“Well, if your only reason for not going is because you’re scared, that’s not a good enough reason.”
This was the advice my mom gave me as I wrestled with the decision to accept a job offer and move from Illinois to California. Once again, mom had cut to the chase and pinpointed the exact reason for my hesitation. And she was right.
Mom had never been afraid of a challenge, usually seeing them as adventures to be embarked upon. My dad could come up with a long list of valid and logical reasons why something was an impractical idea but mom would blaze on ahead regardless. To dad’s credit, he chose to pick his battles and knew that it was often easier to just go with the flow.
When mom decided to go into the wedding cake business, we all went along, not that we had much choice. Often, every flat surface in the kitchen and dining room was covered with cakes in various stages of frosted completion. It was Hoarders meets Cake Wars. I’m sure multiple Public Health Department rules were broken hauling cakes around in the trunk of the car.
Get On The Bike
After her successful baking career she moved on to bicycling. This turned out to be a passion that lasted for over 20 years, with adventures all around the country. She told dad, “You can either get a bike and start riding with me or wait for me to get home.” Dad bought a bike. Occasionally, she went off to ride on her own or with her best biking friend, Sharon, and dad would catch up with them in the van.
Along with the cake business and the biking there were detours into antiques and canoeing. I can’t remember the exact timeline, I just remember vases, plates, paperweights and furniture coming and going along with a canoe that alternated between the garage and the top of the car.
Big City Bound
A zest for life and adventure had been with mom since her younger years. In the midst of WWII, at age 18, she took a train from Hannibal, Missouri to Washington DC to visit friends and ended up landing a job in the secretarial pool at the Pentagon. When DC was conquered, she moved on to New York City to work for TWA and continue the wild, crazy single life.
When mom passed, we found several old photos of her with friends, seated around tables at various nightclubs in Washington and New York. She and her girlfriends, dressed in their best, and the men all in uniform, partying like there was no tomorrow. The photos were in cardboard holders with nightclub names on the cover: The Fraternity House, The Palms, The Del Rio. It was the original Instagram only without the instant. Rather than a quick, soon to be forgotten upload, these were solid, tangible souvenirs that have stood the test of time.
When I was 13, mom and I hopped a Greyhound bus and went off to relive the glory days on the East Coast. To say it was an adventure would be an understatement. While in DC mom decided a car would be the best way to get around so she called a boyfriend from 1944 who now ran a Cadillac dealership. She used her maiden name to get past the secretary and the next day we were being chauffeured around in a red 1974 Eldorado convertible. Apparently mom had made an impression on Joe that still held weight after 30 plus years.,
We stayed with mom’s old roommate Mary Elsie or when enough drinks had been consumed, “Melsie.” One rainy Sunday morning Melsie talked mom into skipping church and lounging in bed drinking screwdrivers all day. After a few drinks, I became the default bartender. Church missed and cocktail mixing lessons, those are the childhood memories you don’t forget.
Eventually, she met dad, in many ways her opposite and settled into a Midwestern family life. He provided stability and she provided the adventure. And the five kids. She was the neighborhood mom who would load up the station wagon with as many as could fit and go sledding in winter or to the lake in summer. Meals magically appeared from seemingly nothing, the cookie tin was always full, dresses were sewn at home and vacations always included some element of adventure, be it horseback riding or river rafting.
Not Far From The Tree
She was not perfect and at times she could be more Mommie Dearest and less June Cleaver. Her comments could cut you to the quick. When my spouse first met her she immediately understood from where I’d inherited what she called the "snappy gene."
They say you really don’t know what it is like to be a parent until you are a parent. I never understood why making dinner every day was such drudgery, how much laundry kids created, why mom worried about us or why at times she must have felt frustrated and tied down with all of her adventures behind her.
Bouncy Houses, Beaches and Brownies
I now understand all of those things and more. I don’t know what my kids will remember about me but I hope it is the trips to the beach, bouncy house visits, overnight backyard campouts and brownies warm from the oven. I hope they remember several years of legendary haunted houses in the garage. Or the time I wrestled one of the boys over the couch, shattering a glass vase in the process and then laughed about the whole thing. I hope they remember being taken care of when sick and hugged when sad.
I hope they remember more of the adventure and less of the snappy gene. Perhaps there’ll come a day when one of them will be faced with a tough decision and I’lI say, “Being scared is not a good enough reason,” and send them off on their own adventures.
Regina Stoops is a comedian, writer, MS Warrior and Autism Mom living with her wife and three kids in the San Francisco Bay Area.