Tag Archives: Childhood memories

Letting Go Is Easier When Reflecting on Own Childhood

Summer camp. One week. Off on an adventure alone. No friends. My son was ready. The question, Was I ready? I never went to a true summer camp. Besides an emotional college good-bye, my first real adventure came when I was 21. And I don’t think my mom was ready either.

Three weeks in Europe. A friend and I were leaving after college graduation to tour major European cities. My parents and I waited at the Norfolk, Virginia, airport for my friend and her parents to arrive. She was late—really late. I called her house from a pay phone. They should be at the airport, her sister said. I quietly waited, thinking. When my plane started boarding, I stood up and told my parents good-bye.

“What? You’re going?” my mom said. I sure as hell was. I didn’t work as a cashier for five months selling cigarettes to an old man with pink fingernails and a dress for nothing. I didn’t max out my credit card and beg and borrow the rest of the money for my trip for nothing. I was going to Europe!

We hadn’t talked about or looked into another flight. Now there was no time. I was there. I was getting on that plane. I said I’d call when I arrived. I didn’t have time to think about what I’d do once I landed. I had only ever flown once before. I felt nauseous and tried desperately to sleep folded over onto the lap tray. When we landed in London, I had no idea where to go. Signs everywhere warned not to pick up unattended bags. What? Why? A crowd of people held signs with names on them. One of them was my driver. I made it to the hotel exhausted but couldn’t check into the room for two hours. I called home and I learned my friend got stuck in traffic and had caught the next flight. Relief.

We spent the next three weeks navigating centuries-old castles, picturesque gardens, bizarre hotel showers, and each other’s moods. Thankfully, she still talks to me. We found our way into an Austrian pharmacy to replenish my motion sickness medicine, using only my idiotic gesturing and Southern English to communicate. We ordered from menus with decent success, though for the life of me I could not remember to request still water and always ended up with fizz.

Though I yearned for home-cooked food and sheets not made from terry cloth, I was having the time of my life. My mom called one of the hotels looking for me, worried. On my end, there wasn’t time for phone calls.

I think as mothers, we dissect our kids’ situations. There is no big picture but little pieces. We find comfort in odd details to help us cope with those parts that really bother us. I knew my son going to camp would be hard, but he’s been away before. Baby steps. My mom found comfort in the fact that I would be with a friend, that she knew where she could reach me. I put a kink in part of that.

I filled out loads of paperwork for my son. He’ll have fun, I thought. I’ll worry. But at the end of the forms and phone numbers and descriptions of my son’s personality, a reminder: no phone calls. Panic. What if he needs me? More likely, what if I need him?

Like my mom then (and sometimes now), I just wanted to be able to hear it, one sentence even: “I’m OK.” But I take comfort in the fact that his camp is less than an hour away. In our same town. And he’ll probably have fun, even if I won’t sleep for a week.

As a mom, my experiences with struggle and independence and finding my own way are what get me through letting my kids go—even if it’s just to the other side of town.

summer camp

Ready for a week of fun…I hope!

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A Tribute to My Favorite Teacher: The One Who Opened the Door

I had one teacher who I was pretty sure hated me for breathing. I wasn’t one of her pets, one of those good students who got physics the minute the words rolled off her tongue. If you weren’t one of the great students in her class, forget it. Never mind that you made As or Bs most everywhere else. I looked at my final exam, rolled my eyes, scrawled some numbers on it, and walked out. It was my last “screw you” to her. I had already been accepted to college, and I wouldn’t be getting any science degree. She taught me that not every teacher’s agenda includes every student.

Of course, I’m ashamed to say there were teachers on the receiving end of my own crooked attitude. Some I made fun of within earshot. How could my chemistry teacher not see she was the spitting image of Peter Pan in that outfit? It absolutely demanded a high-pitched chorus of “You Can Fly” every time she stood before the room in those tan pants and that green collared shirt. Had I been braver, maybe I would have cut a felt hat for her and left it on her desk. Rude as I was, I had my limits. The truth was, science didn’t fascinate me. Neither did her lectures.

Looking back, I’ve felt some teachers did a disservice to me by not pushing me, by letting me slide by on what I knew I could get by with. They didn’t challenge me. They gave me the A. They never encouraged me to read really great books. They never got to know me. They never asked to see something I wrote or gave me pointers. Some teachers were there to go through the motions and collect their paychecks. And I was there to turn in half-assed work and collect my As and Bs. I always did OK and I was always lost in a crowd of really great kids and troublemakers. If you asked any of my teachers now, I bet they wouldn’t even know me.

