Category Archives: Shit My Mom Does

Mom vs. Halloween

Halloweens in the village of La Jolla (downtown La Jolla has been referred to as “the village” by locals as far back as I can recall) aren’t anything exceptional.

However, the kids from Stella Maris Academy will typically take a parade around the block in their costumes. Often, workers in local shops and banks will also dress up to one extent or another. One Halloween morning, my mom left the office and went to Wells Fargo to do some banking. This particular Halloween was a bit more festive than others. As she waited in line, looking at each of the tellers and managers in their mostly last-minute and half-hearted costumes, she realized that even a few people in line were dressed up for the day.

One of them–the woman standing right behind her–had what my mom considered to be the best costume of all. Now, as I’ve mentioned, my mom was an army brat and spent a good chunk of her formative years in India. The sights, sounds, and smells are forever vivid in her mind and she holds great respect and love for that country.

My mom turned to the woman behind her and, pointing to the tellers, said, “I think yours is far better than any of theirs!”

The woman was somewhat taken aback and said, “I beg your pardon?”

“Your costume!” my mom exclaimed. “It’s so much better than what any of the tellers are wearing!”

The woman straightened in her flowing saffron sari, a haughty expression on her face, highlighted by the perfectly round bindi on her forehead, and announced, “I am not wearing a costume!”

Mom vs. The Postwoman

When I was very young (single digits), summers often meant walks to the beach with my mom. We lived maybe eight or ten blocks from the ocean, though the closest part was all rocky cliffs and no beach. I’d say it was a mile and a half to the nearest actual beach. But the extra distance was no matter as it was always a nice little excursion along the meandering, tree-lined lanes leading down to the crashing waves, the sand, the tide pools, and that vast expanse of deep, deep blue.

On one such walk, I found a gold bracelet in the gutter. It had very small emeralds inset in each rectangular section. I gave it to my mom. She, being the good soul she is, took out an ad in the Lost & Found section of the local paper. No one called. I’m pretty sure she still has the bracelet somewhere.

But I digress. This story is about another walk.

Clad in shades of blue with his oversize brown leather satchel, our local mailman had passed us on the sidewalk moments before, readying envelopes for the next house on his route, lessening his load by a few small ounces at a time. While this had undoubtedly occurred dozens of times in the past, this occasion set wheels and gears flying into motion inside my mom’s head. She began wondering out loud to me why there are only mailMEN and never any mailWOMEN. (Mind you, this was the early 1970s and gender barriers at many workplaces were still rigidly in place. So this wasn’t as strange a question as it may sound these days.) Naturally, at eight years old, I had absolutely no answer for her.

We continued on our stroll under the clear, cloudless blue sky, the morning sun warming the air and our backs, and her thoughts soon left her unanswered question behind. Our conversation surely went off in other directions. While I can’t recall any clear details of the rest of the walk down or that particular day at the beach, something happened on the way back that is etched in my memory. We had just crossed the boulevard when my mom spotted her across the street. Clad in blue with the oversize brown leather satchel, she — SHE! — walked in the rear entrance of the local pharmacy.

My mom was stunned. Such an amazing coincidence! She had to know how long this woman had been working as a mail carrier.

After quickly admonishing me to stay right where I was, not to go anywhere at all, my mom hurried across the street and into the pharmacy after her heretofore mythical quarry. It couldn’t have been even a minute before she was back out and on her way across the street again. With a strange look on her face and a sparkle in her eye.

Well?

“I found her right away. She was waiting to be helped at the counter. I went up to her and asked, ‘I hope you don’t mind my asking, but how long have you been a mail woman?’

“She seemed confused and said, ‘I beg your pardon?’

“I said, ‘I’m sorry but you’re the first female letter carrier I’ve ever seen. In fact, I was just wondering this morning why there aren’t any and here you are! I just want to know how long you’ve worked for the Post Office.’

“She got the most offended look on her face and said, ‘Madam, I am NOT a letter carrier and I do NOT work for the Post Office!’

