The Part Where My Mom Smacks Me Upside the Head

grandparents pic swing

Grandpa, Grandma, my sister Risa, me, and my brother Doug on one of Grandpa’s handmade swingsets outside The Big Green House in New York

One September day back in 1947, the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York received a visitor. Her name was Karen Alice. She had a sister named Jackie and a brother named George (who like many other children of the day, wouldn’t live to see his first birthday). She was born to Elsie and Harold — Elsie a stunning young woman who would go on to introduce more than one grandchild to the splendor that is corned beef hash, and Harold a strapping young man filled with resolve who would become the guy who could fix anything in a workshop deep with dusty yet well-maintained tools.

Karen’s my mom. I remember summers spent with Elsie and Harold (my grandparents) at The Big Green House in Canoga Springs, New York. There was a great aunt and great uncle who lived across the driveway. The little white church was across the street. The rural country road was lined with a flower called Queen Anne’s Lace, not dissimilar from the crocheted doilies that adorned the arms of my grandmother’s parlor sofa. I liked to pick them. I also liked sitting on one of the big swings my grandfather had built, enveloped in the humid blanket that was a New York summer, my parents on either side of the swing with us kids.

All of this was before I became quite the pain in the ass of a child. Let’s just say that was fond of boundaries — and anything I could do to test them

Throughout my formative years, I earned each smack upside the head. In all fairness, whatever restraint my mother used to avoid killing me deserves a hearty round of applause and possibly sainthood. Through all those bell ringing incidents, she was the woman who drove me to every history fair event (NERD ALERT), picked me up after volleyball practice, and stood by me as more than one teacher did everything from say I was a “problem” to tell her that maybe I wouldn’t be a problem if she didn’t work and stayed at home with her kids which is where a woman belongs.*

*Had I had money to wager in this particular standoff, it would have been 7-1 on My Mom.

Then there was the day — okay, it was really the fourth day — where I heard the garage door open and froze. I’d recently transferred to a magnet school and realized that sleeping in and watching soaps and game shows was much more fun than actually driving 30 minutes to class. Hence, I stayed at home for 4 days. And on the 4th day when I heard the garage door open, I knew I was hosed.

Again, she didn’t kill me.

mom dad me doug

My dad, brother Doug, and my mom holding me right after I was born. Isn’t my mom gorgeous?

Throughout my life, my mom has surprised me. In every situation where I felt I wasn’t worthy, she hung around. In every instance where I needed a real friend, she was there at the other end of the phone. When marriages ended, her door stood open (and in the instance of my first husband, her wallet as well so I could pay the filing fee for the divorce). With every year that’s passed, the woman continues to surprise me.

Yesterday, it happened again.

I was sitting in Boulder prepping for a consulting session, doing some inbox triage on my iPhone. I saw an email from my mom with the subject, “A Thought About Time.” Curious, I popped it open. A few minutes later, I marked it unread, did that oh-it-must-be-my-allergies-no-I’m-not-crying eye wipe and pretended to fuck around with my laptop before my client arrived.

She’d surprised me again (damn you, woman) and with a completely different smack upside the head.

Welcome My Mom, Karen, to the blog.

****

I’ve thought about time a lot since Aunt Liz passed away last month. Both she and Vic were born at the end of World War I. When Liz and Vic got married in 1940, she was 20 and he was 21. That was just before the start of World War II and both had been kids and teenagers during the Great Depression. Both of them came from farming families so they knew what it was like to have to work hard to become even semi-successful. Still, they chose the life of farmers for many, many years. They never had kids but did have each other.

Vic had one of the only successful farms in the entire area and never raised livestock, crops only; he worked hard – mostly by himself – but Liz also drove the tractor when needed. Several of us nieces and mostly nephews also helped on the farm, especially when it came to hay and straw baling time. A big attraction for us kids was Vic’s pool table in the basement of their house. We didn’t really know how to play correctly but had great fun trying to do it “grownup.” Sometimes one of us got to spend a night or two with them in the summer; if we were quiet at night, we could hear Liz and Vic quietly talking and laughing together in the next room. Their home was a happy place where many members of our family got together for card and board games. There was always conversation, food and coffee (of course — we’re all Danish). When Vic finally retired from farming they continued with their long tradition of living in Florida over the winters. Back then there were still lots of relatives down there to get together with and spend more time playing cards and board games.

