The parent trap

February 22, 2016
I felt the rage bubbling up from my toes, like fiery, spitting lava poised to take over the unsuspecting, sleepy towns below. No one in the meeting saw my point; and my point was more than just valid, it was the resolution. I parted my lips and a harsh bite of passive-aggressive participation lurched out before I could retrieve it. I had to neutralize the situation quickly. “I mean, I guess I don’t know what I’m talking about, really,” I continued without thinking, “They treat me like a mushroom; keep me in the dark and feed me shit all day.” That was the first time I realized I’d grown into, not just my father’s daughter, but my father.
When I discuss my folks with people who’ve never met them, I really try to offer a description that does them justice.  They are the revenue-generating leads in a daily reality show on a station that not enough people get, in my opinion.

Dad is the love child of Frank Barone and David Letterman. He’s that guy who remembers jokes that take 30 minutes to tell and has an analogy for absolutely everything in his back pocket at all times. Some of my favorites include, but are not limited to:

We’re off, like a herd of turtles.
That went over like a pregnant pole vaulter.
I’m finer than frog’s hair.
[When someone toots] Your voice sounds different, but your breath smells the same.
Even a blind hog finds an acorn every once in awhile.
Like a fart in a skillet.
And that’s the name of that tune.

The funny thing is, even though he’s said each of these (and so many more) one-liners at least a trillion times, my mom still giggles like a smitten girlfriend every single time he says them. It’s one of the reasons they’re so magical together.

While the guy can be endearing and light-hearted, he also has a short little fuse that’s always on the brink of imploding. Don’t get me wrong, my father is a gem. He would give you the shirt off his back, but take our Friday night euchre games, for example. He is always one trumped ace and one ask of who led what away from a controlled cursing fit. His hair gets a little wispy and his eyes get loose and agitated and he lets out an exasperated sigh and JC-bomb in one impressive, labored exhalation. On occasion he throws a little chuckle in with the exasperation to let you know he’s annoyed, truly, but it’s all in good fun. When I would come home from college for holiday break, I would inevitably call Rog at 2 o’clock in the morning to retrieve me from the neighborhood watering hole. The drive home would be a delicate dance of him harnessing his annoyance and me quieting my drunken verbal diarrhea. But always by the next morning he was retelling the early morning events with a forgiving twinkle in his eye. He’s like a giant Sour Patch Kid and I find it best to just bite in and enjoy the sweet rather than dwell on the pesky sour pellets.

He’s a beast of habit and brutally defensive, which is pretty tough when you’re dealing with our immediate family; a cast of unforgiving sarcastic smart asses. He despises being critiqued and that’s pretty much all we do when we get together, laughing hysterically at the expense of each other, one sibling or parent at a time. But above everything and anything else, Dad is a protector. He didn’t get involved often when I did ridiculously stupid things growing up, but when he did it was because I scared him. He loves big. He was a writer. He makes me laugh. He drives me crazy. He doesn’t settle for “good enough”. He is the example I measured every man against in my younger days.


On a 70-something degree day, with the windows down halfway, an unapologetic force much greater than myself entered with the sunshine and filled the car. It overtook my limbs – gaining control first of my left foot, then neck and finally my right hand, which began patting in a rhythmic cadence against my thigh to the 90s pop beat. I was humming and tapping and abandoning any regard for street cred or general stoplight decency. That was the first time I realized I had grown into, not just my mother’s daughter, but my mother.

If you take everything I wrote above and flip it from black to white, you have my mother. Of all the people in this world, I think she gets me the most. To help paint the picture, I’d say she’s a hybrid of Lucille Ball and Nora Griswold (Clark’s mom). She trips over blades of grass and has fits of laughter that literally paralyze her. She likes to snap her fingers, tuck her lips in tight and shake her ass to Cher and Dolly. She’s patient and curious and unbelievably supportive. I often call her the Olivia Pope of mothers because the lady is a fixer. Give her a land line, internet connection and a pair of magnifying glasses and she will doctor up your dilemma in 30 minutes flat.

