Rhea’s Rules

Dandelion

No matter how old a woman is, no matter what kind of relationship she had with her parents, there are certain life events that compel her to call her mother. Sometimes, it’s to celebrate. Sometimes, it’s to complain. Sometimes it’s simply to say, “Ha! I told you so.”

My own mother has been dead for almost twenty years now. Even so, I still catch myself reaching for the phone when something fabulous or funny happens, thinking “Mama will get such a kick out of this.” When I touch the phone, I get jolted back to the here and now from the there and then. I don’t know what number to dial anymore.

Shortly after my mom died, I met Rhea Thomas. Rhea became my surrogate mom and dear friend until last month when she too passed away. Rhea had a certain set of life rules and in her honor I am going to share them with you now.

Ask for what you want. Rhea developed this into an art form. I’ve been with her in a restaurant and she somehow got the waitress to give her not one but two of the tea pots they used in their service. And here’s the kicker, the waitress apologized that they had not gone through the dishwasher, but she assured Rhea that she had personally rinsed and dried them. I was paying for lunch and all I got was a lousy receipt. Though I’m only sharing a couple of examples, it happened all the time.

Don’t get me wrong, Rhea was not pushy and did not act entitled. She didn’t beg. She often didn’t even ask for something, just commented how much she would love to find one just like it for herself. Boom! Gifts falling out of the sky from total strangers. Have mercy on your soul if you owned something with the Galo de Barcelos (the lucky Portuguese rooster) on it. She adored the lucky black roosters. Absolutely had to have them.

We were both realtors and one day on Tuesday Tour (the day realtors look at all the new listings) we went into a house that had a Portuguese rooster table cloth. (Awww Jeez. Here we go.)  Rhea started complimenting the home owner on her table cloth and reminiscing about Portugal. We left, finished touring houses that day, and that was that. Except it wasn’t. The homeowner took that table cloth, washed and pressed it, and told her listing agent to make sure that Rhea got it. Asking for things without actually asking was definitely one of Rhea’s superpowers.

If you didn’t get what you wanted the first time, ask again. Persistence pays and Miss Rhea was nothing if not persistent. I knew her well enough so that if she asked where I’d gotten something, I would just hand the item to her. It saved us both a lot of time and I did not mind.

It’s in the basket. Rhea made things pretty in her home. She loved baskets. We had a running gag. Whenever I asked her where something was, she’d reply that it was in the basket. Which basket? There were dozens. She had baskets for shoes, for paperwork, for reading material, for make up, for lap blankets. Her refrigerator was organized with wicker baskets, condiments in one, leftovers in their own, canned beverages in another. She wrapped her spare rolls of toilet paper in pretty wrapping paper and stored those in a basket. The lesson here is that you deserve to live in beauty and it’s not expensive to do that. Live with what pleases you and your home will be a happy sanctuary.

Pick your team. Surround yourself with calm, competent, trustworthy people. If you need help, drama queens will not do. Choose your friends, your doctors, everyone who enters your life by invitation, very carefully. Surround yourself with people who lift you, appreciate you, and will be there for you when you need help most.

If you were not designated as a member of Rhea’s team, you could talk until you were blue and she’d just nod occasionally. Unless you were fond of watching her nod, you might as well have been speaking to a cinder block for all the attention your words were going to get. Go buy yourself a bobble-head doll. The lesson? Save yourself confusion and heartache. Only listen to the people who truly have your best interest at heart. Everyone else can go pound sand.

Show up for life. Some days it’s hard to get motivated. You feel like hiding under the blankets. Let’s be honest, perky rarely happens naturally. But Rhea believed that you had a contract to fulfill. You had to show up for life. You didn’t have to do much once you got there, but a basic effort to participate was required. You’d be surprised how much goodness can happen when you leave the house.

We had a friend and co-worker, Barbara Tinsley, who had cancer. Twice. It ended up killing her, but not before cancer took her teen-aged daughter. So if anyone had earned the right to curl into a fetal position, it was Barbara. I visited her one day and she told me that many a day she’d be lying in bed feeling defeated, and she’d remember Rhea’s rule, “You’ve got to show up for life.” Barbara would drag herself out of bed, get dressed, and show up at the office. Once there, she’d feel better. It helped.

