got time to go back...
It's my first day of second grade. I'm excited to put on my new outfit and meet my new teacher. I take my clothes out and lay them across my bed.
When I turn around, I see her.
My mother's up, smiling and waiting to do my hair. She holds up a common hairbrush, but all I see is a torture device. I pivot and start to run out of the bedroom.
I look down.
My legs are pumping wildly, but I'm not going anywhere...and why do I suddenly have an awful headache?
My mother's got a chunk of my hair. She's holding me in place and brushing out my knots at the same time. My arms are flailing, but she calmly pulls out a rubber band and forcefully sections off some hair.
"Ow! That hurts! You're pulling too hard!"
My mother laughs, "It does NOT hurt. Now stay still!"
She tosses aside the messy clump she's just pulled out of my scalp and grabs some more. For the next twenty-five minutes, until both ponytails are perfectly even and each have exactly the same amount of strands of hair in them,my mother will not waver. My head is bleeding, but the bright red corpuscles are diluted by the tears pouring out of me, so my mother doesn't notice.
On the first day of fifth grade, I pull on a new pair of grey corduroys and tighten up my plastic rainbow belt. Every year I get a new pair of pants and every year, before the end of day one, they're stretched out and falling off of me. I beg for jeans, just like all of the other kids have, but my mother insists that corduroys are much more attractive, as she pulls three different colors of the same style off the racks in the JC Penney store. She insists that I try them on before we leave. I don't know why. They're always too big in the legs because I need a bigger size to compensate for my waist...the mayonnaise sandwiches I'm given for lunch on the weekends have started to settle in my belly...but we buy them anyway, and once I run and play in them at recess, the material stretches. Then I have to pull my belt to the notch marked "painful" before I can get them to stay up on me.
On that first day of fifth grade, while in the midst of trying to escape the brush yielding crazy woman...I don't know why. By then the nerves in my head were dead forever. You can pull one or three hundred strands of my hair today, as hard as you'd like, and I can't feel a thing...I sit on my glasses and break them.
I'm devastated. On the first day of school? Wasn't the curse of the corduroys enough to drag around? I need this too? I was never going to be one of the popular girls this way.
Then I see it. The glint in my mother's eye.
"Oh no", I think. "I've ridden this merry-go-round before."
She loves to fix things that are broken. Like the sink. There was a hole in the faucet and water would drip out. She filled it with a whole container of rubber cement, and let it dry. It held...for fifteen minutes. So she took ten of the thickest rubber bands she could find and wrapped them around the hole. Every time she saw a drip, she'd get another rubber band and add it...she's THAT repair guy.
I try to keep her in my room this time. I block the door and shake my thick mane of hair in her face...look...shiny object...don't you want to tug at it??
She pushes me to the side and I follow her down the hallway pleading, "Not the duct tape! DO NOT use the duct tape! I will never forgive you!" She clutches the two halves of my glasses. When I fell backwards on them, they had broken cleanly through the nose piece.
There was no way I was missing school, and it would be weeks before I would be able to convince her that I would need a new pair of spectacles...eventually the build-up of tape glue would be too much on the plastic frames. Nothing would be able to hold it in place for very long, and I'd have scratches on my face from the sharp ends of the breaks as they slipped off of my nose.
Once, I spent an entire day holding the two ends together myself when I had to read the board. The rest of the day I had conversations with empty desks and janitor mops.
She snorts at my cries as if unconcerned and heads for the junk drawer. In a moment of what I can only guess is weakness, she compromises. She rummages through it till she finds the scotch tape. After wrapping it around the middle of my glasses six times, she tries to convince me that because it's "invisible tape", no one will ever see that it's there.
I come out of my memory not as relaxed as I went in. Maybe my childhood was not a simpler time. I think now of all of the instances when my brothers and I would confront our mother about the past...we all nod and giggle in agreement about the story being told, but her reaction is always the same. Tears well up in her eyes as she insists, "You people are all crazy! None of this ever happened!"
Suddenly, my adulthood seems like a cakewalk. Hearing my youngest daughter get upset over my special first day outfit surprise is easy to handle, "Mom! I wanted colorful jeans! Those are only FLUORESCENT green! They need to be so bright that they glow in the dark!"
My feelings aren't hurt. Great. Let's return them and save me a few bucks.
My oldest daughter, clearly too old for high school but too young to get out and earn a living: "I told you five hundred times! I don't like to eat early in the morning and I need money for coffee."
Simple. I'm broke and she can starve.
My son. The middle child. The troubled rebel, worse off because he got sandwiched between two females in the birth order: "Mom! Stop looking at my head. I'm not going to get my hair cut! I'm growing it out and it looks fine! I DO NOT look homeless! I promise you that CPS will not show up at the door this afternoon. Calm down!"
Ok..let it grow. Eventually I'll tell him we're going out for some fresh air and I'll lose him in a dog park.
Yeah. Life is good.