When Aunt Liz passed away last month, she was 93 and Uncle Vic is now 94. They were married an amazing 73 years. To many of us, that is most of our life. They did the things together that they both enjoyed and never let time stop them. Oh, yes, they did slow down eventually and Aunt Liz resorted to using a cane after she broke her hip and had to have joint replacement surgery. They still went to the Moose Club every week for dinner and to the Ponderosa as well. The house was cluttered with the myriad of items that Liz collected but it never seemed to bother Vic.

When I went up to New York for the funeral, Uncle Vic had one thought: “What am I going to do without her?” He had spent pretty much his whole life with one person and was going to have to learn how to be alone.

I found out a couple of days ago that Vic fell in his backyard and broke his collarbone. Thank goodness he has a nephew who got him to the doctor and convinced him to stay at his house until his shoulder heals. I hope I will be so lucky when I grow old and weary. I am just thankful that one couple had the love and conviction to stay together for 73 years. Very few people can do this and many cannot due to the death of a partner. Still, it must be comforting to have a partner that you know so well you don’t even have to ask a question – you already know the answer. I am sure my Grandpa Larsen came to take Liz home and, when the time comes, Liz will come to take Vic home to her.

Time is a precious thing and we all too often take it for granted. There is always another day to do something or go somewhere. However, one day we will run out of time and will have to accept how we lived it – no matter how many or how few years that has been.

****

And while Mom’s probably going to smack me upside the head for posting this on my blog without telling her, I need you to know a few things:

  1. This is — and always will be — the most important and influential person in my life.
  2. She’s the smartest woman I know.
  3. For every “lean in” conversation floating around the ether, this is a woman who stood up while standing by — which I feel is far more important than leaning in one direction or the other.
  4. She lives a good 800 miles away and can still give me a smack. And I’m glad for it and have never forgotten it.

There’s never been a Fuck Yeah, Friday post filled with more Fuck Yeah than this one. And I do feel it’s more than deserving of being filed away under “Bitch Slap.” So thank you, mom, for every single smack upside the head over the past 40 years.

And yes, I do know that I’m grounded for not asking you whether I can post this first.

 

 

29 comments
MichelleGillies
MichelleGillies

I often feel that if my Mom was still here there would be times when she would still smack my upside the head...and I would love her for doing it. To say "thank you" to you for sharing this particular slap doesn't quite seem enough. It comes at a much needed time, in a much needed way. I am humbled by both you and your Mother. 

wagnerwrites
wagnerwrites

I'm teary-eyed, and that's a GREAT thing. My mind had been running along the same lines after a college reunion where time just slapped me upside the head. 

My family is German and Danish (Mortensen) and the Danish side does not stop drinking coffee. Ever. I laughed out loud at that. 

Thank you.

ASwirlGirl
ASwirlGirl

Three words: Love. This. Post!

Erika, thanks so much for sharing your Mother with us. They know just what to say to get to us, don't they? Her words encourage me to maximize my life/time.

arnebya
arnebya

Well damn. I needed this and right now. Please tell your mom that this slap reverberated and has been felt and, well, I'ma go call my mama.

I'm also now considering calling bullshit on the stuck feeling I have and telling it to back the fuck up; time's a wastin'.

SteveZanini
SteveZanini

Holy shit! 

Did you purposely want to bust open the flood gates and cause my keyboard to short-circuit from the introduction of salt water dripping down my face?  Well, Kudos your devious ploy worked and THANKS for the slap on the head that I thought only my Italian mother could provide.  On a day where the sun is shining and work is going well, those closest to me are forgotten;  DAMMIT, they are the ones who have helped to make this day happen!  Happy to report that Mom was very surprised to hear from me, the person who stands in the wings unconditionally was thrilled to be the centre of my world even for a few minutes.  Freakin' amazing ... grace, gratitude mixed with love and wisdom.  Thanks for the timely message...once again!