But one teacher gave me the push I needed. One teacher told me I was good at something. She was hard and strict and she gave me—a quiet, mousy girl when it came down to it—a chance. She taught journalism and AP English. She helped me get out there and get stories, actually talk to people—upperclassmen and adults. She helped me get in front of a camera for our student news show when I wanted to crawl under a table and hide. She talked about the world outside of our high school and introduced me to Edgar Allan Poe. She gave me a camera and made me get out in the community and see it from behind the lens. I never felt like her pet. But she let me know that I had a little bit of talent and that I would have to believe in myself. And it was all that I needed.

When I graduated, I was so moved by the two years I’d had in her classes that I wrote her a letter. It took all the courage I had to give it to her in person. I’m sure it was cheesy and dramatic, covered in the emotion of leaving home and starting anew. But I do remember that I told her she was the best teacher I had ever had. Without a doubt she was.

She was the teacher who ignited my curiosity and unveiled a layer of confidence I never knew I had. And though that kind of learning will never be complete, she is the one who opened the door.

Here’s to Ms. Purdy, in honor of Teacher Appreciation Week.

calculator

We all know I hated math too.

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Life Through a Mason Jar

Everything had been picked over. Or claimed. Like birds had pecked at the flesh and picked everything clean to the bones, taken what they wanted and left the discards. I scoured her bedroom for something, a memory, a part of her. I took some earrings that I had never even seen her wear.

As the youngest grandchild, I had spent a lot of time with my grandmother. When my mother worked, I spent time in the big two-story house, certain that Chewbacca lurked behind corners. The fridge was always stocked with Nehi in every flavor. I grew up spending my Friday nights with her, eating at diners and making her laugh.

At 18 years old, I wasn’t ready to watch her die. I was still a kid, and I barely had the strength to say goodbye.

She always told me that when she died, a certain ring she wore would be mine. From the time I could talk, I always knew it. When she died, that was really all I wanted. It was the token I most associated with her.

When I see the ring now, it takes me back. But it’s not something I use every day. It sits tucked away. And so do the memories.

My grandmother’s ring was always on her hand. I used to sit on her lap and she’d ask me whose it was. I knew. She’d bounce me on her knees. She’d sing to me. She’d smile. I sing those same songs to my daughter. I remember.

But I found out quickly how sour things turn when loved ones die. People become greedy, wanting things for value or feeling others don’t deserve anything. It’s not about that. When someone dies, what I want is something that makes me smile when I see it. That takes me back to that time and that place and that sound and that smell. That moment in the kitchen when the snow was falling. That clink of metal when loose change hits a box. I want the one thing that will remind me of that person forever. And it could be a fancy ring, a cheap metal cross, or glass marbles. And every family member deserves that.

When my other grandmother died a year ago, I had a feeling dividing up the estate would be similar, bitter. I took one last look around her house while I could. I was rushed. I saw one of her old blue Mason jars and held it. She always had some near her stove, filled with tea or pasta or other basic ingredients. She was a cook like me. My grandmother had given me things through the years that she wanted me to have, but I wanted something that made me think of her when I saw it, something that evoked different memories. It didn’t need to have value. It just needed to take me back.

I’m glad I took the jar. It was the only token I got. The house is gone now. I know that with time, I’ll remember something and wish I had it. Something small like the milk glass that, after twenty-some years, I wish I had from my other grandmother. But at least I have the jar that spans my childhood memories of every kitchen that grandmother cooked in.

I hope that when I die, my kids don’t fight over things. I’d rather them bond over our time together and to think about the Mason jar: it appears old and empty, but through the glass I only see memories of a life lived.

jars mominthemuddle.com

I took this photo before my grandmother died because the jars reminded me of hers.

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The Magic of a Snow Day in the South

Snow day. When I was a kid, those words were like music to my ears. I didn’t hear them often growing up near the southern coast of Virginia. We didn’t have snow boots or snow pants or even a sled. When it snowed, we just put on tights under our jeans and played outside until our skin stung. I’d peel off wet layers to reveal cold, red legs that could only be warmed by pj’s and blankets and playing Barbies on my shag carpet.

When I was really little, I wore my Snoopy rubber rain boots in the snow, the ones that said “Good” on the left foot and “Grief” on the right, except I could never remember whether it was “Good Grief” or “Grief Good.” I wasn’t a Snoopy fan really. The snow was pretty deep one year and when I ran, those rubber boots stayed in the snow and my stocking feet came out. I guess I grew into those boots before I grew out of them. Later I’d just wear tennis shoes in the snow and I never remember the snow being higher than the laces most years anyway.

snowprints mominthemuddle.com

There’s nothing like making those first footprints in the snow.

