Friday, May 22, 2015

Buttons - by Patty Mooney

I inspected myself in the mirror, staring at the blue plaid jumper, white blouse and maroon tie that comprised my Catholic-school uniform. I was in the second grade and already tired of the same old outfit day in, day out. My one foray into autonomy was the baby-blue beaded cashmere sweater my mother had given me on my seventh birthday. I slipped it on, reveling in its softness, the simple sophistication of the beading and pearl buttons which caught the light. I modeled it in the mirror, smiling to myself, taking great pride in something a true princess would possess.

“Patty, hurry, you’ll be late for the bus!” my mother called with an edge to her voice. I hurriedly did up the buttons of my sweater, and ran into the living room to collect my school books and bagged lunch. My mother gave me a hug and a kiss, and with a loving swat on my backside, she sent me out into the cool autumn day. I hurried down to the end of the block to the bus stop. The big yellow school bus was just coming into view as I arrived. Whew, I had made it in time once again.

“Hi Patty!” the bus driver greeted me, manipulating a lever to operate the door. He was a congenial man, the essence of “fat and jolly,” with a ruddy complexion and a happy smile.

“Hi, Mr. Wakowski,” I said. As shy as I was, the friendly driver always put me at ease and I looked forward to seeing him. Sitting down on the empty seat just behind him, my attentions were divided between the suburban Chicago tract neighborhoods outside the window, the back of Mr. Wakowski’s head, and his happy countenance in the wide rearview mirror.

Within fifteen minutes, I had bid Mr. Wakowski good-bye and was lining up with all the other students in the school yard before the first class of the day. The school bell clanged steadily like a fire alarm for ten seconds and the body of students moved into the school, dispersing into various classrooms.

I felt flushed and warm inside the school building. When I got to my class, I peeled off my sweater and placed it next to my lunch on a rack in the cloakroom. Combing my hair with my fingers, I strode to my desk. And the school day began.

It was nearly lunch time. A wave of pain hit me. Despite my reluctance to bring my discomforts to the attention of Miss Higgins, I finally gave in. When the pain became too harsh to ignore, I stood up and walked to the front of the classroom, something I would never do under normal circumstances, a thrilling momentary departure from the norm.

“Miss Higgins,” I said, clutching my stomach. “I have a bellyache.” I heard one of my classmates giggle. Then I knew I should have said “stomach ache,” which was a much more sophisticated way of putting it. Dismayed that I now appeared to my classmates in a foolish light, another wave of pain suddenly wiped out all feelings except for itself and I knew I was going to faint.

Miss Higgins grabbed her chair, dragged it to me and sat me down on it. “Why, Patty, I believe you’ve got the measles,” she said.

I forgot what happened between that point and the moment I realized I was lying on the plastic couch in the nurse’s office awaiting a cab that would come for me and take me home. The prospect of riding in a real taxi excited me -- a princess getting chauffeured all by herself. But that thought did little to assuage my vision of my sweater and my lunch on the rack in the cloakroom. It would be there when I returned tomorrow, I promised myself. Too tongue-tied to ask for my things -- the thought was too radical to even conceive, it was probably that moment when I released my prized possession to the universe.

When I returned to school a week later, bedridden much longer than I had bargained on, of course the sweater and lunch were both gone. When I asked Miss Higgins about it, she said to ask the Principal’s secretary, to check the Lost and Found. When I asked Mrs. Reeper, the Principal’s secretary, about my sweater, she shook her head. No one had turned in anything fitting that description.

I took the loss of the sweater hard. Who would have snatched it? Why had my most prized possession been taken from me? Even now, four decades later, I think tenderly of it. Although it would not fit me anymore, and I have no descendants to whom I would have given it, I recall its feathery softness, the beaded patterns, the cool pearl buttons, the impossibly baby blue. It resides in memory more crisp and monumental than if it had gone the way of all my other children’s clothing, passed down to my sisters, then donated to the Salvation Army.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Big Rock, Chocolate and Sex - by Patty Mooney

Mark and I hiked up toward Big Rock. The sage and manzanita tickled my legs. We followed a single-track trail that took us higher and deeper into more sage, more manzanita.

“Chocolate is my favorite sweet,” I told him. “Sometimes I just go on what I call my Chocolate Diet, and eat nothing but chocolate.”

“But how do you keep that trim figure?”

“Oh, I pay for the use of the chocolate. I get plenty of exercise. My two favorites are bicycling and sex. You can burn a few calories with a good hot session of either.”

