Her mother had taught her many things, namely, that “one day when you become a mother you’ll understand.”
How right she was, not that Mary-Kate – MK to her friends – would ever admit it. She loathed admitting anyone knew more than she did, let alone her own mother.
But that was when she was a typical teenager. Twenty-five years plus later and about to send her only child off to college, she finally understands. And, as luck would have it for her friends, only pretends she still hates it when they know more than she does.
MK’s Mom, Ellen, was born and raised in a generation where “things” were not discussed; rather, grace and class were demonstrated by what you did not say. Restraint apparently took more strength than throwing a right hook or jabbing at an offender with cutting words. Yet, mess with her kids and the gloves were off.
“Hi, Mom,” MK squeaked out.
“Are you sneezing or crying?” her mother responded over a cell connection and hundreds of miles.
“I can’t take this. Why does she have to leave?” MK rhetorically pleaded. “I teach college classes on the side, you know I could totally have homeschooled her.”
“You’ve done your job,” MK’s mother said matter-of-factly of her oldest granddaughter. “This will be tough, but you will both get through it and your relationship will be even better.”
Ellen was always the optimist. While you wouldn’t want to catch her on one of the few non-sunny days, she was never without positive reinforcement, especially on the mothering or wife front.
Once recently, she told her still-learning-to-show-restraint-with-her-words daughter that they (Ellen and MK’s Dad – because ‘they’ have always been “they”) were at a get together a few weekends ago with two of their long-time couple friends. Everything was going swimmingly and per usual – lots of food, lots of conversation presumably about their grown kids who would always be “kids,” and lots of happy in the hour(s).
“She’ll be fine, she always is,” Ellen told the other women as they asked about MK and her empty nest. Of course the better question would have been asking about how much MK relishes stereotypes and clichés, but nothing kills alcohol flow like generational disparity.
The three men began laughing over stories about their respective jobs, mostly surrounding labor relations. Joey, the husband of one of the couple friends, owns his own company where, ahem, not all of the employees have cards of the green variety; however, his job in a prior life was the topic of the evening’s discussion.
“I may have been a collector of sorts,” Joey began. “You know, of things which certain suspect people living in the outskirts of Philly could not necessarily afford initially, or pay back in a timely manner when people like me told them face-to face-ish that the bank also knows they cannot cough up anything other than nicotine phlegm.”
Joey’s wife, Carolyn, cringed. She was a debutante back in the day. MK’s Mom did not belong to the Carolyn Coiffed Fan Club.
“Oh, Joe…” she said in her best I love the little people voice.
“What about that bothers you, Carolyn?” Ellen asked, poker face intact.
Ellen had a way of dealing with her dislike of certain people which subdued not only the offenders real-time, but also her propensity of wanting to choke them out and subsequently cause a scene absent of grace and class.
“It’s just…it’s just that I wasn’t allowed to date ‘those kind’ of people that Joe had to deal with when I was growing up.” “Didn’t your parents tell you that you couldn’t date anyone that didn’t, you know, measure up?”
Ellen also had a way of dealing with anyone who was intolerant of the entire human race.
“No. My parents liked people for who they were and how they made you feel based solely upon how they treated you. It was a pretty simple methodology they employed, actually,” she responded, again miraculously devoid of tone or eye rolls.
“Well,” Carolyn went on obliviously. “Even worse than those people, my parents said, were Italians. I could NEVER date those kind.”
“Now that I think about it, my parents forbade me to date stupid people,” Ellen said without hesitation, grace, class, or apology.
They shared a look and a grin that only they understood after all these years.
Comfortingly, MK comes from a long line of hot-tempered Italians and Irishmen alike, all of whom adore family even more than they do homemade pasta, Jameson’s, or putting idiots in their place.
And she knew now just as she always had, that in the midst of generational “things” and life changing seasons, she would always have these kind of precious exchanges and memories – both old and new.