We’ve all seen those kids – their hair looks like it was accidentally dipped into a paper shredder and you just know that they found the craft scissors and decided to give themselves a trim. That was my sister and me growing up. Our hair was as uneven and tragic as Billy Idol’s shag in the early-80’s. Minus the coolness factor.
Only thing is, my sister and I hadn’t touched the scissors. My mother was the one who did the hair cutting in our home, and try as she might, our hair always looked like it was trimmed by Edward Scissorhands on crack. There were plenty of things she did beautifully. She sewed us handmade clothes. Took us on adventures of all kinds. She was creative, vibrant and… slightly odd. Cutting bangs was just one of the things she sort of missed the mark on.
My mom grew up in a house with a thatched straw roof in the African nation of Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). She went to bed at night watching critters crawl around her ceiling and woke up to screaming monkeys outside her windows. After moving to the States, she made a whole-hearted attempt to morph into an American housewife. But honestly… she never really got the hang of it.
When the neighbors were making spaghetti and meatballs, my mom cooked up liver and onions or yellow curry. She left our house doors wide-open and unlocked at all times. We had soles as tough as rawhide due to running around without shoes and our untethered dogs roamed our suburban neighborhood. We lived a rather bohemian life in our rather vanilla community, and my sister and I silently lamented that our family wasn’t quite like the ones surrounding us.
When I became pregnant and entered motherhood myself, I began to play the Not Quite Right game with myself. I scolded myself for eating too much Taco Bell and not enough fish oil during pregnancy. I felt guilty for not giving my new baby just the right amount of tummy time or veggies in his rice cereal. Oops! I hadn’t exposed him to ANY classical music. And sleep training… I was running far too late to correctly embark on that adventure.
Ugh, I guiltily thought, I’m not doing things quite right.
It was one afternoon, when my sister and I were sorting through our childhood memories over an inspiration-inducing glass of red wine, that I had one of those ah-ha moments (insert clouds parting and angels singing). The normal or appropriate activities that occurred in my childhood were not really the stand outs; they didn’t shape the person I am today. It was actually the not quite right events that fueled my values and made me snort with laughter whenever I remembered them.
As my sis and I chatted, I remembered the swinging-from-the-ceiling neighborhood parties and impromptu parades my mom used to throw together effortlessly. For one of those parades, I remembered her using tin-foil wrapped boxes to transform me into the Tin Man from Wizard of Oz, and me subsequently being dragged to the ground by Toto (aka our little, scruffy dog, Flea Flea).
And I remembered our old, creepy, white Ford van that whistled as it rattled down the freeway, hence earning it the nickname, Whistling Wilbur. My mom would step on Wilbur’s gas pedal with all of her weight when we approached a particularly high hill near our house. We kids would all pretend to push the struggling van with our little hands, giving it that extra bit of gusto. And when Wilbur crested the top of the hill at full speed, and our little bodies flew up and hit the ceiling, we would let out a whooping cheer. Wheeeeeee!
Did I mention that car seats hadn’t been invented yet?
I don’t remember the vitamins, books, or matching cotton pajamas that colored our everyday existence. Instead, I remember the adventures and craziness that surrounded our lives. And for this, I feel immense gratitude toward my mom.
As I move forward with my two boys, I’m trying to be less concerned with getting things just right and more concerned with giving them memories and cool experiences that will last a lifetime. I find myself singing the anthem that my mom used to belt out to us:
We’re off to see the Wild West show,
The elephants and the kangaroos,
Never mind the weather,
As long as we’re together,
We’re off to see the Wild West show.
As long as we’re together, I remind myself, it really is ok if I don’t always get things quite right. In fact, maybe our lives are just right… just the way they are.
Here’s to Sanity and Imperfection,
Barbara Frandsen says
What a terrific piece of writing as a tribute to your mother. This piece is a real winner. Love, Barbara
Oh Kirsten! I had exactly the same experience growing up with an eccentric ex Rhodesian mother in suburban middle class Norway and Australia. I was constantly mortified, entertained, and proud. Your mum and mine could be sisters! Oh, they are…