My mother used to embarrass me by the outrageous things she did and said. What I now realize is that she was set up by society in her youth to believe she had to get married and have six children. Being Catholic, she had no choice. When the Catholic “drug,” or nerve gas, began wearing off well after her sixth child was of school age, she had a nervous breakdown. Instead of controlling her life, life had spun her out of control into a direction she never intended nor desired.

She unhinged herself in an effort to find who she was, buried deeply within herself. She became caustic for many years.

Chocolate is a drug my mother felt safe to take. I knew where she kept her stash, up inside her clothes closet in a paper bag. It gave me a certain smug satisfaction to see that she was not perfect, that she had secrets to hide, like me.

Chocolate is perhaps the closest to sex a food can come. Was chocolate her way of reaching orgasm? I never heard Mom and Dad “do it,” even when I made an effort, ear to the heating duct leading down to their bedroom.

I knew of six times they had “done it” for sure. But it was not a topic they discussed with us, their six children.

“Hurry, Patty, we have to hurry to reach Big Rock before sunset.” By now the manzanita and scrub oak were battling us, leaving scratches on naked skin.

“Almost there!” Mark announced. We clambered up a mossy boulder, trekked around it, and Voila, there was Big Rock.

No wonder he called it “Big Rock.” It was.

“Let’s go!” He bounded up it like a monkey boy, and sat atop the rock, smiling down at me.
My eyes were not used to spotting the subtle footholds, so I took my time, paused, considered and waited, held my breath.

“Breathe, Patty. It helps to breathe. You don’t want to fall, do you?”

“No way.”

“So you won’t. Believe you can do it, and you will. But hurry. The sun’s almost at the horizon.”
I hugged the rock wall and stutter-stepped up, baby steps. My weight held. I did not slide down the face of Big Rock into the impervious manzanita below. I made it up to the top, next to Mark, on the rock throne facing west as the sun touched the mountain range.

“I have something for you,” Mark grinned. He handed me a magic wand, a rainbow star mounted on a stick tied with silk ribbons. “For you to remember love.”

High on love and the day Mark and I had shared, my magic wand mysteriously vanished by the time we had returned to the car.

By the time I realized the wand was gone, our car was hurtling halfway down the mountain back to San Diego.

We didn’t return to Pine Canyon for a month, during which time a fire raged across the slope leading to Big Rock. Most of the sage and scrub oak were gone and the once glossy red manzanita dotted the area like fat black skeletons. The magic wand was gone, perhaps the catalyst that had incinerated this power spot.

I was disappointed and did not yet realize the magnitude of offerings one needs to make to our Mother Earth, even involuntary ones like the wand.

When you take from Mother Earth it is right to give to Mother Earth. That way, the circle of a happy life continues.

The wand was one of several offerings I have made, involuntarily each time, with a protracted struggle to retrieve the beloved item, then a sigh releasing each one to the universe.

There was the beaded cashmere sweater stolen from the cloakroom when I was a seven-year-old Catholic school girl; a heart-shaped opal from Mark which slipped off my gold chain at the foot of Tres Cascades, a powerful Tahitian waterfall; an amethyst stone, the gift of a medicine man, that fell out of my pocket at Machu Picchu; and the Crazy Horse pin which popped off my jacket at Pine Canyon after I steered off a cliff on my mountain bike and came to a soft landing at the base of the only tree--an oak--in the vicinity.

Mother Earth has my tastes in ornamentation. I have found that she also savors M&M’s, cabernet sauvignon and scraps of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on whole wheat. I am conscious of Mother’s place in my life. Without her I could easily become a mental and physical wreck, lost, stressed out, depressed. I need to feel her presence around me for my happiness to shine out from within me, like sunlight. I hope it touches others, too.

What would any of us do without her? Where would we be without plants and trees and the sounds of birds and running streams?

Just before Mark and I departed for our first travel adventure together, to New Zealand, Fiji and Tahiti, what would turn out to be our first grand “honeymoon,” he presented me with a magic wand like the first. It stands in a special vase in the altar of my bedroom where I can see it and remember our cache of shared memories. It reminds me of fire’s cleansing nature, the adventures Mark and I have enjoyed, the presence--and presents--of Mother Nature, her exceeding patience with humanity as she teaches by being.

No matter what we humans do to her--create negative and painful situations, abuse ourselves, each other and her--she springs back. I have no worries about her. Fires, tornadoes, hurricanes and tidal waves are her nature. She has been around a lot longer than we have, an entity of slow metabolism and vast intelligence. Her true nature is love. Can ours be anything less?

