My mom and I sometimes had a cantankerous relationship. Because she was a cantankerous lady. And I am a cantankerous lady. She was also a bad-ass broad, and she tried to teach my sisters and I to be bad-ass broads, too. I am hoping that she succeeded, at least a little bit.
I thought of my mom this morning, because when I woke up, I could tell the day was going to be very hot (108 degrees, baby); and when I came down the stairs, I could smell the ripe cantaloupe on my kitchen counter. My mom's kitchen always smelled like ripe cantaloupe on hot summer days, because cantaloupe was one of her favorite fruits to buy in the summertime.
And I loved summertime at my mom and dad's house. There was no school and -- being that my mom was not "into" signing my sisters and I up for activities (the exception to this rule being swimming lessons, because my mom was a bad-ass life guard in her youth) -- summer was always very relaxing. My sisters and I would eat cantaloupe and watch the soaps with my Nana (who lived across the street) and read books and walk our dog and clean the house once a week. My mom was a stickler about having us clean the house once a week, which was quite fair and all, as we really didn't have to do much else, as far as chores went. We did clear the table, but we weren't allowed to load the dishwasher, because -- according to my mom -- we would inevitably do it wrong. We also washed the dog and cat bowls after they ate. And we would put our laundry away after my mom folded it and laid it out on the kitchen table for us. We weren't allowed to do our laundry, either, because my mom said that we would inevitably overflow the drain field (there were no sewers where we lived), and she was probably right about that. We were also expected to keep our stuff cleaned up, as my mom was very tidy. All in all, a pretty light amount of chores, I'd say. So, summer was very relaxing.
And that was so AWESOME, because I am a rather high-strung person in my nervous system, and I HATED school. I just HATED it. I went to Catholic school, where none of the teachers knew how to teach math, because they were all humanities majors. So, I sucked at math. Both because the teachers had no clue as to how to teach it and also because I had no natural talent in that area. I finally started to understand math when I was about 12 years old, but that was A LOT of years in which I suffered through the whole thing at Catholic school. I also sucked at science, probably also because the teachers were all humanities majors and didn't really understand science, themselves, let alone know how to teach it. In high school, I did well in both math and science, but it was a public school, where the teachers had actually majored in the subjects they taught (mostly, anyway). I also hated Catholic school because we had to wear wool skirts, no matter how goddam hot it was. And there was no air conditioning, or even fans, because -- in those days -- Catholic schools had no $$$. Now, Catholic schools charge people like a gazillion dollars a year, so I take it that maybe they can afford air conditioning (or fans, at least.) Maybe they can even afford teachers who know how to teach science and math. I bet Catholic schools still kind of suck, though, especially for people like me. I am an INFJ, and Catholic schools and INFJ's don't really go that well together, I don't think. Also, in the winter, it was goddam freezing in that school, because the boiler was always broken and my parents couldn't afford the "official" uniform sweater, so I wasn't allowed to wear my regular sweater (which was even the right color), even though there was no heat and it was goddam freezing in that school. I would be all shivering, with goose bumps, but did the humanities major teachers allow me to wear my regular sweater (which was even the right color)??? No. No, they did not. Because it was against the rules. And in Catholic schools, the rules are fucking EVERYTHING. I was so happy to go to a public high school, where I was treated in an actual Christian fashion by my secular humanist teachers. Thank God for secular humanist teachers. (Okay. To be fair, many of my public high school teachers were religious, but very few of them were Catholic. Thanks be to God.)
So, as you can see, summertime at home with virtually no activities and attire composed of shorts (which my mother sewed for us) and halter tops (which my mother also sewed for us) and cantaloupe eating and swimming in bikinis (which my mother allowed us to wear) were actually Heaven to me and my rather high-strung personality.
One of my favorite activities in the summertime was playing with the Barbie swimming pool. This was a lovely and relaxing game for me and my high-strung personality, because it was so mindless and involved Barbie, who I could always relate to. Why could I relate to Barbie? Not so much because of her magnificent boobs, but because she was -- in those days -- also bad at math. SO relatable for me. I actually thought that when I became a teenager, I would grow boobs like Barbie, so that ended up being kind of a disappointment to me, but those are the valuable lessons that childhood games teach us.
