Last Saturday night, I took part in Nashville’s inaugural show of Listen To Your Mother. Ours was just one of 32 performances across the country. Each show pulls together a bunch of women and puts their words out into the world. (Learn more about it here)
1 night. 13 women. 13 stories. Standing up on a stage. Over 500 people in the audience. It was a thrilling, nerve-racking, oh-shit-what-have-I-agreed-to adventure. A little something to shake life up a bit.
At some point there will be videos of all the stories shared that night. Powerful stories, Hilarious stories. The stories of my cast mates, those are the stories I can’t wait to share with you. I’m still trying to figure out how I fit into a crew of such badass women. Parts of my piece may look familiar. I give you……
Mothers, Daughters, and Girl Balls
Today is parent-teacher conference day. The day I cover my tattoos and act like I should be in charge of an impressionable young life. As if I’m not past 40, still love a good fart joke and drink milk from the carton. I keep my fingers crossed that I’ll hear glowing things about my kid.
Instead, I find out my Girl Wonder is failing English because she didn’t turn in several writing assignments, is disorganized and sometimes talks too much. That last part I was perfectly aware of – the rest of it blindsided me.
By saying that my child is failing, it as if the teacher’s saying that I’ve not done my job and my kid is one step away from wearing an orange jumpsuit and sharing a cell with a bald woman named Mertle who axed her husband to death.
The teacher chatters on about how I need to “create an environment conducive to learning”, and inside my head, I’m chanting… just wait until I get home.
Back at home….. I’m in full on pissed off mode, ready for a serious conversation. I’m in my battle gear – which really just means I’ve taken off my bra so I’ll have full lung capacity for our little chat. What I wouldn’t give for someone else to magically show up and deal with this shit. I call Girl Wonder into the kitchen.
“Sit” I tell her, pointing at a chair. She looks nervous. She knows I know. She knows she’s in some deep shit and she’s trying to figure out just how deep she’s buried.
I’m the only parent here I tell myself. Be firm. Stay calm. Then I fly into a white-hot fury – my hands flying like a jacked up orchestra conductor. Because I’m Italian and my hands serve as backup for my mouth.
I yell. About lying. About integrity. About a lack of responsibility. I yell about all the time I spend chauffeuring her across town. I yell about the money I’ve spent on “cool” school supplies, music lessons and the over-priced Converse that were just the right shade of off-white. I offered to let her pay the mortgage, and buy the groceries.
I yelled about working – 8 hours of my day that are pure drudgery – so I could make a home for her, for us.
She sat there. Wide-eyed. Shrinking.
“You’re gonna end up living in van down by the river. Eating expired Vienna sausages. Sleeping under a stained Snoopy sheet which you only have because you were dumpster diving.. That’s what happens when you can’t get a job because you failed school.” I wave my hands at the rusty blue van, it’s flat tires sinking into the mud of the sewage filled riverbank. “This!” I yelled. “This is where you’re going to end up. I can’t always be here to pull your van out of the mud!”
I realize I’m seeing – not a teenager who didn’t turn in a paper – but myself. Myself at 12. At 20. Myself – last week, this morning. Afraid of mistakes and taking risks. Afraid of looking stupid. Settling.
She’s looking for a place to hide. And my anger snaps back at me like a live wire. Jagged. Ugly. My temper drowning out what I’m really trying to say. I love her. In that inexplicable, unconditional way a mother loves her child. Because my skin made her skin. Because my heart didn’t miss a beat until her’s was beating beneath it.
I sit across from her at the table and lower my voice. “I’m sorry I yelled. In my head – not turning in your papers, failing class – it’s one step away from moving into a van down by the river. It’s not really about the paper. It’s about me believing in you. You have amazing stuff in your brain and I don’t want you to waste it. This is about having balls. Girl balls.”
I’m met with a shocked “Did my mother seriously just say the word ‘balls” stare. She did grasshopper. She did.
“I’m talking about tapping into your inner Rocky Balboa. Your girl balls are in a pair of combat boots. A dress that twirls. They’re power. Courage. An ass-kicking, take on the world, hear me roar, nothing can stop me, I can do it swagger.
Even when you’re scared. Or worried that you’re gonna look like a complete imbecile for standing up and being different.
They’re for English papers. And plucking violin strings.
They’re for holding on through big, scary moments in life and for saying words out loud that make you nervous because you don’t know where they’ll take you but you have to say them because you really need to ask for help. Things went off track. It happens. But we gotta put it right. Suck it up. Write your papers.
Girl Balls kiddo – it’s time to strap ‘em on. I’m strapping mine on and wearing them until you’re at least 30. Let’s not repeat this conversation at school. I am so not ready for another conference.”