When I was a kid, I didn’t know what ‘S.O.L.’ meant. My mom would say that a lot when people – my brother and I included – did dumb stuff, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager that I finally asked what it stood for and she told me ‘shit outta luck’. After that I started saying it to other people all the time.
“Crushed nuts make peanut butter”
It’s a long story. My brother and his girlfriend… uh, let’s just say the potential for irreparable consequences were very high when she said this. It wasn’t until I had kids that I knew what it meant and when Derek starts practicing procreation, I’m going to tell him the same thing because I’m not any kid’s grandmother until I’m at least 46. At least. Plan accordingly, Derek and Lauren. Actually, Lauren, I’m not your kids’ grandmother until I’m 50.
Invention of Cat-ese as a language
I don’t know when we started communicating in Cat-ese, but at some point my mother and I started using various cat sounds to express our emotions. Don’t ask. I really do miss that and I get a hit every now and then with Derek when he does something, but there’s nothing like having a conversation using cat noises. Especially when, as the daughter, I wanted to use the king and queen of bad words so much.
Lauren was like four months old and I swear for that first year of her life all she did was cry, eat to gain strength to cry, take cat naps to get energy to wake up and cry and poop. I probably suffered from postpartum depression or at least disillusion because I remember her dad coming home to her screaming in her crib and me sitting on the couch asking Clarice if the lambs stopped crying.
Anyway, my mom’s health had declined a lot and we figured she wasn’t going to recover from the cancer at that point, so I’d drive to Cleveland every weekend from Kent with Lauren screaming in the backseat and Derek consoling me when I would randomly scream. When I got to my mom’s, I was about to take Lauren out back and leave her in the sun, but my mom got her first. Do you know that she stopped crying instantly and fell asleep? I don’t know if I was more pissed at her crying all that time or confused about what I’d been doing wrong. My mom explained that Lauren fed off my vibes and that she was upset because she could feel that I was upset. Not my mom though. My mom was calm and held the baby for a minute and she fell asleep. I think I took a nap because if I hadn’t, there may have been an infant murder/death/kill. That may have been when I said ‘f**k’ for the first time in front of my mother.
The bridal shower
It wasn’t anything like The Hangover. My mom, Lisa and I spent the night before I got married putting together memory books. I think we were on the last one some time around midnight and realized that ‘album’ was spelled wrong. I remember my mom saying ‘how many people will even know how to spell it? And if they’re looking that hard, then poot on ’em.’ Laughed real good at that and put every ‘alblum’ book on the table the next day.
Pregnant again and getting married
I got married because I was pregnant. I know not the best reason, but it was a time of distress with her health declining, me trying to finish Kent and already having Derek. Two events happened then: I had to tell her I was knocked up again (to which I got ‘This may be the dumbest thing you’ve done to date. You’re almost done with college and you’re going to have another baby?! Well, that’s on you. You’re grown’) and then come with the second bomb that we were going to get married. I had only one other silent treatment that was worse than this, but this time I realized I had a house I could go to and I left. Me, the dumb ass, and Derek turned right around and drove right back to Kent. That’s probably the only time I didn’t speak to my mother, voluntarily, for any extended amount of time.
Surprise party 1999
The sentiment was cute, but it was at this point that I realized my mom knew nothing about me as an adult. Not a thing. She invited Lisa (my great friend and Derek’s aunt) and Ms. P (Derek’s grandmother and Lisa’s mom) from Philly. When they pulled up, I was amped. That’s when she told me she planned a little soiree and that people would be arriving in a little while. Being polite, I waited and like five people over the age of 30 showed up. So I waited a little longer, but I started thinking ‘this is not who I would have invited to a party’. An hour later, the house was abuzz with people talking about jobs, bills, Ben Gay, over-40-fat and church. On my birthday?! For real?! I grabbed Lisa, asked my mom if she could keep an eye on Derek, and left. We went shopping, I think we picked up Dorian, went out to a club and came back around midnight to a heated Val. She told me that it was rude for me to leave the party because people were looking for me and I should have been there to greet them. I remember telling her politely that it was a bunch of old people talking about old subjects and I just wasn’t feeling it at 24. No more surprise anything for me.
