When I was a little girl, I told my mother that I was terminating our parent-child contract and would soon be looking for a replacement mother.
“You’re not my mom anymore,” I said.
She was furious, but I remained steadfast in my decision. I would be looking for alternative mothers in the near future.
Every woman I encountered after that was a potential candidate. I looked for qualities that I found pleasing and compared them to my mother, but every one of them came up short. It was with great reluctance that I decided I might as well be motherless.
As an adult, I realize that I should have been more forthcoming about my reasons for looking for a new mother. She had been on the commode, doing what people do on commodes, when I had abruptly (so it seemed) fired her as my parent. In reality, there was a series of events that led up to my decision.
My mother is a medical professional who deals with death every day. Over the years, she had detached herself emotionally from that sort of thing, and, when it came to teaching me about the facts of life, she did not sugar coat anything. Death scared me, though. I knew that people died, and I understood – thanks to her wonderful explanations – what it meant to be a dead body. But there was still so much I wanted to know about being dead. After I heard the news of a plane crash (the result of a terrorist attack in 1988) that left no survivors, I felt it appropriate to get more details out of her. I was six years old. I could handle it.
Mom was in her bedroom, in front of the mirror, getting ready for work.
“When you die,” I asked, “are you dead forever?”
“Do you know you’re dead?” I thought that a person retained their consciousness while dead. An eternity of being bored in a coffin did not appeal to me.
“No,“ she said. “You don’t think of anything. You just decompose until you’re nothing but bones.”
Bones creeped me out. I didn’t even like the idea that there were bones inside of my body that I couldn’t see, so the thought of becoming nothing but bones brought me to tears. My mother thought I was overreacting. When I composed myself, I continued my rapid fire questioning. Rather than realize that, perhaps, a little sugar coating was in order, she kept answering my questions in the same terse manner she always had.
“Is it only old people who die?”
“No,” my mom said. “Children can die, too.”
I thought of the Pan Am flight. “Did kids and babies die on the plane?”
That really upset me. All that time, I assumed that death only happened to the elderly! Now I knew that anybody could die. Wait, anybody?
“Are you going to die, mom?”
“Are you going to die when I’m still a kid?”
“What if you don’t want someone to die?” I asked. “Can they keep living?”
My mom laughed. “What, do you think people just keep living forever?”
That did it. Why on earth was I going to emotionally invest in a mother who may very well die at any moment? She was clearly not as committed to her job as a living mother as I’d previously thought! I was determined to find a mother who could promise me that she was not going to leave this mortal plane until after I grew up and presumably would not need a mother anymore.
I thought about it for a few days, and, while watching Annie (you know, the little orphan?), the idea came to me. If Annie could be adopted by a new father, then I could adopt a new mother to replace the one I currently had. When I could find no one I loved more than my mom, I decided that I’d better learn to take care of myself as quickly as possible.
Sometimes, I’d think about her dying and would cry under my blanket at night. She must have thought I hated her guts, but I really loved her very much and was too afraid of being without her not to have a Plan B.
I never formally re-hired her, though.
The family, circa 1982