I probably get my tendency to think long-term from my mother. She is always thinking ahead—I mean way ahead, like to her funeral. I know all her burial plans: She doesn’t want a wake, just a party; she doesn’t want a grave, just a big hydrangea bush instead. At 72, she can outsmoke Mad Men’s Roger Sterling, but despite her habit, she’s in very good health. Death, however, still lurks in every conversation. When I called her last week, our conversation started about a leak in her bathroom and ended with her saying she should sell the house because if my dad were to drop dead, she didn’t want to be in an old house worrying about a leaking bathroom. Her concerns are valid, but they also depress me, and I end up calling her less.
This week I let the calls slide by five days but it wasn’t just because I didn’t want to hear her stories I had my own Debbie Downer tales. Our vet thinks Chewie has liver cancer or Cushings disease both not cureable illnesses in a dog that’s 15. David and I have been annoying each other, so much so that when our voices pick up Conrad or Dashiell or both will say, “Okay guys, not everything has to be a fight.” Then the kids didn’t have school so I missed a day of work. Then I went on the fourth grade field trip to Sandy Hook and that night I served a bunch of homeless folks dinner at my church and then we had soccer and went to the maker faire where I got officially reprapped out… and then it was Monday I was driving home with Dashiell after his first drumming lesson and 24 balloons in my car for Stacie’s birthday and I decided to call her.
Immediately I could hear in her voice that she was annoyed. When my mom is angry but trying to be cool about it she stretches out her hello to sound like hellllllnooo. The emphasis is on the hell part as in I‘ve put her through hell by not calling and she drops her voice down a notch for the noooo part as in no you are not going to be able to make it up to me. I immediately apologized and also told her Dashiell was in the car so she knew she was on speaker. We talked a bit but with a kid listening in we found we couldn’t really talk about why I hadn’t called or what we were planning for Christmas (a constant topic of ours) so I told her I’d call her later.
Later came at 9:30 while walking the dogs. We had a kooky night because I lingered over a drink with stacie and her balloons so dinner was late and when I got home we found out that Conrad had a math test and Dash had also had homework which he did in his bed at 8:00 in tears because he didn’t have time to play and Chewie had peed on the floor and thrown up and….I was the one calling with a story sequence of sad, sadder and saddest.
I was launching into all the reasons I hadn’t called: the field trip, having to heat each meal individually in the microwave Friday night because the stove didn’t work and one of the men got so upset he was hitting himself on the head which was upsetting the other guests and now the vet thinks it’s Cushings which is actually better than cancer because there’s a drug but it may be super expensive and then I hear a clacking and banging and clacking and thumping.
My mom dropped the phone.
It takes at least three more clacks, and whirrs (the cord perhaps) and a little ding of the phone until she is back on.
“I dropped the phone,” she says.
“I know,” I say.
I’m about to launch right back into a rant about Conrad’s new nasty science teacher when I hear clang, ding, bang fumble fumble fumble again.
It takes a minute, but she’s back.
“I dropped it again,” she say.
“I know.” I start talking but I something’s not right she sounds really far away.
“You sound really far away mom. Is the phone okay?”
“Yes. It’s fine.”
“Are you sure?”
“Yes, its fine I’m here,” she says but it sounds like the phone is still on the floor and she’s talking into it while lying on the bed.
“I really can’t hear you…”
“Wait wait I know why, you can’t hear me. I’m holding the phone upside down.”
And there it is a contagious crazy moment between us. Me under a tree on the corner and her in her room with cigarette smoke and TMC in the background laughing so hard, I almost have to pee and I know really need to call my mother more often.