Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I Am My Mother

It's official. I've turned into my mother. Something I swore at the age of 16 would never happen. There were several good reasons I could never act like her, but the most important one was that I am a Sagittarian and she's a Virgo. Anyone who knows even a little about astrology understands the importance of that single fact in securing the impossibility of my ever turning into my mother.

There are also examples.

In 1987 or 88, the song It Takes Two by Rob Base was released. Simply hearing the first thumping beats of this song would raise my heart rate and make me gyrate. My mother and I would be riding along calmly in the car, that song would come on, and I would scream... "THAT'S MY JAM!" and crank up the volume. She would purse her lips, frown at me, and say, "Oh my Lord! Are you deaf, Child? Why does the volume have to be that loud for you to hear your song?" And she'd turn the volume so low I could only hear whispers of my jam. If I was lucky, I got to keep listening to the song, but on some days, it was WLOQ, the local jazz station, that she switched to. She always played her music so low you really didn't hear the smooth jazz until you were stopped at a light.

I'd never be like that.

In 1984, I started high school. I was involved in a lot of sports and clubs and activities and was invited to different social events. Sometimes, there would be activities on Friday and Saturday nights. When I would ask my mother to go to the events on both nights, she'd always complain and say I'd just gone out the night or weekend before. Hm. What does going out on Friday have to do with going out on Saturday if you don't have anything to do on Saturday? Why does the fact that I went out last weekend have any bearing on my desire to go out this weekend if I'm an A-student, good kid and all my chores are done?

I'd never be like that.

But the one that really got me. And I think I have a witness on this one from my younger brother and a few cousins that stayed with us from time to time. The clincher was... if I was ever caught sitting still watching television or talking on the phone or looking in the kitchen cabinet for something to eat, my mother would search, hunt, scavenge for something for me to do. It's almost as if my mere presence of relaxation annoyed her and she was determined to alter my status. She'd walk in from the garage and see me flipping through a magazine at the kitchen table and start looking around. "Althea get up and put these things away," she'd say, gesturing to boxes of food on the counter. Or, "Althea, put these dishes away," as she would open the dishwasher to see clean dishes resting on the racks. "Althea, why is your room so messy? Make your bed and put these clothes away."

I'd never be like that.

Or would I?

"I refuse to be like Mom," I say silently when I catch myself about to do it. But most times (and I hate to admit it), I can't help myself. Something about those boys sitting in front of the big screen playing Call of Duty - Black Ops when there's folded clothes to be put away, and dirty dishes on the counter, and an overflowing trashcan...

"Un Unh! Turn it off. I know ya'll aren't in here playing that game when this place looks a hot mess."

I see the knowing looks pass between them. I hear the sigh that little one hasn't learned how to stifle yet. And, yes, he got more work because he sighed out loud. And yes, I also did that thing my parents used to do if we acted ungrateful. I went through the full list of how grateful they should be to have me as a parent.

"I know you didn't just roll your eyes. Look around. You have a nice house to live in, clean clothes and dinner on the stove. I take you where you want to go and let your friends come over and play. You have every video game known to man in here. I wish you would sigh again!"

Not only have I turned into my mother, I've gone beyond where she was. I admit it. And I'm not sure how I feel about it. Perspective changes as we get older. Perspective changes as we have children. Perspective changes as our children get older.

I am not completely like Mom - I let the kids play their music loud with me in the car (except for that one song by Soldier Boy, Hey You There - what a stupid song); and I let them go to as many social activities as they want as long as they do well in school, do their chores and have good manners at all times.

And today, when my son was leaning on the door of the kitchen pantry, looking for something to snack on, I stopped myself from glancing around to find something for him to do. I resisted the strong, strong, strong urge to tell him to do the dishes, take out the recycling and get started on his homework. I allowed him to eat, text and sing a song before I asked him to do all that.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Watch What You Wish For

It's my birthday week. I've been anticipating and planning it for more than six months. My 40th. A true landmark year in terms of birthdays.

For my Sweet Sixteen, my parents planned a beautiful formal affair at a local civic center. My father, a professional photographer, took the pictures of the guys in their 1980s suits and matching Jerricurls. My boyfriend at the time, Jamal, had on a tuxedo with tails. I wore a fuchsia satin floor-length gown made just for me by a family friend - the same seamstress who made my debutante gown and wedding dress years later. I love to celebrate birthdays.

For my 30th birthday, I planned a grown-and-sexy pajama party. The pictures are under lock and key and what happens at an Althea party stays at the party, but I will tell you that the lingerie and silk pajama coed fashion show was something that will be remembered in many people's minds for various reasons. Uh... well... those that were sober and can recall the events of that night. I love to celebrate birthdays.