My mom was never the mom who french braided my hair and threw incredible theme parties. That’s just not her. She’s a buyer, not a crafter. She would never come clean my house but she’d sure as shoot find someone to come do it at a great price. She showed me that it isn’t necessarily selfish or cutting corners to outsource the tasks you don’t enjoy. Sometimes it’s just a prescription for sanity and more quality time with your friends and family, and that’s more important. She makes a mean ass potato salad, never sweats the small stuff and starts at least 2 of her hypochondriac-ridden sentences every time I talk to her with, “I was reading this article, and …”.  I can’t imagine my life without her if for no other reason than she laughs at all my ridiculously dramatic stories. The biggest joy is watching her with my kids. I can’t imagine anyone better suited to be a Grammy and the girls simply worship her.

The stories I could tell you about this gal … like the time she wrote a heated letter to “President Busy” (a type-o meant to be “Bush”) … or when she ran through a field screaming in horror over the snake relentlessly pursuing her (her shoelace) … or the time she attempted to clear a horse jump on foot, hooked her toes and face-planted on the other side … would all make you wet yourself, but it’s all just part of the charming package. No one laughs at her quirks harder than she does and it’s taught me that spending time feeling embarrassed is a tired waste of feelings.

I have her hands. JoJo has her hands. I love that I see part of her with me every day and as I type this post.


So, why the sap-soaked love letter to my folks? Well, it all started the other day when my brother sent a picture of Mom. She was helping him demo some walls at a building they own and, though he told her not to use the crowbar, she did, got it stuck in the wall and lost her grip as she struggled to remove it, falling to the ground. Typical Marilyn. Instead of helping her up, my brother took a picture of her first to document yet another graceful display from our beloved matriarch. Typical Matt. The image tickled my memory and reminded me of how I misjudged the location of my desk chair just the day before and fell to my knee before rebounding. “You guys,” I’d said, “I’m turning into my mother.” And it occurred to me that we’re all just slowly, day-by-day, trait-by-trait, habit-by-habit, fall-by-fall, becoming our parents. Maybe we always were our folks, but we hadn’t really settled into ourselves enough to see it until now.

Somewhere between my first exasperated rant to my own children about the simple act of turning off a light when they leave a room and the sixteenth time I torched dinner on a busy weeknight, I learned to stop grimacing about the progression, and start giggling. I mean really, there are worse things. Actually the things my mom used to do that mortified me as a cocky teenager are now the most endearing to me as a mother myself. And it’s not like I can deny it. I’m blinder than a bat (Mom), I curse like an old pirate barmaid (Dad) and I have no grace at all (Mom). There has to be some advantage in knowing what all those traits look like 30 years from now thanks to them. I have a crystal-clear view of what’s coming – every stumble, every rant, every handicap.

When I warned my folks this post was coming, their responses were as predictable as a crotch clip on America’s Funniest Home Videos. Mom just laughed and made some comment about falling down all the time and Dad sighed in anticipation of the impending character attack. When I offered more of an explanation of the premise in an effort to calm his concerns, his eyes stabilized. “You’re talking about the parent tape,” he said. “Sure.” I responded. “It’s the idea that you’re exposed to these mannerisms and words in such a constant frequency that eventually they infiltrate your own mannerisms and words.” (He knows a little bit about everything and his mind is a steel trap = another reason I love my dad.) Exactly. So science has beat to the punch here. Those intelligent bastards.

Evidence from the past few years would suggest that my particular parent tape has officially infiltrated my camp. The changing has commenced. From telling the same story 3 times to the same person, always with the same gusto as  if the events just transpired, to demanding to see Jeopardy so I can make fun of the dweeby college kids, I am embracing the transformation to a full-fledged version of the people who raised me.

And it doesn’t stop there. I see winks of my parents in my JoJo. I can actually picture the torch of traits being modified ever so slightly and then passed on to the next klutz in line. Poor girl. Never stood a chance.

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1 Comment

  • Reply libby February 22, 2016 at 3:48 am

    your dad’s analogies really can’t be beat!!!!

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