The YPD convention in Cincinnati in the late 80s, early 90s
Oh… my… God. So many things happened then. That’s when she was younger and way less patient. Let’s see… where to start? My cousin Shawn fell at the skating rink and had temporary amnesia. Man… my mom had to go to the hospital with him to make sure he was okay. That part didn’t scare her; calling my Aunt Sandy, her older sister, to tell her that her son fell and couldn’t remember who he was did though. I thought my mom was tough and that’s the only memory I have that made me think somebody out in the world could beat her besides my Aunt Kathi.
On that same trip, Cincinnati had a tornado. So we’re all in the church, waiting for her to arrive with the van to go get something to eat. I don’t think any of us cared about the convention. We just wanted to go to Cincinnati and get away from Cleveland. I think there was some kind of fun and we were all hormonal teenagers, so more teenagers from different cities to flirt with was appealing. Anyway, the tornado sirens were going off and we were instructed to stay in the church. We tried to explain that ‘Vivacious Val’ would be there to pick us up and told us that anybody NOT waiting outside would be left. They thought we were joking. She came blowing in the door, fire in her eyes, killing us with looks for not being ready to roll out. I think the church people tried to tell her that it was safer in the church, but Evil Kenevil said we were leaving. In 50 MPH winds, about 15 of us kids are blowing sideways and getting pelted by cold rain to get in a van. Once we got in the van, she started fussing at us. Some brave person (maybe my brother, maybe my cousin) tried to defend us and it was all over. I don’t think anybody said another word until we got to our rooms. I think we may have even whispered then because you know adults have dog hearing when it comes to smart-mouthed kids.
Same trip. We’re all packed up to get food. In some area, there were a couple fast food restaurants. My mom told us older kids we had like 20 minutes to get food. My brother and my cousins, Shawn and Prentice, went to some place across the street. Ricci, Dorian and I went to Pizza Hut. I was getting low on funds and I was debating getting some bread sticks. Apparently I waited too long. The van was rolling out and once again, anybody NOT in the van would need to find transportation back to the hotel. I tried to plead my case and tell her that it would only be three minutes before they were done, but she told me in three minutes, she’d be up the road with or without me. I spent my last $3 on those bread sticks, but I had to weigh the consequences of enjoying those delicious carbs versus figuring out how to get back to the hotel in a city I didn’t know. So I chalked it up. Meanwhile, my brother and cousins were just getting food across the street, but they were… across the street. Did my mom wait? No. She started driving toward the exit. The only thing that saved them was the fact that she had to wait at a red light. I never saw them run that fast. I mean they were sprinting across the street to make it to the van. Actually, I think one of them tried to be cool and walk, but he got smart and picked up his pace to get on that van. I got barbecue later that night, so losing my $3 dinner got me a better one in the end.
Going to OSU
I’m the only girl and there were big expectations that I’d finish college. My brother let my mom down by going to the University of Cincinnati for one quarter and then joining the Navy. The pressure was now on me to be the first one to go to college and finish young. Suffice to say, as a sheltered kid, all I could think was OSU had a plethora of experiences just waiting for a girl like me. Anyway, being a little spoiled and rooming with two other spoiled girls, our room was decked out. Dorian and I were roommates and Dorinda and my mom (who were cousins) got together to figure out who would provide what for our dorm room. By the time everything was said and done, we had the fancy new Microfridge, a TV with a VCR, radio (that was upgraded to a fresh new CD player boom box for Winter quarter), a pantry area, a membership to Sam’s, area rugs, a word processor with a monitor (back before computers were common) and a stocked pantry area. Had it going on! On top of that, my mom told me I’d get a $50 weekly allowance for ‘miscellaneous expenses’ that my 19-meals-a-week food plan didn’t cover. Got brand new books, plenty of supplies, new gear and…. failed miserably. I don’t think I went to class after the third week. I’d go work out, hang out in the Union, visit people in my dorm, go to the mall, go to parties… but going to class wasn’t a priority. I had the genius plan to intercept the report card when I went home for winter break, but she got it first. It wasn’t as bad as I thought and one of the new skills I acquired at OSU was to stretch the truth. I told her I was getting used to not living with my parents and it was a big adjustment to be responsible for so many things at once. Surprisingly she bought it. When the second failing report card came home, she cut off my allowance. I didn’t have any excuse, so I sucked it up. The third one? Introduction of the student loan debt…. under my name. Lesson learned.
