Monday, January 2, 2012

All the Most Interesting People I Know Have Crazy Mothers

At least that's what I tell my kid when he shrinks in embarrassment at some harmless, slightly off color remark or gesture from me, when he asks to be let out of the car a block from school, when he won’t walk next to me on the street.  I guess he’s not concerned with being interesting.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m going to have to cash in his college savings for therapy, we can’t afford both.  The problem with crazy is that you can’t keep it in a box and only take the lid off for parties and St. Patrick’s Day parades.  I’ve tried.  My husband says that when we met, he spent a year trying to figure out if I was “just crazy or really crazy.”  Even a little crazy permeates the most carefully laid force field around whatever it is you’re trying to protect from its influence.  Even your kids.  Especially your kids, because those poor little buggers are the most lucid people on the planet.  They haven’t yet allowed skepticism and self-doubt to befuddle their intuition.  But what your kids don't know is that there are millions of degrees of mom crazy.  There’s you-wait-in-the-car-while-mama-goes-into-the-bar crazy.  I’m not that kind of crazy.  I’m more like I-forgot-to-defrost-the-chicken-so-we’re-having-potato-salad-and-waffles-for-dinner-again crazy.   So far, of the three, only one of them seems to notice that I’m a little off.  He’s always been observant.  He sees me more as Oh-my-God-I-could-hear-you-whooping-all-the-way-from-the-stage-during-my-recital-and-none-of-the-other-moms-made-that-much-noise crazy. His irritation is exacerbated by my husband pointing out the eccentricities and oddities that dot the landscape of our home life.  Secretly, he loves not knowing if I might toss on go-go boots for no reason.  Openly, he dismisses acts like that with a raise of one eyebrow... but his eyes are smiling. It's not like I wear them to the grocery store on a Thursday morning, or anything like that. I'm just not quite ready to throw them out, something I swore I was going to do after my 35th birthday.  I like to think of quirks like those as “happy little trees” à la Bob Ross.  My husband doesn’t always see them this way, nor does the boy.  I maintain that I am creating texture, albeit unintentional.  I am trying to have a nice, quiet life, but somehow I keep finding ways to perturb them.

Keep in mind, there is nothing chemically attributable about my brand of crazy.  I'm not unbalanced, and I didn't start out that way. I am a product of my upbringing (I am an interesting person, so no need to guess about my parents, who are also interesting people, and so on and so forth, on down the line...)  but I can’t exclusively blame my lineage.   I’ve been a waitress now for more than half my life.  Assume an average* of five shifts a week, roughly 50 customers per shift, 250 people a week, 52 weeks a year, that’s about 13,000 people a year for the last 20 years.  (*I’ve taken some breaks, but I also spent many years working doubles and/or 6 days a week)  That’s a quarter of a million people.   A quarter of a million...people.  If anything could make someone crazy, that'll do it. A quarter of a million people, each needing more ketchup, then extra napkins, then ice for their pink wine; some of them needing their hand held for the entire hour and a half they are under our care; proposals, breakups, anniversaries, birthdays; everybody's special, especially me; nobody's special, except me; cute babies, messy babies, mean babies; cute boys, messy boys, mean boys; lovely people, pretty people, sad people.  
Sometimes I dream of filling water glasses and picking up dropped forks all night long, and when I wake I’m exhausted. My boss reminds me that what we do is intimate. These people are vulnerable. They're hungry. They crave attention, and something good to eat. Even the ones that are unwilling to participate in a civil exchange that should be pretty simple, but isn't always, they came for a reason. They want to be nourished.  

Physically, I was built for this job.  I have strong legs, a strong back, sturdy (read: ugly) feet, and incredibly strong arms for carrying things to and fro.  I have good balance, decent coordination, and a pleasant smile.  In fact, the only physical trait that prevents me from being a perfect waitress is that I have no depth perception.  I am forever bumping into tables and chairs and looking for the top of the table with the bottom of the glass.  Usually, I find it sooner than expected, resulting in a slam! and the customer jumping from his seat in surprise.  “Sorry, I’ll be right back with extra napkins,” I murmur while my cheeks flush red.  Aside from that minor physical impairment, though, I really was made to be a waitress.  Mentally, not so much.  As much as I love the art of service (that pleasant smile is very rarely forced), be it fine dining, truck stop or casino, I remain inexplicably thin-skinned for someone who has been at it this long.  When I was young, I noticed that the lifers I worked with had a mental advantage over me that I attributed to their seniority.  Now I see it in girls younger than me, and I attribute it to their beautiful cockiness.  I take the work, and the resulting happiness of my customers, altogether too personally.  

I suppose I could find another way to make a living.  I'm smart. I went to college. I went to lots of them. The problem is that I really, really love my job.  I can’t think of anything I’d rather do, nor anything that would afford me the amount of time I have available for my family.  For a working mother, I have been able to spend a tremendous amount of time at home.  Another bonus is that after multi-tasking and prioritizing so many peoples’ needs for so many years, attending to the needs and wants of my own hatch is a walk in the damn park.  I can simultaneously help one with algebra, quiz another on spelling words while I wipe paint out of the baby's hair and make them all dinner without feeling stretched.   Besides, it’s not so uncommon for something you love to make you crazy, right?  Come to think of it, everything I love makes me a little crazy at times.  Maybe that’s what gives it the power.  The more I love someone or something, the more unsettled I become when things are out of sync.  My job is punctuated by a climax of disharmony during every rush.  Most days, for at least an hour, I have to talk myself out of faking a seizure on the dining room floor.  If I traded it in on some lesser loved vocation, I guess I might not be so crazy.  On the other hand, I might become some totally different, malignant kind of crazy.  I might be I’m-so-frustrated-with-my-life-that-I’m-going-to-be-an-insufferable-bitch-to-everyone crazy.  

Okay, so the kid takes no solace in knowing that he’s going to be interesting when he grows up.  I’ll put it to him this way: if I were any other kind of crazy, life might be worse than embarrassing.  It might be ghastly, full of distress.  As it is, you have a very happy, satisfied, sometimes overly-exuberant mother.  I might look a little strange, and I say some weird stuff, and I probably should tone it down at some point...I will, inevitably, tone it down.  When I do, you’re going to have to make your own happy little trees, and I can die peacefully knowing that I’ve shown you how.

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