Friday, May 15, 2015

What if It Was a Woman's World?

I have been going through some of my mother's old paperwork ever since she passed away a couple of years ago.  Today I found this mimeographed print-out called "What if it Was a Woman's World?" written by "JFR" back in 1976.  I wish I could lay claim to it, but JFR wrote it and handed it out to my sister's 5th grade class all those decades ago.  It made me think about how those students might have reacted to reading this, and what their thoughts would have been.  In reading it, I wondered how our world has changed, if at all?  Have we broken out from the bonds of male-female indoctrination?  You be the judge. - PKM

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Mother's Day at White Beaver Dam - by Patty Mooney

This is one of the funniest videos I have had the occasion to post here or anywhere. The adorable Tammy and her daughter, Aiyana, joined Mark and me at one of our favorite watering holes in the San Diego outback on Mother's Day last weekend. For reasons that I will not go into any further, Mark and I call it the "White Beaver Dam." In this video, hilarity ensues as Tammy loses her footing, and then her glasses. She is a natural comedienne, and I just wanted to share this with all my friends in the blogosphere to pep up your Friday afternoon.

Something else worth mentioning: We had taken Aiyana and her dad (my brother, Joe) to White Beaver Dam on the Saturday before Mother's Day. It was their first time there, and Aiyana loved it so much, she wanted to surprise her mom with a day at White Beaver Dam on the next day, Mother's Day. We all splashed around in the water and had so much fun laughing with each other, it was really quite a remarkable day.

Unfortunately, White Beaver Dam will be practically dried up in the next month or two, as San Diego is in a drought and that's what happens to many of our water sources during the summer - they dissipate.

Enjoy your weekend, everyone, and make sure you get plenty of good laughing in!

A Mother Is Not a Person to Lean On - by Patty Mooney

Mother Feeding Infant, San Diego Children's MuseumImage by cleopatra69 via Flickr
"A mother is not a person to lean on, but a person to make leaning unnecessary." ~ Dorothy Fisher

This is what my mother did for me, and she did it early in my life. I was never destined to camp out in my parents' home throughout my twenties and thirties, as many young people seem to blissfully do today. Some of these "kids" don't even bother helping out monetarily with rent or groceries or helping out around the house. They communicate with their parents only when they need something - an iPod, a computer, a car. Most of my friends who find themselves catering to children who are dug in like ticks, live their lives for tomorrow.... "I'll be happy when "Jake" can go out and find a job and afford his own place." Until then (whenever that will be, since it's up for Jake to decide) no cruise to Alaska, no holiday in Tuscany, no candy apple Porsche for Daddy.

These folks have put many dreams and desires on hold in order to raise children. It was my mom who showed me the truth of motherhood, after she had six of us and realized that she hadn't wanted children in the first place. There was a point when she just stepped back and stopped doing everything for us. She allowed us to figure out how to do it for ourselves.

I appear in this month's Psychology Today (January 2010). Mine is the first story in a photographic essay entitled "Mommy Damnedest." After coming across the piece, a woman from Minnesota wrote me an email asking for a few more details about my mom and my upbringing. When I told her I had not yet seen the article, she was kind enough to scan it and send it to me. It was a little unsettling to see how everything I had talked to the reporter about in an interview of at least an hour had been whittled down to the most "sensational" of quotes. My mom came off a bit uncaring and callous.

The kind woman from Minnesota shared her thoughts: I guess I was drawn to your story and that article for a few reasons: one, as a school psychologist, I thought: Oh, if only those people would have received the mental health services they so desperately needed," plus obvious warning signs of depression and/or other mental illness that were missed, etc. etc. Another reason I was drawn to it was as a daughter, I feel like my own relationship with my mother was complicated, but seriously ~ kid stuff in comparison. And finally, as a mother, frankly it's comforting to know that even though I am not perfect and my little ones try my patience, at least I'm not THAT bad.

What had my mother done that was so bad, you may wonder?

She called up a reporter with the Detroit Free Press and explained to him that she was tired of doing everything for eight people. She was retiring from motherhood. Her story hit the front page of the Women's Section on Mother's Day of 1974.

I wasn't surprised to see the article, really. There'd been a run-up to that moment of many years as my mom had banged her head against the glass ceiling before people even acknowledged that one existed. She wanted to return to work and had been a nurse prior to marrying my dad and having six children. When she jotted down "mother" on the job application forms, she was dismissed by every Human Resources person in the city. This really pissed her off. Her point was that all the work she had performed as a mother was perceived as worthless by social standards.