Val is a Nana
After the failing year, I went back to OSU, signed my name on the line and did surprisingly well. The downside was I got knocked up with Derek. Sigh… it was summer break when I packed up and drove the Grand Am back to Cleveland. At 20, the genius plan was to just wait the summer out, go back to school, call her and tell her I was knocked up. It made perfect sense to me, but when you’re young, you don’t give older people the credit they deserve. She said she had an idea I was pregnant, but I’m sure it was my brother ratting me out that sealed my fate and the fact that I didn’t know she was home (she pulled a private eye move on me with her car) and let my pudgy belly come around the corner before I did. It was curtains on my Project Summer plan. She told me we had to talk and I asked her if it could wait until the next morning because I was tired. I think after we talked, she didn’t talk to me again until October. Two months of silence. That was worse than her yelling at me. The heavy air of disappointment was unbearable and when my pregnant emotions couldn’t take it anymore and I was going to explode, she broke the silence with ‘we’re going shopping for a crib’. Life was fine, Derek was born and the disappointment of me being a young mother was replaced with her holding her first grandson the day before her 42nd birthday. Oh… if you’re wondering where I got that grandmother statement above, it was from my mom. She always told us to please wait to have kids until she was 40. Yay me for making it two extra years.
Get my grandson!
I drove out to see Lisa graduate from Fisk in 1998. Ms. P wanted to take Derek back to Philly for a little while and spend some time with him because she didn’t get to see him as much back in those days. I told her I’d come out and get Derek in two weeks. Two weeks turned into two months. I love my son, but I enjoyed the time alone. My mom would call and ask when I was going and I’d always say ‘I have plans to go this weekend.’ One day she called and said ‘I bought you a plane ticket. You’ll be going out to get my grandson this weekend.’ I was way irritated because neither Lisa nor Ms. P called to say that I had to come get him and he seemed to be having the best time ever out there. It was working for everyone. Apparently not my mother. I, being an obedient yet hostile daughter, drove up to Cleveland to catch my plane to Philly to ‘reclaim’ my kid. Little did she know that I let him stay with his grandmother until we boarded the plane back to Cleveland. And do you know that when I got back to Cleveland, she kept him for a little while? In the back of my mind I thought ‘well why didn’t you fly out there and get him? I could have been finishing up my projects for class!’ But I was smart enough to keep that thought in my head.
I saved this one for last because it’s my favorite memory. We took a seven-day cruise to the Caribbean in 1998. I was at the beginning of learning to live on my own terms and not feel bad about doing things that I like to do even if my mom didn’t approve. I would do things with her and Johnson on shore, but for the most part, I went out on my own a lot. We were up on one of the decks just talking, but this time was different. We weren’t talking child daughter to mother, but adult daughter to mother. It was in that moment that I realized I was my own person, not an extension of my mother. A year later, I bought a mother/daughter book and she wrote in it that cruise 1998 is when she realized I was a woman. Our conversations changed from that point. My reactions to some of her actions changed. We evolved. There wasn’t a struggle anymore for her to try to make me do things and in some aspects I didn’t care what she thought or felt about what I did. She respected my adulthood and I started listening to her advice more.
I have a lot more memories of my mom that make me laugh: Her video diary of my whole Prom weekend; her and Johnson piling four kids in a 1979 Firebird and driving back to Cleveland from Virginia Beach; ‘bachelorettes’ living on the lake; when she sent me to school on the bus with a full-sheet chocolate cake with mint icing for the Christmas party when I was in Mr. Austin’s class and pulling off like Speed Racer in the Firebird when I went to Leticia’s birthday party. Good, bad and ugly, I appreciate who my mom was and what she taught me and I’ll always love her. Happy Birthday, Ma.