A Morning in My World, 2015
I awkwardly maneuver my stiff, creaking limbs off the pillow top mattress, and then I stumble to the bathroom counter to insert my contacts so I can see walls and doors before I run into them. I pick up the remote control to turn on the morning news for background noise, unplug my cell phone from its wall charger, and power up the computer to leisurely scroll through emails and Facebook messages from scattered children and friends. I munch on a handful of heart-healthy almonds while my cholesterol-lowering oatmeal cooks in the microwave, and then I mix up a protein fruit smoothie in my handy dandy Magic Bullet. I do a little online shopping—and I even remember to log onto my bank account to check the balance before submitting my request to PayPal.
After an hour of sweaty exertion in my never-ending quest to massacre fat cells, I take a long, steamy shower, use the blow dryer and curling iron to style my graying locks, generously slather firming and lifting lotions and age-defying make-up into all those annoying little lines and wrinkles, whiten and brighten my fading smile with my electric toothbrush, and then spend more time than I’m willing to admit searching for clothes that will camouflage both my burgeoning belly and my bounteous booty. Then I leisurely stroll out the door. I set the car’s seat warmer on high, ask Siri for directions to my destination, and then tune into “70s on 7” on commercial-free XM radio.
I am old(ish), but I am relaxed and content. And as The Carpenters serenade me with “Yesterday Once More” and Barbra Streisand “lights the corners of my mind” with “The Way We Were,” I drum my fingers against the steering wheel, blast my scratchy alto for no one else to hear, and find myself reminiscing about those “good ol’ days” of long ago.
But do I really want to disconnect, unwind, and travel back to a simpler time? And did that simpler time even exist, or is it just a nostalgic figment of my imagination (and possibly yours, too)? How easy it is to romanticize and idealize the past, to judge it based solely on our favorite memories while conveniently overlooking the not-so-pleasant ones. It wasn’t all good (at least, not in my world), and even though the good is most frequently the main attraction on the movie reel in my mind, every once in a while some little something will trigger a very different memory, and I’m reminded that the “good ol’ days” weren’t always that good.
A Morning in My World, 1998
I sluggishly pound the sleep button on the alarm clock for a second time—just nine more minutes, please. Didn’t I just fall asleep a couple hours ago? I remember staring at the clock late into the night, aggravated with Zac’s habit of forgetting about math homework until bedtime, frustrated with my never-ending pile of papers to be graded, and worried about Lucas’s cough that seems to be getting worse. It’s not going to be a good day.
I hop out of the shower and catch a glimpse of flabby thighs in the mirror. I really need to start exercising one of these days. I grab a Diet Coke and Ding Dong before sitting down for ten precious minutes of relative calm and quiet while I listen to the morning news and pencil today’s “to do” list. And then breakfast is served—Fruity Pebbles or Pop-Tarts—take it or leave it—I don’t have time for anything else. I leave all three boys to wake up around the kitchen table while I try on and cast aside half a dozen outfits that are too tight, too big, too wrinkled, too recently worn—and then settle on outfit number one.
Fourteen-year-old Zac is in a panic because I forgot to wash his basketball uniform for tonight’s game (a make-up game I’m just now finding out about). I throw the uniform in the dryer for ten minutes to “freshen” with a couple Bounce sheets and assure him no one will notice. Ten-year-old Sam is upset because he can’t get his shoelaces perfectly knotted (all four ends must be the exact same length), he can’t get his hair perfectly styled (damn that little cowlick), and he can’t find the permission slip for today’s field trip. I re-tie his shoes (that’s close enough), smooth the cowlick with a spit-rub, and remind him I put the permission slip in his backpack last night. Six-year-old Lucas will be in a tizzy later when he can’t find his other shoe, but right now he’s still sitting in his pajamas in front of Cartoon Network—and still coughing. I check his forehead for fever (there is none), spoon him some more cough syrup, and tell him to get his butt in gear.