So if you don’t take any other rule of Rhea’s to heart, follow this last one. It will make a difference. It will improve your circumstances. Good things will happen. While you still can, make sure you show up for life.

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(You may be wondering why I chose a photo of a dandelion to illustrate this piece. Rhea was a dandelion. She was bright, cheerful, dependable, strong-willed, and she bloomed wherever she landed. A dandelion is a fine thing to be. It’s a compliment.)

New Column at Blue Ridge Country Magazine

My latest column is on the streets now in the May/June 2015 issue of Blue Ridge Country magazine.  It is also online in the digital version.  This column is entitled “It Takes A Village” and once again, I was lucky enough to get Joseph Mackereth to provide a lovely illustration to support the piece.  The link to the column is:

http://blueridgecountry.com/newsstand/mill-creek-stories/it-takes-a-village/

In the Mother ‘Hood

trophy for writing

My two nieces just left to head home to Tennessee. They were here visiting me for ten days. Truly, I deserve my post-niece visit coma. I don’t want to imply that my nieces are disobedient terrors, they most certainly are not. I am just not accustomed to being “on” for 18 hours a day, answering questions like I’m competing on Jeopardy, feeding, organizing, chauffeuring, cleaning, managing, protecting, listening, et al.

I started calling my younger niece by a Japanese-sounding nickname, Ken-i, because every sentence she uttered for ten days, all two million of them, began with the words, “Can I?” Holy crap, how do parents do this full-time? Are people given extra-strength, military-grade vitamins the rest of us don’t have access to when they become parents just so they can keep up with their kids? Are they getting regular intravenous injections of super-strength Red Bull? Does the childbirth process give you some sort of motherhood gene mutation so you can hear things whispered five rooms away, cover a quarter mile in three steps, and parse out food for two into seven satisfying portions? If you are parenting and doing it well, you deserve a freaking medal. I mean that. A freaking gold medal.

I am not a parent. I did not get the “mommy chip” embedded in my brain at the factory. The concept just never appealed to me. I have never once asked to hold someone’s baby. If you’ve got a puppy, I’m all over you like crispy on Southern fried chicken, but babies? Not so much. I have never goo-gooed baby talk. I don’t get it. Never did. Still don’t.

I must make an announcement. To all those people I met during my life who, even without knowing me very well, declared it an absolute certainty that I would change my mind about becoming a parent: You were wrong. You were presumptuous, boorish, and most importantly, you were wrong.

My mom never really sold the job as desirable. Being a mother, according to my own mom, was difficult, heartbreaking, and chocked full of self-sacrifice and endless chores. By the time I was a teenager, I was convinced my mom was campaigning for honorary Jewish Mother status. I am telling you, she could have been a contender.

She didn’t mention an up side so even though it may have been inaccurately lop-sided, this was the view of motherhood I got during my formative years, kind of a donkey-meets-plough thing. Not pretty. Not much of a recruitment poster. So, I made certain that I did not accidentally dance the mama mambo by judiciously, obsessively, zealously swallowing a birth control pill every morning for forty years.

When you’ve had more than one gynecologist tell you that you have a “good, wide, birthing pelvis,” you tread lightly. When you’ve had multiple surprise “menopause babies” appear in your family tree, you get cautious. When you have a boyfriend insist that you must make babies together because they’d be gorgeous, you dump his ass.

My point is, parenting is not for everyone. It is not one-size-fits-all. It is an enormous, life-long responsibility requiring a particular set of skills and values. I know that you can learn some of these skills, but there has to be some desire and aptitude present. It is as silly to insist that every woman be a mother as it is to claim all men should be porn stars. Just because you have the equipment. . .well, you know what I mean.

If you are a parent and you are doing it consistently well, you are a god-damned national treasure. You should be recognized with a ceremony, and hoopla, plenty of hoopla. I don’t know how you do it. You must have reserves of patience, energy, adaptability, and motivation I can only dream of.

This isn’t much in the way of acknowledgment, but if you are a parent and you are doing it consistently well, I salute you. I applaud you. You are doing an important thing. You are a rock star. Now go take a nap. You’ve earned it.