THE ATOMIC MOM
I don’t do impressions of my mother.
Well, I don’t do impressions of my mother, anymore. When I was 15? Absolutely. But they weren’t real impressions, you know? My mother didn’t ACTUALLY sound like Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz.
(In the voice of the Wicked Witch of the West) “You’re not going out of the house in THAT, my little pretty! Clean your bedroom, girl. How about a little FIRE, Scarecrow!”
She didn’t sound like that at all, really. But if you’d sat at the lunch table with me and my girlfriends, you have thought that we all shared the same green, broom-riding witch for a mother. You’d think we’d been chained and forced to live with flying monkeys and we all washed splinter-filled, hardwood floors from dawn until dusk.
The Wicked Witch of the West, Cruella Deville, Lady Tremaine, Meleficent, The Queen of Hearts – they all sent their teenage daughters to my school. And while we were at school, they all got together in a book club and read a book called “How to Destroy Our Daughter’s Lives for Fun and Profit” over and over and over and over. Then, we were certain, they would go up to our rooms and read our diaries. And who were we kidding, that little lock wouldn’t keep our mothers out.
(Chuckles) As if they wanted to read them, you know? Who really wants to know the inner machinations of a teen girl’s mind? All they would find would be gooey scribblings about boys and horribly unfair descriptions of our mothers.
So, as I said, my mother didn’t actually sound like the Wicked Witch. But her voice was just as distinct and I can hear her in my head. My mother swore at us in Bohemian. And I don’t mean that she swore at me like a Greenwich Village hippie. No, actual Bohemian. Eastern European.
(SWEAR IN BOHEMIAN – SINGLING OUT SOMEONE IN THE AUDIENCE, POINTING – STOP - SHUDDER) Oooh. Man! Creepy. You know, Maria Ouspenskaya in the Wolf Man. If you were on the receiving end of one of those--- Let’s just say it made me want to hang garlic in my window and clutch a cross in my sleep. When she was mad at me I’d pull the blankets up over my head and pray for one of my friends to send a flying monkey over to save me.
I eventually figured out that she was only swearing in Bohemian so that I wouldn’t know what she was saying. To her credit I never really had a clear translation of what she was said. Unfortunately she couldn’t put her body language into Bohemian. That’s what scared the jumping hell out of me. (POINTING AT THE SAME AUDIENCE MEMBER) A finger you expected bullets to fly from. An eyebrow that went up like a pirate flag. The corners of her mouth would move into the downward and locked position and her eyelids would narrow. She would pucker her lips like she was lowering shields into place. She was like a ship preparing for battle. I just imagined all these little soldiers running around inside her – a red alert light flashing – sirens blaring.
“All hands to battle stations! This is not a drill! Repeat! This is not a drill.”
So, the other day I’m in the kitchen, pretending to fix dinner. You know, taking the burritos out of the paper and placing them on a plate. My daughter is talking on her mobile phone to one of her friends. She doesn’t know I can hear her – but I can. This is what I hear:
“(DAUGHTER VOICE) Oh, I know. Like she’d ever let me go to that. She’d be all (VOICE OF THE WICKED WITCH FROM THE WIZARD OF OZ) ‘you’re not going without an adult, my little pretty!’”
(GASP - OPEN MOUTH LOOK OF SHOCK AT THE AUDIENCE) That’s not me! That’s Margaret Hamilton!!
So I slam the burrito down on the counter and I rush into the other room, scaring the hell out of her.
“I am not Margaret Hamilton! Tell… who is that on the phone?”
“(DAUGHTER VOICE) Shelby!”
“ (ROLL EYES AT NAME) Fine. Tell Shelby that I’m not Margaret Hamilton! Tell her!”
“(DAUGHTER VOICE) Who the hell is Margaret Hamilton?”
“ (WICKED WITCH VOICE) Tell her!”
And then she says it. The worse word of them all.
“(DAUGHTER VOICE) Whatever.”
Then it happened. I couldn’t control it. (MIMING DURING DESCRIPTION) My… hand… curled like a talon and my finger shot out. I heard it cock and the shell move into the chamber. My back straightened and these tiny muscles started to push my eyebrow up. I could feel all these soldiers running around.
“(RUSSIAN ACCENT) Photon torpedoes armed and ready, sir!”
(STOP – PAUSE) Apparently I have the starship Enterprise inside me. That was surprising. So anyway, I transformed into the Mom-Cannon and then it happened.
(SWEAR IN BOHEMIAN)
I couldn’t stop it. It just tumbled out. My daughter, closed her phone without telling Shelby goodbye. In a breath she was sitting at the dinner table praying. She even did the dishes.
I never wanted to drop the atomic Mom on her. In fact I fought it for years. But every time I tried to speak her language or be her pal… I’d sound like the other kind of Bohemian. You know, Moon Power.
“(HIPPY VOICE) Hey honey, can you do this as a favor to me. You’ll be a lot happier if you behave and we treat each other with respect.”
Nah. Screw it. (SWEAR IN BOHEMIAN) BOOM! Dishes done.
I used to be afraid of my daughter. Not afraid of her, but of what she would bring out in me when she became a teenager. It’s not easy to talk to somebody when you know they think you are a complete idiot. I wish I had a fire hose. You know? So that when she gives me that look I could just (MIME) SHWOOOOSSHH and blast her across the room. Then she’d try to get to her feet like new born Bambi and looking like a wet cat. That’ll wipe that look off your face.
Did I make that face at my mother? No. I couldn’t have. I had more respect than that. Right? Didn’t I? But before I was a teenager… she wasn’t the Wicked Witch. I remember a different mom when I was 8. And later, when I was in my twenties, when I was getting married, she wasn’t like that. We got along great. She was my best friend then. I must have been kidnapped at some point from the nice lady and held prisoner from the age of 12 to 23 by some crazy hag… only to be returned to the golden, loving lady later. It must have happened, right?
I don’t do impressions of my mother anymore. There’s no point. I hear her in half the things I say now. Even when I’m saying things and words she’d never uttered like “DSL” or “Text Me”. I hear her. Sometimes it’s just echoes. Sometimes it’s like she’s got her hand up my backside and she’s working me like a puppet. It bothered me for a long time. Not anymore.
I’ve watched my mother slow down the last few years. She’s become an old lady and it’s hard to understand sometimes how it happened. Sometimes I wish she could climb up a flight of stairs and swear at me in Bohemian for something stupid I’ve done. She’s gone from being the biggest pain in my butt to being the greatest inspiration I have. So I don’t mind hearing her words come out of me and her voice echo in my head. It’s like I’m taking over the family business.
I love hearing my daughter on the phone now, talking about what a bitch I am. I wear it like a badge. I am proud that I am spot welding that image on her mind. It’s the thought that makes me smile when I’ve detonated an atomic mom at her. You just wait, girl. You just wait until my works fall out of your mouth.
That’s how I’m going to live forever. Like my mom and my grandmother will live forever. Men always worry about legacy and how they’ll be remembered.
We know how we’ll be remembered. We are remembered in every hissy fit our daughters ever throw, embarrassing themselves in front of their own daughters. We are remembered in every ridiculous punishment they ever give. In every “Wizard of Oz” impression their daughters ever do.
But we are also remembered in the hug our daughters give their daughters before they walk down the aisle. We’re remembered in the way their hips sway gently, even when they’re not holding their baby.
I like that.
Just don’t ever call me GRANDMA!! (POINT AT AUDIENCE MEMBER – SWEAR IN BOHEMIAN)