By Sally Lehman
My Mom taught me how to fold sheets and iron pillow cases and measure flour with the dipping method, and how to pinch the edges of a pie crust to make it bake pretty, and how to hammer a nail and hang a picture and paint a wall, how to swaddle a baby and change a diaper and repress bad memories because we don’t talk about those kinds of things, and how to not cry or I’ll give you something to cry about young lady, and how to bite the webby part of my hand instead of screaming because when things are just too much and I can’t stand to live with it all anymore, no one else should find out. She taught me to be ashamed for thinking sad thoughts and how to avoid people I dislike and how to hold a grudge for years, and how to sew and crochet and work if I have pneumonia because the phone company doesn’t give a shit that I have pneumonia. Mom taught me how to drink a gin and tonic and how to make a decent cup of coffee, the kind that will rip a stomach apart after three cups, and how to order a glass of wine at a restaurant when I was only sixteen. And how to pretend I was asleep when a crazy drunk person woke me up at 3 in the morning to say they are sorry for every single little thing they might have ever done ever.
My Dad taught me to shut the fuck up already.
My Mom also taught me to hold my head up, chin out, no matter how out of place and lonely I am, and how to look a person right smack in the eye when I talk to them. She taught me to look just the right way to the make children do what I tell them to do, and that I should be ashamed for taking antidepressants every day because it made her a failure as a parent.
My Dad also taught me that it’s not possible to whistle with a mouth full of dry saltine crackers so I should crumble most of those crackers behind my back because cheating is fine when the competition is family at a yearly picnic. He taught me how to slide a joke in to derail an uncomfortable conversation and how to be the designated drunk driver.
I taught my Dad that when I looked him right in the eye he could see my Mom in me which made him back out of whatever confrontation we were starting into, except I couldn’t look Dad right in the eye until after I was all grown up and until after he had married wife number three who I only really tolerated.
I taught my Mom that a baby doesn’t need to be swaddled when it’s ninety degree outside, and that you have to pick your fights when kids are the opponents because otherwise all of your life is a fight.
I also taught my Dad that when we had those long silences on the telephone, I wasn’t going to always be the one that filled them, that I could outlast any silence longer than he could, although it took twenty-eight years for me to get there.
I also taught my Mom to not freak out when her two-year-old granddaughter says fuck in the produce department at Safeway because it will just give the kid the reaction she was looking for and make her say it again and again and again. Of course, I first had to take Mom away from the shopping cart and calm her down before I could tell my daughter that the word was inappropriate for little kids to say, which meant there was a whole lot of fuck being said next to the cellophane wrapped lettuce that day.
I taught my daughters how to sing the ABC’s in English and French and sign language, and how to make chicken fried rice and a better than decent Alfredo sauce. I taught them to be strong and independent and to have opinions about things like politics and literature and art.
My daughters taught me that no matter how much I love someone, in their eyes I will never do anything quite completely right. And that strong, independent, opinionated women are willing to look their mother in the eye and tell her everything they believe she’s done wrong.
I also taught my daughters that no matter how stubborn they thought they were, I would always have twenty-plus more years of stubborn than them. And to leave me alone when they pushed me from yelling to silent because anyone can yell, but I don’t know what I’ll do when I’m pushed to silence.
My daughters also taught me that there is no such thing as a perfect parent.
Sally Lehman’s stories and poetry have been published in several literary magazines, most recently The Coachella Review, Perceptions: A Magazine of the Arts, and The Gravity of the Thing. Her novel, In The Fat, was released through Black Bomb Books in 2015.
On Being Human
Join Jen in Western Massachusetts at Kripalu
March 2 @ 7:30 pm – March 4 @ 11:00 am
For women and non-gender conforming humans.
Get ready to become more free as you tell the truth about who you are and listen fiercely to others doing the same. Get ready to create what it is you truly want for yourself. This program is an excavation of the self, a deep and fun journey into questions such as: If I wasn’t afraid, what would I do? Who would I be if no one told me who I was?
Go beyond your comfort zone to explore what it means to be creative, human, and free—through writing, asana, and maybe a dance party or two! Jennifer’s focus is less on yoga postures and more on diving into life in all its unpredictable, messy beauty.