MadgeMadigan
MadgeMadigan

Now I know why you and your family are so awesome... it's because you have roots in our region. (Rochester girl here)  :)

BruceBrodeen
BruceBrodeen

MIDDLE 'o THE TARGET - relevant, germane, right on(sister!) with where I am right now coming back from Florida visiting my parents(65 yrs together), saying goodbye to my own mother, who is in the last days/week(s) of hospice. It was a sacred time, this past week with them where time....STOOD (almost) STILL.

How often does that happen to us these days in the rapid-fire movement, "get things done"execution and deep, pelvic thrust of our modern-day lives?  

Sheeit, it doesn't.

Yet, sometimes we get transcendent glimpse of revelation where we become so aware of what matters that we do change our experience in 'our time'.  We have the power and capability to.....Slow. It. The. Fuck. Down.

But we can miss those gifts of understanding if we're not looking for 'em.  

We choose to do slow down and enjoy what matters most.  Or not.

We can frame the value of what matters in the pictures and vision of our lives.  Or not.

I've been thinking a lot about how slow my time this past week in Florida went with my father and dying mother - and why it was that way and how surreal and VERY real it was.

Not figured an 'answer' or reason yet but I know I have the answer.   I"m just enjoying not having the answer(or finding one in a Google search)  and *slowly* figuring it out.

And that makes me feel more in control than I have in quite awhile.  

LorettaOliver
LorettaOliver

Darnit, now my allergies are acting up too. 

lenglandbiggs
lenglandbiggs

Your mom rocks, Erika! And so do you. I feel blessed to have discovered someone else who says F*&K Yeah! and knows how to tell a great story. My "allergies" are kicking in too... 

Barbara Goldberg
Barbara Goldberg

The grounding and the head slap will be so worth it to have been able to have you post this. Thank you Karen for having an awesome daughter who speaks her mind and thank you Erika for having an awesome mom who leads by example!

TammyStratton
TammyStratton

Brilliant...just brilliant! Thank you Erika and Karen! That line..."One day we will run out of time and will have to accept how we lived it." WOW, that will stick with me forever.

jodisparkles
jodisparkles

Well, shit. I HAD good makeup working today. There should be a tissue warning for this one! 

Something your mom said really got to me: "one day we will run out of time and will have to accept how we lived it". I've got a half-written blog post about this very thing. The idea that we get one turn in this game and when it's over, it's over. I don't want to be afraid when that time comes and I think that living the best life we can is one way to do that. Thanks to your mom for sharing the story of Aunt Liz and Uncle Vic. 


KillianMIck
KillianMIck

Dude, you are SO grounded for that one. You can forget about coffee AND cake for a month.

But man, your Mom is one hell of an example to all of us. There is something to be said for finding your best friend - not your Prince Charming, because charm fades like our looks. But your best friend is someone who will hold your hair when you're sick, hold your hand when you stumble, hold your heart when it breaks. There's a lot to be said for that.

Kudos, Karen. And thanks for not killing Erika. She's pretty damn cool.

PhyllisLoya
PhyllisLoya

Such a beautiful testiment to a mother's love  and influence to her child.  As the mom of a murdered police officer whose end of watch anniverary was two days ago, my heart misses who I used to be before heaven and earth separated us...but a mom's love knows no boundaries.  Your mom must be so proud of you.

CassieWitt
CassieWitt

One day I will stop needing to wipe tears away at the end of reading these, but today is not that day. You have a way with words, and teaching lessons with those words Ms. Napoletano. :)

Tania Dakka
Tania Dakka

That was just beautiful. You and your mom are very lucky to have each other. Through my tears, I wish you all the best. Thanks for sharing such a heart-swelling post.