This past week I flew halfway across the country for a family wedding. And of course, while I was there, I went up for a visit with my Mom.
Well, I went to sit with her for a while. Mom is in a home now, and she is in the latter stages of Alzheimer's, so you don't go up and see her expecting scintillating conversation. It's more a case where you sit with her and try to catch a fleeting glimpse of the person she used to be.
And when you haven't seen her in a while, and you know that this is probably the last time you ever will, it can be a sad business if you let it.
At one point, as I looked into her eyes, not seeing even a flicker of recognition, I started to tear up. She broke out of her trance and looked at me with a sort of scolding caricature of a sad face, and I could almost feel her saying "If you want to cry, I'll give you something to cry about."
It was one of her favourite "Motherisms". And she had a million of them.
A Motherism is one of those ridiculous but occasionally wise sayings that moms are always coming out with. I think we've all heard them. Maybe even used them. But it's only mothers who have to commit every one to memory, get every one down cold.
I mean, there's no adlibbing when it comes to Motherisms. How would it sound if you threw open the door and yelled out, "Tommy! Stop playing with that sharp stick! You'll put someone's teeth out."
All the other kids would laugh at poor Tommy. They know it's not teeth he has to worry about. It's eyes. You put eyes out.
And imagine the embarrasment little Melinda would suffer through if her mother told her not to play on the monkey bars " ... because you'll fall off and break a wrist!"
You don't fall off monkey bars and break a wrist - you fall off and break your neck.
(When I was a kid and my parents took me to a hospital for the first time, I thought the ward would be packed with kids who had broken necks or eyes put out. Seems like it was a slow week - the only kid in there had tonsillitis just like me.)
Mothers are great for advance warnings. They can sense impending disaster. When my mother would say, "This will end in tears" she was almost always right. That gave her a certain moral high ground from which to say, "Well, don't come crying to me." Which she did. But we went crying to her anyway. Even into our fifties.
There are Motherisms to cover just about every childhood dilemma. And they don't have to make sense. When I lost something, I would always get the classic "Why are you asking me? I wasn't wearing it", followed by "Where did you have it last?" and of course, "Well, it didn't just grow legs and walk off on its own." Taken alone and out of context, each of these is a pretty dumb thing to say. But as Motherisms, they work.
Speaking of dumb things to say, I'd like to meet the kid who actually answers "Yes" to the question "Would you like me to give you something to cry about?" But mothers still ask it, because they'd "... rather hear you cry than listen to you whine".
One of my favourite Motherisms came after a friend of mine suffered that most devastating of childhood tragedies, the death of her pet turtle. After the last rites were said and the turtle respectfully flushed down the toilet, this poor little child was inconsolable.
Her mother let her go on for a while, but finally had had quite enough sniffing and sup-supping. She turned to her poor, sweet, devastated daughter and snapped, "Enough already ... he wasn't exactly going to grow up to be Prime Minister." Short, to the point, tough but fair - the perfect motherism. (How could she have known that in another forty years, that turtle would look pretty good beside some of the other candidates we see for the office?)
My Mom doesn't spout Motherisms any more. She doesn't say much of anything, at least so you can understand. But there was a time when she could hold her own with any mother on the block.
But no more. And all I could think of when I kissed her goodbye and left the home that day was, "This will end in tears."
And how about that, Mom. It did.
Don't shoot the messenger, but Christmas is coming! Nils Ling's book "Truths and Half Truths" is a collection of some of his most memorable and hilarious columns. Send a cheque or money order for $25.00 (taxes, postage and handling included) to RR #9, 747 Brackley Point Road, Charlottetown, PE, C1E 1Z3