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Baby steps

18 Nov

I am still working on my Gentlemen I have Known series.  It is going well, but I can’t get around to posting any of it because of intervening events: my mother’s birthday, my daughter was sick yesterday, and because one my of soul sisters is having a hard time, and I have needed to spend every free minute comforting her.  Actually there have been two crises, but one worked itself out during a walk at a brisk clip around the Gun Club Road, aka the koa.  It is amazing what walking so fast that you’re out of breath and sometimes running up the hills can do for a bad mood.

You all know about my amazing mother and her birthday from yesterday’s corner-brightening post.  But you don’t all know about my friend’s hard time.  I’m not going to go into the details here on the internet, but if you want to call me, I will fill you in.  Suffice it to say that someone in my immediate circle who doesn’t know how to utter the word “no” and who has never met someone she doesn’t want to help in whatever capacity they need her to has been met with a personal crisis.

I have tried to be there for her every step of the way offering my gift for tough love that I inherited from my mother.  I don’t know if my friend’s tears were from her personal crisis or from my lectures (strictly from a place of great love, I assure you), but there have been some tears.  And some tough love and some interventions.  Not just from me!  Lots of admonitions that “you are just perfect and anyone who can’t see that is crazy.” and “since when do we allow other people to define who we are?”

But I don’t know that I am getting through to her.  So two days ago I did what any good friend would do – I left my “just who’s in charge here?” boots outside her front door.  She didn’t wear them.  And thus, spent much of the day not convinced that it was she who was really in charge.

So yesterday, Anna started the day (in my bed, of course) coughing like a barking seal, and I kept her home from school.  By 8:30 a.m., she was asking what we were going to do for fun today, and I did have some errands to run, so I thought that she could rest just as easily in the car as she could in bed, and off we went.  We ended up at Mr. Boots, and I called my dear friend to implore her to meet us there.  I wanted her to try on some tough, pretty boots so that she could imagine what it’s like to take your power back.

I swear it wasn’t my intent to cause her to spend lots of money (Houston!), and she didn’t.  But she did start warming up to the idea of a pair of cowboygirl boots to round out her shoe wardrobe.  There is just something powerful about a pair of pretty boots.  For one thing, you are immediately two inches taller, which is always helpful.  And your feet feel heavy.  You are grounded and one with the earth, also known as the center of the universe.  In fact, you might just be the center of the universe when you’re wearing the right boots.

I have found that the right pair of boots just transforms one’s whole sense of self and  your knowledge of who is going to define you and who will be allowed to push you around.  It all changes when you have on the right pair of boots, and suddenly there can be no question of just who is in charge here.

My dear friend didn’t buy any boots yesterday, but she did try some on and walk around in them.  She looked at the different styls and colors, she compared prices, she thought about what she might wear them with (a short skirt, naturally – talk about taking your power back!), and she started to see herself as less of a victim and more of a winner in this scenario.  Boots can’t solve all your problems (um, especially the financial ones once you become hooked like I am), but they are definitely two steps in the right direction.

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Ode to Mary Rose

17 Nov

Today is my mother’s birthday.  On this occasion, I would like to thank her for being the perfect mother for me and for being unflinchingly and stalwartly supportive of my (nearly) every endeavour.  Her career as my number one supporter began in February, 1970, at a hospital in New Orleans.  My dad wasn’t even there to hold her hand when I was born.  He was out somewhere having a sandwich, and apparently he didn’t even bring us home from the hospital — a friend of hers drove us.  From the photographs, he appears quite fond of me as a baby, but I have to give all credit for keeping me alive and healthy and happy to my mother.  I have seen her with my own babies and I have seen my dad with my babies, and there is no question that I would not be around today were it not for the tireless efforts of my mother.

She is a unique individual.  She was not like the other mothers.  Classmates would say “I saw your mother on Grand Boulevard taking signs off the trees this morning.”  She didn’t appreciate people nailing their garage sale signs into the hundred year-old water oaks.  She was like the Lorax – she spoke for the trees.  I wanted to die of embarrassment.

She wasn’t a cupcake-baking mother or a PTA mother or room mother.  She was the mother who would come into your class with slideshows of her trip to Africa or exotic birds or water lilies.  She was the mother who flew airplanes.  She was the mother who picked up stray dogs and found their owners.  She also might come in on career day and talk about being a newspaper photographer/journalist.  She always made it clear that she was a photographer first and a writer second.  She probably made them put that in her contract.

