SHE WALKED LIKE SHE WANTED IT

One evening near my fifteenth birthday, I was summoned to stand before the Kitchen Tribunal.  My mother was there;  recently widowed, understandably shell-shocked, and exhausted by the demands of a fragile household and three needy teenagers.  Also in attendance were my two older brothers, their adolescent snickering temporarily pushed aside by the weight and severity of the matter at hand, which was this:  A few days earlier, an acquaintance of  theirs (several years older, a bit snarky, and appropriately enough, named Dick) had driven past me as I crossed the Market Street Bridge, then reported to my big brothers that their little sister walked like she wanted it.   The family was solemn and disapproving;  the kitchen smelled of fried egg sandwiches and scandal.

Well, I was affronted!  I was mortified!  I was. . .intrigued.  So after clearing my good name with Mom and the brothers, I retreated to ponder this new development.  I turned it over in my mind:  She walked like she wanted it.  Those words couldn’t possibly apply to me, a self-described wallflower and slow starter who hadn’t yet learned how to flirt.  I mean, I certainly knew what IT was, but I wasn’t sure I wanted IT anytime soon.  To be honest, IT was a little scary.  Besides, exactly how did I walk like I wanted it?  What was happening back there that I didn’t know about? 

Therefore,  I turned to my cultural icons for clues.  The men on Gilligan’s Island (even the Professor!) were dumbstruck each time Ginger walked by, but I’d have described my walk as more . . . Mary Ann-ish.  And there weren’t enough Underalls in the world to make my back porch swing like Ann-Margret’s.  But in the privacy of my room, I had to admit I kind of liked knowing something about the way I walked caused Dick to take notice.  Is this what made Aerosmith’s Walk This Way such a dirty song?

Conveniently placed bamboo conceals Gilligan’s interest in Ginger’s leopard skin swimsuit.

Until that moment, the only womanly walk I’d ever analyzed was my mother’s.  Her long legs moved with quick, purposeful strides.  “Keep up, Lisa!” she’d insist as we rushed from store to store each Saturday morning, trying to get our shopping done before some deadline (Yes, I grew up in a world with downtown stores but no Amazon.com.). 

Mom also instructed me on how to walk like a lady.  “Move your legs from the hips, not from the knees, Lisa.”  And because I tended toward pigeon-toes:  “Point your shoes forward, Lisa.  Don’t let your toes turn in when you walk.”  I assure you, Mom was not being critical;  back in the day, it was a mother’s duty to teach her daughter the finer points of being a woman.   How ironic that the very walk my mom worked to cultivate in me would one day attract the attention of boys like Dick.

I never managed to duplicate my mother’s walk, though.  At 4′ 11″ inches tall, I just don’t have the equipment to cover ground in the same fashion.  Now 79, Mom still out distances me step by step.

But as I made my way through the mall recently, I couldn’t shake the eerie feeling of being stalked by my Great Aunt Lois (May she rest in peace.).  Great Aunt Lois was smart and generous, a veteran school teacher with a no-nonsense attitude, a woman esteemed by the family at large during my formative years.  Great Aunt Lois’s walk, however, was nothing like my mother’s. 

The Grand Dame was short, stout, and plagued by arthritis.  She waddled stiff-legged from here to there with knees and hips that moved like rusty gears.  I imagined her carrying an oil can in that oversized handbag on her arm.  And whoever was caught climbing a flight of stairs behind Great Aunt Lois had better not be in a hurry;  coaxing those creaky joints to rotate in such a manner was a process that simply could not be rushed.

And so it was Great Aunt Lois’s walk that followed me  past each store window— in the form of my own reflection.  Nowadays, I walk like I want some ibuprofin and a nice, long, soak.  And since he’s a grandpa now, I’m pretty sure Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler walks this way, as well. 

Dick, too.

And such, friends, is the walk of life. 

~lisa

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NOTES ON MY DAUGHTER’S BIRTHDAY

The story of how our daughter came into the world is the stuff of family legend—mainly because I didn’t know I was having a baby until she was halfway here.  And there you have it.

 Now, I’d never thought of myself as an especially clueless woman.  And it’s not like I was a naïve teenager; I was approaching 27 on the day I discovered my condition, and my husband was closing in on 34.  We’d been married for nearly five years.  In my defense, my early symptoms were quite mild and a previous professional diagnosis had indicated I might have trouble getting pregnant without medical intervention.  Ironically, I’d gone to the doctor that April afternoon to discuss the possibility of fertility treatments, and it took about five minutes for him to determine there’d be no need.

 My mother describes the moment we told her our big news as something out of an episode of I Love Lucy—me with big, surprised eyes and Scott talking in quick, confused, broken English.

 Four short months later, I sat on my sofa listening intently to the clues my body was giving me:  Was that a contraction?  Was today the day?  I’d misinterpreted the signs once before; I’d be damned if I’d also be one of those women who went to the ER complaining of food poisoning only to watch a baby come shooting out.  Nope.  I just knew my doctor had written somewhere on my chart too stupid to be a parent, and if I messed this part up they’d never let me take the baby home from the hospital.

 But there was a happy ending; the actual birth was smooth and uncomplicated, they did let me bring my adorable, big-eyed, baby girl home from the hospital, we raised her to young womanhood and sent her out into the world.

 I like to think there are two births to celebrate on August 8th—a beautiful child was born, and so was a mother.  I was transformed on that day.

 Prior to my daughter’s birth, I thought of motherhood mostly in terms of the warm, fuzzy moments:  lullabies sung and stories read and boo boos kissed all better.  Those were the moments that made me feel like a mommy.  What left me breathless was the intensity of motherhood, the absolute ferocity of my feelings regarding the child.  Such depth of commitment, such intense worry, such absolute joy!  Nothing else I’d felt before then came close.  How many days since then have my first thoughts upon rising and my last thoughts before bed gone out to my offspring?

 Motherhood filled the gaps in my relationship with my own mother.  Suddenly I understood so many things that once I’d disregarded glibly!  It also entered me into immediate sisterhood with other moms.  It’s a sorority that spans not only the races, but the species as well.  We know.

 Moreover, becoming a mother made me want to be a better person!  With little eyes on me and little ears nearby, there were bad habits to break and questionable behaviors to reform.  I cleaned up my mouth, thought more carefully before expressing my opinions, gave consideration to the kind of environment to which this little person would be exposed.  Motherhood affected my commitment to marriage, my approach to teaching, my cooking, my attention to the law, my community spirit, and my world view.  It taught me to put the needs of others before my own, to empathize, to sympathize, and to think outwardly rather than inwardly.  In other words, motherhood is molecular.  Ask any mom.

 Twenty-four years have passed.  A son was born 21 years ago and reaffirmed all that I’d learned from having a daughter.  And I’m still learning from motherhood.  Even though we bring children into the world with the goal of one day launching them out into it, when the time comes it’s harder than might be expected.  The hands-off-and-mouth-shut stage of motherhood is no easier than the stages that came before.  But it’s every bit as joyful!  Again, ask any mom.

 My daughter and my motherhood turn 24 today.  And I’m happy to say we’re both just fine.