“I said, ‘Oh, I’m terribly sorry. I saw the bag and the blue clothes, and I just assumed you were.”

At which point in her recounting, my mom burst into laughter and said,

“She’s probably going to go straight home and throw that entire outfit away!”

I daresay she was right.

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Mom vs. the veil of death

This isn’t a funny mom story, but it is an important mom story. Now, I am not a religious person–at all–but this is a story that… well, I’ll tell it and then I’ll discuss.

Back in the mid-1970s, when I was around 11 years old, I recall waking up in the middle of the night because my mom was crying hysterically in the hallway. It was about 1am, and she was inconsolable. My dad finally calmed her down enough to find out what was wrong.

It was a dream she had.

She saw her dad sitting in his living room, in his favorite chair, and he died. She saw and felt the life leave his body. “It was so real, I felt it, it was so real,” she said over and over. After what seemed like an eternity (but was likely a half hour or so), she calmed down enough that we could all go back to sleep. As my dad said, it was just a dream.

At 7am, the phone woke us. My aunt Kate was calling from London. That morning, while the family was in the kitchen preparing for a birthday party, my grandfather had suffered a massive heart attack and passed away.

Sitting in his living room.

In his favorite chair.

At 9am, London time, which is, yes, 1am here in California.

So while I am not religious, I cannot be an atheist. There is something. Some connection that goes beyond this mundane world. I’ve seen it. It’s real.

Mom vs. …. any form of logic

Intercom call from mom at the office:

MOM: I can’t find that list I gave you and I need to make sure one of the cheques is being mailed to the right address. (She’s British, and after 55 years in the States she still spells the word that way, hence my usage.)

ME: Which one?

MOM: Well, it’s for Choi’s representative.

ME: I’m not sending it to Choi, right? What name did you have it going to?

MOM: Well, two people are living at the house, and…

ME: It’s only being mailed to one person, right?

MOM: Well, yes. It’s going to Christine.

ME: Alright, I have that name on the list of checks to go out. What’s the correct address so I can be sure?

MOM: Oh. I don’t have the right address, I only have the wrong one.

ME: <thumps head on desk>

Mom vs. The Dictionary

One day at work, in a particularly mischievous mood, I grabbed my Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, opened it up, put a Post-It note on a certain page, and then called my mom on the intercom.

“Mom, can you come to my office? I just noticed something you’re going to need to see.”

A minute later, she walked in the door, curiosity abounding. “What is it?”

“You’re not going to believe this, but I’ve checked and checked–the word ‘gullible’ is not in the dictionary!”

“Oh, my God! How could that happen? Let me see!”

I couldn’t even keep a straight face long enough for her to open to the page, and as soon as she saw the twinkle in my eye she knew she’d been had. My poor, poor gullible mom. A constant source of entertainment and love in my life.

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Mom vs. Trader Joe’s

In her youth, my mom’s family moved a lot. Her father was in the British Army. She lived everywhere from Dublin to London to Carlisle Castle (yeah, my mom grew up in a real castle) and several parts of India, most of which are now inside Pakistan. Now and then (which may or may not mean “daily”–hint: it means daily) her mind will wander off to her childhood in India. Honestly, I don’t know how she remembers things in such vivid detail. I’m lucky if I can recall things that happened two weeks ago. But I digress.

Several years back, oh, in the mid-1990s, I’d say, we were on an “adventure” to Trader Joe’s in Pacific Beach. My mom, who has traveled the world, now considers anything that involves a car ride of more than ten minutes to be an adventure because it’s typically farther than she’d normally walk. And walking is her normal mode of transportation. She does not drive. Has never driven. Well, she tried to learn, but that’s for another post.

If you’ve ever been to Trader Joe’s, you know they have interesting foods from all over the world. Belgian chocolates. New Zealand lamb. Various and sundry cheeses. The list goes on and on. Some food or other (likely a curry of some sort) managed to trigger my mom’s reminiscing of all things India. Staring off into space with a slight beatific smile on her face, she was completely in another place. The sights, sounds, and smells of India were all around her. Yet something in the here and now managed to impinge on her consciousness. Something ever so slightly off in Trader Joe’s. She got the attention of a passing employee to tell him: “I think there’s something wrong with the automatic door. People are going in and out, but it’s not closing, it’s just staying open. I know it was working earlier because I remember it opening when we walked up.”