She was the mother who warned me when I was leaving for camp in Maine “Don’t let them think you are stupid just because you come from Mississippi,” and when I went to boarding school: “There will be some girls there who fly to the Caribbean for Easter.  Remember, we are not that kind of people.” 

She was the mother who forced her children to attend the art movie series at the public library.  She ordered Picnic at Hanging Rock; Babette’s feast; Black Orpheus…I know there were more, but my indignant, horrified, teenaged brain repressed them. 

While other families went to Destin for vacation, she and my dad took us to Mexico and Belize and forced us to ride the train to Chicago.  I resented her for making us stand in line in the wind and snow and slush to see a Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the National Gallery.  All my friends were probably at the beach.  We were forced to listen to opera and classical music.  Other mothers were cooler than mine.  Other moms drew their daughters out about the high school gossip and current teen romances.  My mom seemed to think all that was silly and ridiculous.  She only seemed to care that we were educated and exposed to more culture than just what Greenwood, Mississippi, offered.

We were only allowed to watch an hour of television per week.  I was always out of the loop on the latest in pop culture.  She forbade me to wear makeup until high school.  She said all that blue eyeshadow made me look like a streetwalker.  She advised my friends and me not to “make ourselves available” to boys.  Whatever that means.

When I wanted to leave college and come home because I was homesick, she seemed sympathetic, but she still said no.  I was merciless.  I called her daily to tell her how miserable I was and how much I hated it there.  I did the same thing to her when I was in law school. 

From this vantage, I can see that she was in the trenches with my brother and me every single day.  We saw her as impossible and only interested in herself and my dad having a good time, while we unlucky children were just dragged along on these cultural excursions and family outings.  “Everybody else” could watch TV and listen to popular music and lounge around the house eating sugary cereals in their pajamas all day, and we were expected to DO SOMETHING.  Read something, write something, make something, think about something, be something.  We were convinced that she just didn’t want us to have a good time.  Ever.

When my marriage ended last August, my mother gave me the best advice I have ever, ever received – before or since.  She said simply: “He has made his plans.  It is time for you to make yours.”

She has always made her own plans.  She obtained her master’s degree and her pilot’s license after having children.  She almost went to law school at age 40.  She had her name legally changed back to her maiden name even though she was still married to my dad and had taken his name 20 years before.  She is a great role model for never losing your own identity just because you are married and have children.  There is never a time when she isn’t working on a big project.  

I have never stopped being homesick and she has never stopped being encouraging and supportive.  When asked why I am a certain way: how I learned to love dogs more than people, how I have been so secure through a separation and divorce that rocked us, why I don’t watch television, why I have such an appetite for shoes, I realize that it’s all because of having Mary Rose as a mother.

I hereby offer a public apology for thinking you weren’t cool.  I knew you were the prettiest mom, but I couldn’t see the value of your uniqueness when I was a child.  Now that I am learning who I am and how I came to be this way, I think I am the luckiest child ever born to have you as a mother.  Happy Birthday.

Do these boots say “Texas Independence?”

5 Nov

Shoes determine one’s attitude. 

This is an eternal truth.

One’s attitude determines one’s actions.  Also a known fact.

This is why I needed some bad-a$$ cowboy boots.  It’s not very ladylike to curse in one’s blog, but being ladylike only goes so far (in my experience), and sometimes you need some “made for walking” cowboy boots.  Especially if you have just agreed in writing to live the rest of your natural life in Texas. 

One pair should be weathered brown leather with beautiful blue, pink, green and red embroidered flowers and designs.  They say “I am sweet and pretty and feminine, but if I have to, I can kick your, well – you know.”  They might also say “I keep a getaway horse fully tacked and ready to ride off into the sunset, should it become necessary.  or even just desirable”

The second pair should be dressy and slick.  In patent leather, maybe.  Black and shiny.  These say “you can take me anywhere and heads will turn.”  They can be worn with a cocktail dress and a cascade of pearls.  Maybe even some patterned tights.  Or fishnets.  Which aren’t just for streetwalkers anymore.  They are even sold at Target and everyone knows that Target is a high-end discount store.  No hose for hos at Le Tarzhay.

I think it’s time I settle into being fully Texan and tough.  By way of Mississippi, which explains my softer, sweeter side.  Luckily, these two pairs of attitude encompass it all.