For a woman afraid of driving above the speed limit, my mother has her own ways of living dangerously.
She’s an agent of minor chaos. She courts calamity. I was visiting home over Labor Day weekend and I noticed this built-to-spill behavior.
My mom has an area of the counter that is a makeshift drying rack, but even that is an overstatement. There’s no actual rack to hold anything in place, there’s just a haphazard vertical stack of pots, pans and casserole dishes, held together by more faith than physics. It’s like Jenga, but with breakable dishware.
And if that wasn’t exciting enough, one day the keystone foundational piece upon which all the other ceramic bowls and cast-iron pans were balanced was a whole watermelon set precariously at the counter’s edge.
Kitchen cleanup by Wile E. Coyote.
Her morning routine is to spread the Inquirer (of course, we’re readers, too) and other newspapers out on the kitchen table, and when she’s finished reading them, she gathers all the loose papers and piles them right beside the stovetop. Most mornings I find them half on top of the gas range.
“Yes, but I keep them away from the pilot light,” she clarified.
Cool, I’ll be sure to tell the insurance adjuster when the house burns down.
Many adult children, myself included, love that their parents keep a packed refrigerator, but my mom’s fridge is essentially booby-trapped.
The refrigerator is spring-loaded with plastic packages of spinach and arugula that don’t quite fit, cans of La Croix wobbling atop the condiments on the door shelf, and wine bottles stored on their sides for maximum rolling potential.
She knows it, too. Yesterday she walked up to me and said with a cackle, “Be careful when you open the refrigerator door, stuff’s gonna fall out.”
And I haven’t even gotten to the eggs.
As you may know, my mom raises chickens: twenty-two hens and one henpecked rooster named Bradley Chicken Cooper. She’s such a good mother, as I can attest, that the chickens live forever and produce more eggs than we know what to do with. Currently, she has seven cartons of eggs crammed in the top shelf at various angles.
“Can’t you give them to your friends?” I asked.
“Nobody has seven dozen friends.”
She reuses the cartons until the cardboard is soft, pliable, and unable to close.
It’s an I Love Lucy episode waiting to happen.
Come to think of it, all of my mom’s quirks have an air of slapstick comedy. Like how she never screws the cap tightly on anything: water bottles, the olive oil, half & half, orange juice—bonus points if it needs to be shaken before use.
The number of times growing up that I gave the OJ carton a shake only to spray juice all over myself and the kitchen ceiling. It was the kid-version of popping bottles, with extra pulp.
Mothers and daughters can’t help but be codependent, so when I’m visiting her, I crave order. I get the urge to bake; the meticulous measurement and precise cook times suddenly hold irresistible appeal.
I do laundry, and when it comes out of the dryer, I fold it promptly.
I don’t even recognize myself.
I try to be helpful and sprinkle my Type-A fairy dust around. Like when we had to give our five dogs a fresh round of tick-protection medication. Each package is a single dose corresponding to the dog’s weight, so I labeled each box with the name of the dog intended to receive the pill inside.
My mom thanked me for “dummy-proofing” it, and I turned my back for one minute to give Pip his dose before I heard her go, “Oh shoot.” She had removed each pill from its labeled box and lined them up elsewhere on the counter, then immediately forgotten which was which.
“Mom, why didn’t you give them to the right dog, one-by-one?”
“I was going to, I was getting them ready!”
She’s a mystery writer; I should’ve known there would be a plot twist.
But we both just laughed and figured it out.
That’s the thing about Lucy Ricardo and my mother, there’s nothing to do but love her.
I feel lucky that I didn’t grow up in a house with a hypercritical mother where I was always doing something wrong. Living with my mother taught me important lessons:
Life is messy.
Don’t sweat the small stuff.
The five-second rule is real.
The truth is, my mom’s house is fun, relaxed, and never boring, just like she is.
It’s good to be home.
Copyright Francesca Serritella 2019