“Maam, that’s because you’re standing on the mat that has the sensor in it. If you step back about a foot, the door will close.”

Mom vs. The Water Beetle

From two rooms away, Bart and I heard my mom scream at the top of her lungs. We jumped up and looked out the door only to see her running from the bathroom, ripping all of her clothes off, and yelling, “don’t look! Don’t look!”

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I grew up in the Bird Rock area of La Jolla. We don’t have alleys in La Jolla. We have “ways” and “lanes”–and though they look like alleys, they are named. I’m quite sure that we don’t have rats. But there are lots of really huge mice around. We also don’t have cockroaches. No. They may look, act, and be genetically identical to cockroaches, but in La Jolla they’re called water beetles. At least that’s what my mom tried to call them. She would slip up now and then, and the word “cockroach” would be used. But for the most part, “water beetle” was the preferred term. She was terrified of all bugs, but cockroaches held a special place of fear in her. Most likely from a story her mother used to tell her about the time she lived in China in a place where if you went into the kitchen at night and turned on the light, “the whole wall moved.” Covered in cockroaches.

Um, I mean water beetles.

For a while, my mom was prone to wearing long, flowy garments that brushed the ground. Even when out in the yard doing light gardening or simply watering. She would do this, and her mind would wander as she sprayed water around the back yard, her thoughts in far off lands (her childhood in India and what is now Pakistan, for instance) or simply in areas inconceivable to most of us.

On one such evening, after a pleasant half-hour in the back yard while the air cooled and the glowing sunset faded toward night, my mom was in the bathroom down the hall while Bart and I sat in my room, talking about and listening to music. She was combing her hair and began to think to herself how wonderful it would be if you could think of something and it would simply appear. A delicious dinner, perhaps. Or an object you needed. How amazing and useful that would be! You simply think, and it’s there. (I don’t know if she ever saw the “Shore Leave” episode of Star Trek, but it’s pretty much along the lines of where her mental wanderings were headed.) She stopped herself short, though: What if you thought of a cockroach? That would be terrible!

At that very moment a cockroach walked up onto her shoulder.

Which is where I started. My mom had one of the biggest freak-outs that you could ever imagine. She screamed at the top of her lungs and ran out of the bathroom–tearing off all her clothes as she went, yelling “don’t look! Don’t look!” to Bart and I as we hurried out of the bedroom to see what was wrong.

She ran and grabbed something to put on, while Bart and I simply stood there, utterly baffled. When she managed to calm down to a point where she could speak in a somewhat rational manner she finally conveyed the reason for her distress. Bart and I went in search of the, ah, water beetle. At first, we were looking at each other and wondering if she’d just totally flipped her lid. But after several minutes, yes, we did find the nasty thing. In retrospect, it’s obvious that the water beetle had managed hitch a ride on my mom’s long, flowing clothing. But for a while there, she was absolutely convinced she had conjured it out of thin air. I wish she’d conjure up the winning lotto numbers. Now that would be useful.

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Mom vs. The Backrest

As I mentioned before, my mom and I work at the same place, and worked together previously at another company. I handled many things there, including all the computers. This was, well, a long time ago. Modems were slow and phone charges were expensive. We had people who did field work for us around the country. One of the things that these representatives did was meet arriving foreign student groups at international airports and get them to the next gate. (This was well before 9/11, so it was far easier for our reps to meet the kids.) I had designed a database program to help track the students and their host families, along with travel information. A few times a year, the reps would send their laptops back to the office for me to work on–update the database, do some general system work, etc.