I love birthday celebrations so much, I go as far out as I can with my sons' birthday parties. I was just reminiscing with a cousin last weekend about Lil Maurice's 1st birthday. He wasn't even walking when I scheduled the inflatable bouncing machine, the husband-and-wife clown team, and ordered an elaborate Sesame Street cake that was large enough to feed our entire street of neighbors - many of whom came to celebrate the birth of the wild-child's baby. I love to celebrate birthdays.

Anyway, I'm three days away from the big 4-0 celebration. Six months ago, I was trying to decide between a huge bacchanal adventure on a Caribbean island I hadn't visited yet, or a month of partying with my friends in various cities where I'd lived. But in August, my close girlfriend and studio manager became very ill, and my mindset and daily life activities were... what's a good word?... altered.

After two months of daily and weekly hospital visits, teaching multiple fitness classes, handling studio issues I hope to never see again, and still being an attentive mother, wife, daughter, sister and friend, I didn't want to party. I didn't even want to talk about my birthday. I just wanted to sleep. In fact, two months turned into three months and then four months. Hard and difficult decisions about life, and my business, and my family had to be made during those four months. Really hard and difficult decisions.

So, a month ago, my husband asked me - for maybe the 10th time - "Althea..." (when he says my full name, this means he's really serious) "Althea, what do you want to do for your birthday?"

I sighed, and rubbed my eyes and sat back from whatever task I was engaged in. I blinked a few times, as though that would help me find the answer in my crowded mind. After a minute or two, I replied with a weary voice... "I just want to go to the mountains alone and sleep. I want to meditate and think and read and write and plan. I want to get a couple of spa treatments while I'm there and I want to eat good food that I don't have to cook." There, I'd said it. I'd made up my mind. And I meant it. No party, no people, no major celebration. Peace and quiet and me-time. No problem, right?

Big Maurice made all the arrangements. A long weekend at Chateau Elan. It wasn't the mountains, but it was far enough away to be away and close enough to have dinner with hubby, the kids and my brother on my actual birthday. Chateau Elan - known for fantastic amenities and top-notch spa treatments - was my new focus. I just had to make it to the week after Thanksgiving. No problem, right?

I started with getting substitute teachers for my classes at the studio. Then I started wrapping up open items on the studio to-do list. Then I started planning what I would do with 4 quiet days to myself. I'd start on Wednesday with a late wake-up, breakfast with my twin who is also celebrating his 40th on the same day, an acupuncture session and then an afternoon of shopping at the outlets. Then on Thursday, I'd wake up late again, pack my clothing slowly and take a leisurely drive up 85 to the resort. My list of birthday weekend to-dos included things like planning my 2011 creative calendar, reading about chakras and meditation, soaking in a hot tub of scented water and listening to lounge jazz with a warm eye-pillow resting on my face.

What really happened was Big Maurice had a major meeting at his office on Wednesday, so I woke up early to get the kids off to school. I got stuck in traffic trying to get to my birthday-twin breakfast. My twin was in a bad mood the whole morning, so I spent the morning trying to cheer him up. I raced to the office after my acupuncture appointment to handle payroll and still missed getting my younger son from the bus. I sped through the crowded afternoon streets to meet him and do homework, cook dinner and begin laundry. My husband fell asleep on the couch around 9:30pm while I cleaned up the kitchen and yelled at the boys to "GO TO BED NOW! I MEAN IT!"

Okay, so Wednesday didn't work out as planned. No biggie. The real birthday activities weren't supposed to start until Thursday anyway.

Today - Thursday morning - I woke early again to get the kids ready for school because Big Maurice had to race to the office. My older son walks downstairs and calmly informs me that he forgot to tell us, but the band concert schedule was printed wrong at the beginning of the year and he actually has a band concert tonight at 7:00pm. As I look up from the computer screen of emails waiting to be answered, I gaze around the room at all the stacks of mail, unfolded laundry, shoes and bags everywhere and I remember...

Four months ago, I started asking - repeatedly - for a day with no appointments, classes or meetings. A day to be in my house to clean and declutter. In fact, I wrote two blogs about the clutter in my home and how my life was not allowing me to tackle it. It all came back to me. And I realized, at that very moment, that I'd gotten exactly what I'd wished, prayed and asked for. For my birthday, no less. A full day with no appointments, meetings or classes.

I now have a full day to clean and declutter my house until my younger son comes home from school and needs a snack before homework. I now have a full day to clean and declutter my house until my older son needs to find his band shirt and a clean pair of black pants and needs to be taxied to the school early to prepare for the concert. I now have a full day to clean and declutter before running to Walmart to restock the pantry and cabinets with food and toiletries before I leave for the weekend. And I will do all of this with joy so I can truly relax and enjoy my leisurely drive up 85 with my meditation books and scented eye-pillow.

I love to celebrate birthdays. Especially when I get exactly what I wish for...