My dad sometimes used to joke that "You couldn't get out fast enough" when I left home at 18 to pursue college. And then a couple of years later I hitchhiked to California with about a hundred dollars in my pocket, intent on forging a future as a writer. There were a few scary moments. I was homeless for a brief period of time in San Francisco until I could find work and earn enough money for rent. I became "street-wise," learning how to read people and avoid dangerous situations. If it were not for my amazing typing skills (120 words a minute) and the ensuing secretarial jobs I found, who knows what I might have done? (Thanks Mom, for encouraging me to take a typing class at high school over the summer, and for buying me a typewriter - a Smith Corona, if I remember correctly).

Some will cast my mother in a dark light for not being a stellar example of motherhood. That she was not cast in the mold of a perfect mother does not bother me. Neither was I, except I thankfully did not have to take a path I did not want to tread, just because society dictated that I must. My mother was not so fortunate. At least she did not react to it the way poets Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton did; both asphyxiated to death by their own hand. No, my mom stood and fought social mores, and she stood alone in her fight. Even now, 35 years later, she may catch a little flak about this Psychology Today article but if I know her, she will revel in it, as she still thrives on controversy and proudly stands up for her beliefs.

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Friday, May 8, 2015

Mother Resigns, Learns How To Be Selfish - by John Askins

In honor of Mother's Day, I decided to reprint a piece by Detroit Free Press Staff Writer, John Askins, that was originally published on May 10, 1974, about my mother. I posted this on my blog two years ago but I believe it bears repeating.

"Mother's Day is over," the woman said over the telephone. It is the title of an anti-motherhood book, and she knew it was, and she wasn't even calling about Mother's Day, actually; it just sort of worked its way into the conversation.

She called because she wanted equal time on a story the Free Press ran about depression. Why should a man tell women about depression just because he was a doctor and supposedly an expert? she asked. Why couldn't she, as a woman who was sometimes depressed, be an expert, too?

"And what was she depressed about?" she was asked. Motherhood, for one thing.

For her, Mother's Day is over because she has decided to resign her position. Her children and husband are no longer allowed to call her "Mother" or "Margaret;" now she's "magi." With a small "m" because "I'm still a baby." And no last name.

She said she has found a judge who is willing to grant the name change but first she must complete certain legal steps which she was a bit hazy on.

"See, I take one step at a time, and I don't know all the ramifications of what I want to do. But I'm gonna do the first step, which is to type out my paper and then take it back there with the birth certificate and my marriage license to prove I was who I say I was, and to change to who I want to be."

She is 53, or will be in a couple of weeks, and she has six children, the oldest 18, and she has realized for a couple of years that she "resented having to feel responsible for other people's lives." She had thought that being a mother and wife meant doing things for the others; now she decided she was going to do something for herself because it seemed she had lost her identity somewhere along the way.

Over the phone she sounded bright and aggressive and a little squirrelly, but in a nice way. She described herself at one point as "the biggest bitch I know," and she seemed to veer back and forth from patting herself on the back to feeling guilty and wanting reassurance. It hasn't been easy, she said.

"When you say you're gonna be selfish and you're gonna look after yourself it sounds terrible, doesn't it? I have to learn how to be selfish."

She said marriage almost ruined the relationship between "the man I live with" and herself. She is still married to him but feels "psychologically divorced," she said.

"He can do his thing and I can do mine. And in order to do mine, I have had to cut myself away from both my father and the man I married and say, 'I will stand under this one banner: magi.' A four-letter word.

"It sort of evolved, from Margaret to Margie to finally -- there was something in the Bible about the wise men, the gift of the Magi, you know? So I'm playing with words. But it's a technique for me to get out of the lock-step. And it's working. The only people I have trouble with are the driver's license people and where I register to vote."

She tried to get the others to pitch in on the menial work around the house, using cajolery, coercion and money, but when they don't, she just lets the clutter and dirt accumulate, she said, and when it gets too bad she goes out and does "something that makes me feel good."

Mostly that seems to mean going to public meetings and seminars, writing letters and doing other constructive work to correct social problems. One gets the feeling she does this as much for the sense of self-worth it gives as for the sake of the cause itself.

"The thing that's frustrating me," she said, "is that I'm sure I have a talent. If I could just channel it in one direction, I could -- I could carve my name someplace or other."

When Magi made her big announcement to the family about how she was tired of doing all the dirty work, the response was a kind of collective yawn. They didn't believe she was serious, apparently, and they didn't seem to get the point; she has had to make it without their support.