Now, while my mom had a computer on her desk, it was a mysterious object. She simply had no idea (nor any desire to learn) how to use it. I tried. I continue to try to this day. It’s . . . excruciating at times. She’s an intelligent woman, so that’s not the problem. I believe she has convinced herself that computers are too complicated and that she’ll never learn how to use one, so she simply doesn’t make a true effort. This has been going on for more than 20 years. (And people wonder where I get my stubborn streak from!)

Something my mom did (and, yes, continues to) do, though, is order things from catalogs. Gadgets (nothing too techy, of course), books, movies, CDs, shoes, what have you. One thing she’s always trying to do is find things that will help her back. She’s had a bad back on and off for a very long time. To a point where she’s been forced to lay in bed for days due to the pain. Various lumbar supports and other back-stress-relieving items have come and gone over the years. Typically, she has them delivered to the office and then has me come and install the gadget du jour. Because she somehow assumes I have lots and lots of time to do such things. At one point I explained how I really didn’t have time to help her with each thingy that showed up at the office. So she began a relatively vain attempt to figure out the installations on her own. And then I’d get a call to come and help after she gave up.

On one particular occasion, a box arrived at the office and she eagerly opened it to get at the latest back thingamajig she’d ordered. But, as usual, I got a call on the intercom an hour later. “Kev, can you come down and take a look at this thing I got for my back? I don’t know if I’m using it right, and it’s not very comfortable.” Down the stairs I went, over to the adjacent building, and back to her office. “See? I don’t know how it’s supposed to go. There were no instructions. I don’t know if it goes behind me or if I’m supposed to sit on it. And if it goes behind me, does it go vertical or horizontal?”

I looked at the item and knew exactly what was wrong. “Mom, can I see the box it came in, please?”

“Sure, it’s right there. Why?”

“Because I want to look at the label. Yeah, just as I thought. See this? It’s not from a backrest company.”

“But I haven’t ordered anything else!”

“You’re not the only person who receives packages here, Mom. It was addressed to me.”

“Why would you order a backrest? Are you having back problems?”

“Mom, it’s not a backrest. You’ve been sitting on a laptop computer wrapped in bubble wrap!”

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Mom vs. Days of the Week

For this Mom story, we need to delve a bit further back. No, farther than that. No, more. Okay, look, let’s just go get in the Wayback Machine… Tim, you really need to come along for this one. It’s your favorite. Yeah, there’s room in here. Please fasten your harness and pull down on the safety bar.

Okay, everybody in? Controls set for 1978, aaaaand here we go!

Pling. And here we are.

My best friend, Bart, would often stay the night at my house on school nights. He lived in a different part of town and it was a long ride. It tended to make a lot of sense. Mom would come in each morning and wake us to get ready for school. Being best friends we would regularly stay up way too late, talking about music and what have you. So waking up was rarely an easy thing. “Boys! Boys! Wake up!” She’d start off gentle. We’d groggily open our bleary eyes and make vague attempts at consciousness. “It’s getting late you have to get ready for school!” She’d never get really loud, but perhaps a bit more firm in her calling to us. “Come on! Get up, you’re running late!”

One morning, however, she came up with, well, how shall I put it? An . . . interesting twist. “Boys! Boys! Wake up!” Came the familiar call. We’d stayed up extra late the night before, so it was taking a bit more on her end to get through to us. “Come on, boys, wake up! I need to tell you something!” And so, we forced ourselves awake and peeled our eyes open to hear:

“I just wanted to tell you it’s Saturday and you can sleep in as late as you want!”

A Taste Of Things To Come

Just to whet everyone’s appetite for more of my Mom Stories, I thought it might be fun (or slightly evil in a teasing, tempting way) to name off the next six titles I’m working on. Then I’ll come back here and make them into live links as I post them. So, without further ado, here are some future Mom titles:

Mom vs. The Backrest

Mom vs. The Water Beetle

Mom vs. Days Of The Week

Mom vs. Trader Joe’s

Mom vs. The Parked Car

Mom vs. The Postwoman

I hope they will all bring you much joy and laughter in reading them. At least as much to equal or exceed the amount of embarrassment and face-palming I experienced when they happened.

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