My mother is not the same mother she used to be. That's a good thing.
Growing up in Ontario, our life was chaotic and to say my my mom was crazy and unpredictable back then is an understatement.
Not that my mom didn't have reason to be crazy. First she had us twins and then a too short fourteen months later, she had my youngest sister Annie, all while she worked as as a waitress at the local Chinese restaurant and moonlighted at Circle K.
Add into that equation my good natured but alcoholic, barfly father and you get it, right?
We were latch key kids (before they called it that) and most days after school we parked ourselves in front of the TV watching "CHIPS", "What's Happening Now", "The Brady Bunch" (reruns) and "Good Times". At around five p.m, we tensed up because my sisters and I never knew whether it was the good or bad mother coming home.
My mom always stopped by Mayflower Moving Company where my dad worked to make sure he was done for the day. The "good" days were when my mom found my dad at work or on his way home. On those days, she acted like Carol, the mom on The Brady Bunch. She complimented us and asked about our homework.
When she couldn't find my dad, we knew right away. On these "bad days", she walked in and screamed at us for not doing our chores and yelled about my dad. A typical rant went like this. "That mother fucker. I know he's at the bar with that shithead loser Johnny Reitner."
Then, after she threw some plates or furniture, she kicked us out of the house. We got used to it and it was almost a relief to be able to leave and go hang out at the small park that was next door to our cul de sac.
One such "bad" day, I remember my mom yelled at us to "get the fuck out". We ran out the back door as she pulled at her hair and muttered to herself. "You're mother hates you," my neighbor David taunted as we walked past his house. My always braver twin sister Jackie flipped him off as we skipped down the street double dutch style, my little sister Annie in tow.
A few minutes later, like clockwork, my mom drove by the park in her brown Pinto station wagon. I could tell she was still upset by the way she turned her head. "Girls," she screamed from the window of her car loud enough for us to hear her across the park, "I'm going to go find your fucking father."
"No shit", Jackie said and we laughed and mimicked my mom as we pushed Annie on the swings. I pictured my father sitting on a bar stool wearing his Mayflower uniform swinging his beer glass in the air, happy to be away.
The waiting was the worst part. My mom always tracked him down and eventually we would see her car as she followed his battered blue pick-up down "D" Street past the park. Soon enough, my mom yelled for us to come home. What happened next depended on how drunk my dad was.
If my dad was only slightly drunk, they would go get us a pizza or McDonald's and my mom talked to us in her nice voice, the crazy person gone. If my dad was drunk drunk, we went to our rooms and listened as they screamed and yelled at one another.
My sisters and I paid my parents back tenfold for all the chaos by being unruly and delinquent teenagers. We drank and smoked at an early age, cussed them out, ditched school, stole their cars, and shoplifted.
We put them through hell.
My mom clearly doesn't understand karma because she talks about our teenage years with amazement and is still surprised that we were so awful.
Through the years my mom gradually became more mellow. She is different. Much different. Especially since my father died four years ago of pancreatic cancer. She is calmer and dare I say it, almost sane.
Sure, she has an occasional bad day and doesn't handle stress like a car breaking down well, but she doesn't get that crazy look in her eyes anymore, the one where I can't recognize her. Maybe it was having young kids, working too much or mental illness. Or maybe my dad was the trigger. I am not sure. All I know is that she is not who she was.
I think the scary mother of my childhood is gone. I say I think because I can never really be sure.
My mom comes over every Sunday to have coffee and we sit and read the paper and watch Hallmark movies on TV. There is none of that old tension, no bombs about to go off. So I am pretty sure that was then and this is now.
Regardless, my mom cannot waitress much longer and is moving in. Next weekend, I am painting her room a bright optimistic yellow,