She has had to learn to say no when her inclination was to say yes, and has had to learn to make deals: If I do this for you, what will you do for me? Sometimes when the pressure gets too great, she leaves rather than staying and fighting. She thinks that's cowardly, but at least she's not giving in.

"American women just don't know how to be selfish," she said. "I have to do it consciously, and then it seems kind of contrived, you know?

"But I have to do it, to get out of this lock-step I've been in, because I've followed those patterns for so long, doing the things a good mother should. You know, there's so many 'shoulds' laid on us... and if we try to live according to somebody else's 'shoulds' we get lost and then we start deteriorating and when it's too late we're called senile.

"I don't think I ever really wanted to be in this position, but it was the thing to do. Get married, have children. In retrospect it was stupid, making carbon copies of yourself and feeling like a god but not getting all of the benefits of a god.

"So I finally was able to say I hated these roles. And nobody put me in jail or killed me for saying that, and the kids are still living, they're eating well, they're healthy and strong, we love each other, we hate each other -- young people learn from the whole community, not just one female.

"When I was playing mother, they hated me. Oh sure, they were quiet and obedient, but they hated me. I was taking away some of their options, their right to think and do for themselves because of this terrible desire to do things for them.

"Let them wash their own damn socks. They'll be better off."

And happy Mother's Day.

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Friday, May 1, 2015

The Prophetic Dream of My Grandmother - by Patty Mooney

My Grandmother, Salome (pronounced Sa-Lome' and not Sa'-La-May) was a very strong-minded and religious woman born to Polish-German parents on a farm in Alpena, Michigan. The only book she ever read was a little Polish missal she had with a photograph of her mother on the front leaf. She was an active censor of any books I happened to be reading when I was a child, and there were a few that ended up getting thrown away. Once I remember I was reading a Nancy Drew mystery, "The Ghost of Blackwood Hall," I believe, and when she spotted it on the dining room table, she picked it up and asked me if it was about the Holy Ghost.

"Um, uh, yeah," I said, "Yeah, the Holy Ghost." So I was able to save that one from the flames. But she didn't even want us reading the Holy Bible, as the Old Testament was filled with such shameful behavior.

I later would think how ironic it was that her name was Salome, and my grandfather was John, as in Salome the dancer who called for John the Baptist's head on a platter. Grandpa died when I was still an infant, so his early demise somehow paralleled the Bible story. Grandma Salome would rather have been a nun; she made that very clear to everybody.

There are quirky things about her that I fondly remember. She used to bake this extraordinary bread that had cherries in it. The scent rising from the oven would titillate and intoxicate everyone in the house. A warm slice of that bread with a big slab of butter on it certainly overrode any negatives feelings I ever harbored about Grandma; in particular, the time she literally washed my mouth out with a bar of Ivory soap for talking back to her when I was 12 years old.

She was a big fan of Johnny Cash and Billy Graham. She also adored spooky movies and let me stay up late to watch them with her. She prayed on her rosary constantly. I'm not talking worry beads here, where you mindlessly meditate on "God is great" or something. I'm talking about every small bead calling for the full "Hail Mary" prayer, and then the five big beads (spaced between every ten small beads) demanded the full "Our Father." She would spend hours praying on her rosary and if you were anywhere in the vicinity, that meant you would be corralled into kneeling down and joining her. (Looking back, maybe all that time on my knees is what sowed the seed for the Total Knee Replacement I would need forty years later......)

Grandma had this dream once which she shared with me. There was a flood which rose up and swallowed up all the people of the world. Then the river and all the people began to turn black. She prayed on her rosary and just before everyone had turned black, the tide changed and everyone turned white again, and the floods receded. I don't believe this was about race whatsoever. This was a religious dream which is actually pertinent to today. Our economy is the flood that is about to drown everybody in negativity. People are losing their livelihoods, their homes, "turning black."

In Salome's dream, all it took was the positivity of one person to start a paradigm shift, turning the tide, and making life worth living again. One person today who energizes people with hope is Obama, our new President, who is using his energy to help us all. I see this paradigm shift as the one way that We the People of the World can use our collective energy to rise out of these economic and environmental floods. We must not let ourselves get sucked into the mire, like that horse in "Never Ending Story" named Artex, who could not lift himself out, and thus perished. We must learn how we can help each other as a community, and if we need to go back to the way things were before corporations, technology and space travel, then so be it.

We have to learn to be a love-based society and not a fear-based one. I believe that the majority of Americans, and the world, want to dispense with the fear-mongering. With hope we can accomplish anything.