May 12, 2012

A Heartwarming Mother's Day Story

My mom got a box of soap for her Mother's Day/Birthday gift. I think she was surprised to get something handmade after all these years. At least I've grown beyond macaroni spray-painted gold and using pipe cleaners.

The centerpiece was a bar with a story book hidden under the label. The story was about my mother washing my mouth out with soap (for being sassy) when I was a little girl. It's cute. And ties in with my recent firing as a tour guide.

I took the story to my writing workshop and everybody liked it except for one woman who's a therapist.

"Do you think it's passive/aggressive?" I asked.

"It's aggressive/aggressive," she said.

But I sent it along anyway because that's the kinda gal I am. When I spoke to my mom on Wednesday, she said that she loved it and really thought it was funny. Posting it here for all moms.

HATE, HATE the way the soap looks. Too 'Holly Hobbie.'
It's good soap though. And I learned a little more on embeds.

A Heartwarming Mother's Day Story
When I was seven, my mother washed my mouth with soap.
It was a bright, sunny Saturday in April, and I was supposed to clean my room. Not just pick up the scattered Barbies and books, but dust everything and vacuum the pink shag carpeting.
But I'd spent the day reconfiguring the stream that flowed out of our pond in. I'd dug out one area to curve the stream and through careful placement of rocks; I'd created a small series of rapids. It was cool.
"You were supposed to clean your room," my mother said. "I don't ask you to do much, but I expect you to clean your room."
I looked down at the pink carpeting, flat where I'd walked across it for the past week. "Well," I said, "I never promised you a rose garden."
My mother grabbed my arm, dragged me to the bathroom and picked up the sickly green bar of Irish Spring from the sink, still sudsy from me washing up after working on the stream. "Open your mouth," she said.
"No," I said, not realizing that by saying 'no,' I was actually opening my mouth.
               In went the soap. My mother swished it around.  It tasted like salty chemicals and lathered up even more with my spit and my mother's agitation. Back and forth. Back and forth. Finally, she took the bar out and slammed it back onto the sink.
               "That will teach you to be a smart-ass, young lady," she said, "Go to your room. No TV." She left the bathroom and went downstairs.
               I spit mad dog froth into the sink and rinsed out my mouth. And rinsed again. Then brushed my teeth, but could still taste Irish Spring in the back of my throat.
               In my room, I looked at my little black and white TV with 'Flower Power' stickers on the side. I didn't want to watch it. I wanted to think. I wanted to figure out what happened.
               Why had Mom gotten so upset from me quoting a Lynn Anderson song? A song that's on the radio all the time? That she sang along with in the car? And it was true. I hadn't ever promised my mother a rose garden. I hadn't even promised her that I'd clean my room. I'd done it every week since she'd asked, but no promises were made.
               I picked up my Ken doll from the floor and sat him on the Barbie sofa in the Barbie house—his unbendable legs stretched out in front of him.
               Why was telling the truth being a smart-ass? And wasn't being a smart-ass better than being a dumb-ass?

There were other punishments as I grew up (an occasional smack on the behind, no dessert after dinner, being grounded—but I don't remember what any of them were for) and I matured into a relatively upstanding, law-abiding adult. But remained a smart-ass.
               Most people enjoyed it. "You're so witty," they'd say. "I love your sense of humor." Although, not everyone appreciated my sharp tongue. I lost a boyfriend from a cutting remark, hurt several friends and most recently was fired from my job as a tour guide.
               It was a job I'd had for eight years and for eight years, I'd referred to The Trump International Hotel and Tower in Columbus Circle as "one of the many hideous, ugly Donald Trump buildings in NYC."
               "This particular hideous, ugly Donald Trump building," I would go on, "is Trump's official residence. It's where he gets his mail. Although, he's not in the city this week, he's in Europe awaiting the birth of his next wife."
               For eight years, tourists had loved this. It let them know what kind of tour guide they had—one that would make them laugh and poke fun at the squishy underbelly of the city. A real New Yorker.
               But on this particular February day, cold and gloomy with a stale winter smell in the air, a corporate spy was riding my tour bus and he didn't find my banter funny or appropriate. Faster than you could say, "You're fired," I was.
               I went home and sent myself to my room with no TV (I didn't have one anyway) and I thought about all the times in my life when I'd said something smart-assed. I picked up a copy of The Portable Dorothy Parker from the floor, put it on the stack of books on my night table and then suddenly remembered my mother washing my mouth out with Irish Spring.
               Why hadn't I learned anything from that? I learned from every other punishment she'd bestowed upon me. Why not the one where the punishment truly fit the crime?
               Maybe my mother should have used something stronger. Like Lava or Safeguard. Or straight lye.

© 2012 by Heather Holland Wheaton. All right reserved.


If you like this blog, check out my new one: The Haley Maxwell Soap Making Mysteries