Anyway... Back to the Barbie swimming pool game.
When I was a little girl, my dad built a little deck/patio in our back yard. And when it was sweltering hot, my sisters and I ate some cantaloupe for a snack after our swimming lesson, and then we were allowed to fill the Barbie swimming pool with the hose and have our Barbies go for a swim. We weren't allowed to fill the Barbie swimming pool with actual water in the wintertime, because... Well, duh... Wintertime. But, when the thermometer went over 90 or 100 degrees in the summer, we were allowed to use actual water. And we had great fun having swimming games with our Barbies. One of my favorite games was to pretend that one of the Barbies was drowning and having another Barbie rescue her. We thought up this game after observing the life guard at swimming lessons.
Another wonderful Barbie game (that could be played in any season, because it was an indoor game, not involving water) was "Earthquake." My sisters and I would devise a makeshift townhouse in one of our baby buggies. This baby buggy would not be mine, of course, because I was the oldest and knew that this game was not really good for our buggies. My youngest sister didn't allow her buggy to be used for this purpose, either, because she was wise beyond her years. That left the townhouse to be devised in the buggy of our oft-abused middle sister, who was really nice about it. She is actually probably the brightest of the three of us, but is also the most generous. After devising the makeshift townhouse in our oft-abused middle sister's ill-fated buggy, we would arrange our Barbies in it and pretend they were hanging out at home, unaware that tragedy was about to strike. Then we would shake the buggy back-and-forth and up-and-down and scream and yell, pretending the "Big One" had hit. Living in the San Francisco Bay Area, we were always hearing about the "Big One," and it seemed like an idea that would make an amazing Barbie game. And it did. Eventually, the middle Argenti sister's buggy would sway back and forth every time it was pushed, even when it was being pushed in a simple linear fashion. My sister didn't really like this development, but -- being that I was kind of a douchy older sister -- I think I convinced her that it was actually really cool that the buggy swayed like that.
So, as you can see, summer was AWESOME at my house, when I was a kid. It was fun and relaxing and SO incredibly un-demanding. I wish more kids had the opportunity to experience this kind of summer. I hated it when school started again. And I have my mom to thank for this. Thank-you mom for all of those wonderful summers. I am so grateful that the bright sun in the sky this morning and the smell of the ripe cantaloupe in my kitchen reminded me of this gift. I hope you are having a great time up in Heaven, partying it up with Chris Bruno's mom.
Oh, and here is one more cool thing my mom would do in the summer. She always read her book after lunch, and she would read it aloud to us, if we wanted to hang out in the living room and listen. These were "grown-up" books, and I so much enjoyed hearing them. One of them was Rose Kennedy's autobiography, which is so much fun! If you haven't read it, you should, even though it is old and doesn't talk about Joe and Jack's affairs. I am quite sure Rose knew about them, because she was the farthest thing from an idiot, but she told her story sans all the crap. And it is delightful! I actually had my kids read this book when they were growing up, and I think they all enjoyed it. And they learned a lot, too. Because -- after all -- there really is more to the Kennedy family than Joe and Jack's inability to keep it zipped. And those good things need to be remembered. And Rose was a DELIGHTFUL story-teller. I bet Rose and my mom and Nancy Bruno are all up in Heaven, partying together, as a matter of fact. Another book that I remember my mother reading aloud to us was "The Making Of A Surgeon." This was a book written by a surgeon, and the title is fairly self-explanatory. I found it all so fascinating and actually thought about becoming a surgeon, myself. Which I didn't, because it involved WAY to much math and physics. Even though I was a biology major and was, actually, fairly proficient in math because of my non-Catholic high school teachers, physics was never really my bag. But, the story this guy told about his journey to becoming a surgeon was incredible, and I so much enjoyed it. So, the lesson here is that you should read books to your kids that aren't necessarily kids' books or even the classics. Pop-culture stories can be quite educational and memorable for children.
Rest in peace, Mom. And thanks a million times over for everything!