Underneath, we're all naked.
As we ramp up for another incredible season of Listen To Your Mother, with 39 cities nationwide hosting stories that celebrate the heart and humor of all things motherhood, I wanted to take a pause from the hustle of sponsorships and website logos and press releases and rehearsal planning to just breathe and remember what this is all about, the rich wonder of the narrative of motherhood. Below is my own story, shared on stage at Listen To Your Mother, Portland, in 2014, and never shared online until now (because frankly, I totally forgot). The live reading is at the end of this post in case you'd rather just ... listen.
Get your tickets now for the 2015 show on May 7th at The Alberta Rose Theatre. We have some incredible stories to share with you.
“I never thought I had it in me to write about my own mum” is what my inner British narrator contemplated in the shower while at the same time grappling with the age-old question “to shave or not to shave”. I wanted to write a story about motherhood. But while the stories and opinions abound in my own experience as a mom, the stories about my own mother just wouldn’t come.
And so, as I held the shaver aloft and decidedly threw it back in its caddy, I allowed the story of my mom and I to just … be. To not steer myself in the direction of “Once, long ago, in a tiny bright green house on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, there lived a girl and her mom, and they ate popcorn, a kernel at a time, while watching Little House on the Prairie, or Highway to Heaven.” Looking back, I totally get why Mom was so riveted by these TV shows. Hellllllo, Michael Landon.
I watched Mom’s cheeks get pink over the Samsonian-haired homesteading angel, and cheered her on as she delighted in ordering a new multi-strand sterling silver necklace with matching earrings on QVC. There was a host we both thought was cute. Once, they had a karaoke machine up for sale, and the shopping channel cherub sang “Puppy Love” as a demo. Indeed, he had puppy dog eyes, and soft, feathery 1993 hair. His throwback crooning made Mom blush and I caught a giddy lift in her voice and then she returned her attention to her ironing board. She ironed the church music director’s shirts in exchange for piano lessons for me. Thank you, Mom. I am so very very sorry that all I can play on the piano is Mary had a little lamb with a tinge of Asian-influence.
I don’t think I’ve ever heard Mom speak badly of someone. Although once, when I was madly in love at the age of 16, I threw myself into her arms, wildly leaking from my face as I cried the ugliest of teenager tears “He broke up with me!” and shortly thereafter I found the framed photo of my tattooed surfer love lying on its back, bewildered, with its glass shattered. I may be mis-remembering, “false memories” as my kids call them (who taught them that?). Maybe it was I who broke the glass. But I like to think that it was actually my kind-hearted mom -- the mom whose laugh makes me see pink -- who wrecked that bastard’s glass.
I don’t come to Mom for many things. I had typical teen experiences that I would decide at the time “This one’s just for me.” It could’ve been pride. It could’ve also been laziness. “Well if I tell her this, then I’ll have to follow up with this, and I really just want to close my door and wail I’m Every Woman out of my karaoke machine.” RIP Whitney.
I don’t know how, and don’t want to know how, Mom had children out of her vagina. Because moms just don’t have sex because of ew. Except, they totally do. A lot. Like all the time. Still, I had, and yes have, this perception of innocence about Mom. One time I introduced my mom to a keg of beer. “What’s that?” she asked. “IPA.” I responded. “What’s that?” she asked. “A type of beer.” I answered. Her eyes got huge, drinking it all in. Another time I treated Mom to her first frozen strawberry margarita, whipped up, right there in her kitchen with fresh strawberries and this wacky wizard’s juice called Tequila. Her rosy smile gave it away that she didn’t feel guilty at all about enjoying the treat. So these little acts of teaching ma about moonshine hinted to me that some other subjects maybe shouldn’t be broached with her. In fact, I don’t think we ever had the talk. I’ll have to double check with my older sister, but I’m pretty sure it was she that taught my pig-tailed self about how gnomes have sex. My knowledge of sex stems from a book about gnomes. I do, however, remember Mom giving me a body safety talk. Without using any words at all. She stood in front of me in our tiny living room, near the chipped white piano, and she pointed to her backside, then to the front, and then, though I wondered why, to her mouth. Ohhhh, for kissing, I finally realized. And then of course, much later, realized it was for other things, too. (Clearly, material not covered by the gnome book.)
But Mom has had sex. More than once, and with more than one man, though she may not come right out and admit it. And she must know then that underneath their clothes people are likely naked. Still, there was the time when I couldn’t admit to my mom that I was, underneath it all, a naked person. One time my month-old son and I took the long and bottle-necked drive to McMinnville to see Mom. Once there I settled in to Mom’s couch to nurse him, starting on the left breast, gazing at him with my newfound motherly wonder, engaging in light chit chat. And then he exploded. In one end and out the other, up the backside of his cloth diapers and all over my left leg. Mom rushed in to gather him up and we headed to the bathroom to tend to the mess. Mom wiped down the giggling poop baby with a warm washcloth. I did what I could with a towel and the sticky brown mess that was rapidly soaking in to my jeans. Mom and I chuckled. Then I settled back down to finish nursing my beloved first-born and, because my life wasn’t interesting enough, he went and crapped all over my other leg. So Mom and I repeated the bathroom routine, with noticeably less amusement. And Mom offered to wash my jeans if I wanted to strip down to my underwear. I … wasn’t wearing underwear. I couldn’t tell my mom that I wasn’t wearing underwear. That wouldn’t make sense! Her sensibilities would be shattered! Aliens would land and demand the rest of the popcorn! World-splosion! And so I said, “Nah, I’ll be fine.” And then I drove 2 hours home with clammy legs and a bag full of poopy cloth diapers on the passenger seat floor.
I never thought I had it in me to write about my own mom. And in fact, it took a deliberate act of not writing about her, to see just how big the story actually is. To see, with the help of an inner British narrator, "That it's because of her that I have any story at all."
Get your tickets here for the 2015 Listen To Your Mother, Portland show.