We didn’t have hills to sled down. When we made a snowman, the trail the ball made exposed the grass in the yard. I always hated that. If it had snowed enough to even cover the grass, it seemed like a pretty good snow. It was something. A dusting was a disappointment. It could be all you got until next year and that was a long time to wait.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I saw a lot of snow. In the mountains, we got feet of snow and I loved it. There were hills for sledding. And trash bags and cafeteria trays made the perfect vehicles for getting down those hills fast. Sidewalks became ice slicks and the only way down was to crouch down low and slide or lie on your belly like a penguin and laugh because who knew getting from there to here could be so much fun?

As a parent now, snow day sometimes means other things, like dread. And that’s a shame. It’s a shame I sometimes, for a moment, forget about the magic of snow. I want my kids to have the same fun I did. In the South we don’t get snow very often. We certainly don’t get a good snow every year. It’s a gift. So we miss a few days of school. (OK, so we miss a few days of school for an inch or two of snow.) But there is nothing better on a cold gray day than watching snowflakes fall, hearing the excitement in your kids’ voices, and knowing you actually can go out in the snow and play with them.

Today they are waiting to play in the accumulation we got yesterday that barely covers the grass. “Will we be able to sled?” We’ll sure try.

Yeah, I hate the cleanup. I hate the slushy puddles on the floor when we come in. But I love that I can get my work done and run upstairs and play a game with my kids or snuggle and watch a movie while we thaw. My husband has an hour to play in the snow before he has to brave snowy Southern roads and go into work. We’ll sled. We’ll throw snowballs. We don’t get this chance every year. And even if it disrupts grown-up life for a little while, we have to remember to get out there and be kids again. That’s part of the magic too.Southern snow mominthemuddle.com

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Only a Mother Could Love This

“Mom, you don’t even want to see what the boys do at my table at lunch. You would be so disgusted,” my son says with pride.

“Mmm. Enlighten me.”

My son often forgets that I was ever a child. I know with my maturity level and love of a good fart joke, that’s easy to forget. He bets I can’t guess what goes on in a group of fifth-grade boys at lunch, what they could possibly do to gross one another out, what they could talk about, what they could do to their food.

He describes a pack of bed-headed boys I know dropping the remains of their lunch onto a lunch tray. Some unwanted green beans, leftover taco meat, some applesauce for effect. The boys probably contribute whatever is in their crumb-coated hands at the time. They mix up the slimy school lunch potion, and if all were right with the world, a pop and poof!—at least one deserving kid would grow rabbit ears for teasing his sister or not changing his underwear.

I imagine the teachers stay far away from his table at lunch. I know the girls do. And I know it will get worse before it gets better.

I know because a million years ago when I was young, I sat at lunch with two boys who did the same things to their food. They took everyone’s extra plastic cups that the vegetables and sides were served in and stacked everything on a tray. When their tower was complete, they’d push from the top and watch overcooked pale cafeteria food ooze from every cup like a fountain. “DOOZIE!” they’d yell. It was disgusting. I’m not sure why I subjected myself to the horror every day. Alphabetically their names came right after mine, so I can only assume we had assigned seats.

My son tells me often lately that I could never guess what boys his age do or say. I laugh. I tremble. I remember. And I know what’s coming.

I hated boys his age when I was his age. They were gross. They picked on me. They made me feel bad. They messed up my hair. If I had a zit, they announced it to the class. If they sat behind me, they snapped my bra strap. They’d say, “Hey, let me tell you a secret,” and then burp in my ear. They’d burp on command. If I whispered to them, they’d fan the air like my breath stunk. They farted in class on the hard wooden seats and pointed at me. They stole my papers and held them up high in the air so I couldn’t reach them.

Oh, son, I can guess. My son gets himself worked up into a fit of giggles while telling us the gross things he and his friends do. We tell him a hundred times he’s crossed the line. Dinner isn’t the time or place, and honestly, no place with any adult is. But I see something now that I never saw a million years ago, that sparkle in the eyes. That sense of belonging to a pack. That brotherhood.

And I hate to admit it now, but all of that many years ago has helped me to embrace this.

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Middle School: A Time of Firsts

This is the follow-up to the post Firsts. Also, a disclaimer: This post is not intended to state that private schools are better. While my experience at my private school was sheltered, many kids there were caught doing “naughty” things. I was just not privy to them at the time.