We head out the door—already five minutes late for the twenty-minute drive to school. After settling an argument on whose turn it is to sit in front (“We’re late! Just get in the damn car!”), I pop in an Eagles CD, hoping for a “Peaceful, Easy Feeling.” It doesn’t work. I crank up the volume, trying unsuccessfully to drown out the backseat bickering, and then opt for screaming and threatening instead. Two minutes of quiet are interrupted by Zac’s timid voice: “Mom, I forgot my math homework.”
I slam the car into reverse and fly back home, lecturing on responsibility—loudly and colorfully—the entire way. The rest of the ride is endured in silence, and three young boys exit the car with heads down. Twenty minutes later the school nurse calls to tell me Lucas has a fever of 102 and needs to go home.
I am frazzled and stressed and the worst mother in the world.
A Morning in My World, 1976
I bounce out of my lumpy, discount-store twin bed, and because I’m too stubborn and vain to wear my glasses, I stumble blindly to the bathroom across the hall. I glance into the mirror, where even I can see the puffy remnants from last night’s fight with my boyfriend. I put the stopper in the tub (there is no shower), bend over the side and stick my head under the faucet to wash my hair before climbing in for a quick bath. I run a comb through the tangled mess and leave it to dry on its own (there is no hair dryer), and by then my sister and brother are banging on the door.
I head to the kitchen where Mom is sitting in her navy blue housecoat, coffee cup in one hand and Alpine cigarette in the other. I pour a Tupperware tumbler of sugary cherry Kool-Aid and a bowl of preservatives-laced Apple Jacks (there is no microwave for a quick fix of anything healthier—which I wouldn’t eat anyway). Mom inquires about my swollen, bloodshot eyes, but what she intended as motherly concern I interpret as “none of your business” grilling, and one face slap later I stomp into the living room to pout in private (stomping and pouting being perfected pastimes of mine). I want to call my best friend to complain, but the only phone is hanging on the kitchen wall, and I won’t go back in there. I stare through angry tears at the stupid antics of Captain Kangaroo and Mr. Green Jeans on the only available television station before it’s once again (finally) my turn in the bathroom.
I don’t waste time on make-up (only old ladies wear that silly stuff in futile attempts to hide their age), and one last glance in the mirror reminds me I’m once again headed off to school with tears in my eyes and a stress headache building momentum between my ears—and fears that my first-period Algebra II test will suffer the consequences. But my tight t-shirt and hip-hugging bell bottoms reveal a flat stomach and a firm derriere, so at least I’ve got that going for me (priorities, you know).
I pull out an Encylopaedia Brittanica to check a few facts for my history report before grabbing my books and leaving the house, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge my mom’s teary goodbye—while feeling guilty for making her feel bad and then being angry with myself for feeling guilty.
As I spin out of the driveway, the Blue Moves advise me that “Sorry Seems to be the Hardest Word”; I punch the radio dial and then Roberta Flack is “Killing Me Softly,” so I slam in my golden oldies Beach Boys eight-track and let the “Good Vibrations” wash over me. On the way to school I stop at the Donut House where I supplement my cereal and Kool-Aid with half a dozen glazed goodies, hoping the added sugar will improve my mood, boost my brain power, and maybe, just maybe, provide enough calories to create those curves I desperately crave.
I am self-centered and miserable, but I ace the algebra test anyway.
When I reminisce about my teenage years, I typically think about date nights and impromptu dance parties, softball games and football rivalries. I think about girlfriends who stood by me, teachers who challenged me, and parents who didn’t understand me but who loved me just the same. And when I reminisce about my boys growing up, I think about the excitement of trophies earned at spelling bees and science fairs and robotic competitions. I remember the thrill of baskets scored, bases stolen, and races won. Most of all, I remember a house brimming with buddies and days overflowing with silliness and laughter and love.
So what if my mind glosses over the inconveniences and frustrations, the heartache and pain of days gone by? It’s not necessary to dwell on such negativity to know that sometimes I was a crummy daughter, and sometimes I was a lousy mother–but most of the time I wasn’t (and I hope my mama and my boys would agree). The “good ol’ days” may not have always been so good—but they were still pretty darn great.
Maybe not as great as today, but still . . .