Sixth grade. Public school. First time riding the bus. First time waiting at the bus stop, walking up those steps and down the aisle searching for a seat, hoping the person who sat with me would be nice. Then hoping anyone sat with me, just not the weird kid.

I’d just finished six years at a religious private school. What I would soon find out was that I was fresh meat. Innocent. Raw. Defenseless. It would take me three years to toughen up, to learn the way of the land, to stop pretending and ease into my own.

One of the first things I learned was that I lived a sheltered life in private school. The kids I played with and learned with didn’t come in a rainbow of colors. On the outside we all looked happy and had decent clothes. I never saw two people punch each other or pull hair and become a blurred mass of fury knocking down books and desks and making teachers and kids scramble.

The worst word I ever heard was sex and it was whispered and giggled about. During middle school I learned to laugh when the other kids did because I didn’t know what an orgasm was or a “BJ,” but they still knew I was clueless. I quickly put things together. I rolled my eyes and said no when boys joked about doing any of those things with me. I wasn’t always sure they were joking.

The first time I put myself out there and admitted to liking a boy, he didn’t like me back. Then I realized the girl I told to ask him, the boy, and probably his friends all knew I had liked him. Crushing.

A mysterious note consoled me. Once opened it read, “I like you. Do you like me? Check one: Yes or No. Sit beside me on the bus and tell me then.” Ugh. I knew who it was. And check, the answer was no. I didn’t sit with him on the bus.

The first time I was offered drugs was on the bus riding through my neighborhood. Some of the long-haired boys who always wore flannel shirts and never carried any schoolbooks asked if I wanted to come smoke a bowl with them. I had an image of a giant cooking bowl filled with something smoldering and the boys sniffing the smoke. It didn’t seem like a good time and I didn’t ever want to be in their company.

One of the first friends I made smoked cigarettes in the bathroom. I didn’t even like to talk during class because I was afraid I’d get in trouble. She talked back to the teacher. When another friend and I spent the night at her house the first time, she stole two warm beers from her parents and offered me some. I declined and watched as the girls all drank and started acting silly.

It would be another year before I tried alcohol. Tequila from a new friend’s liquor cabinet. It was disgusting. But the crème de menthe wasn’t so bad.

I remember my three years of middle school in great detail, despite trying to push the trauma back all these years. My son starts middle school next year. I know what’s coming. I fear it. Part of me wants to run screaming for the hills. The other part of me says we’ll get through this. He will get through this. I am better for having survived middle school. I faced my problems. I made mostly good decisions. Those may have been the first times I faced those things, but they certainly weren’t the last.

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Firsts

The first day of school is behind us. This year no one in this house had any firsts. It wasn’t the first day of kindergarten that kept me up and tore me up for so many nights. It wasn’t the first day of middle school (that comes next year) that had me worried as an 11-year-old. Would I know where to go? Would I know anyone? After three hours, did I settle on the right outfit to wear the next day?

This year my son and daughter seem pretty settled into routine right away as third and fifth graders, but as a mom I still lie awake at night and think of all the firsts that await them.

In no particular order, the first…

  • Big fight with a friend
  • Bra
  • Crush
  • Bad fashion choice
  • Time getting in trouble at school
  • Bra strap getting snapped by the boy sitting behind you
  • Big decision
  • Bad grade on a report card
  • Broken bone
  • Kiss
  • Time shaving
  • Thoughts of a career path
  • Time trying to find a place to sit in the lunchroom
  • Dance
  • Time you feel very alone
  • Time someone offers you drugs
  • Attempt at asking someone on a date
  • Time you feel ashamed
  • Trip away from home without your parents
  • Boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Breakup
  • Heartbreak
  • Time you defy your parents
  • Book that makes you cry
  • Party
  • Teacher you hate
  • Cigarette
  • Alcohol
  • Boss you hate
  • Job you love
  • Time driving a car
  • Wreck
  • Ticket
  • Time the cops bring you home
  • College acceptance letter
  • Time leaving home
  • Time flunking a class
  • Time making your parents proud
  • Failure
  • Time you tried to overcome a fear
  • Time you were a coward
  • True love
  • Real job
  • Time trying to make conversation and a friend at work
  • Time trying to find someone to sit with at lunch
  • Marriage
  • Big fight
  • Ruined dinner
  • Child…

And I think everything is a first with kids. The cycle begins again.

What others can you think of? (And share your story.) These were all firsts of mine. Let me know which ones you most want to hear the backstory about and I’ll write a future post about the most requested ones.

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