Saturday, May 7, 2016

To All the Moms - A Banana Baileys "Milkshake"

Mother's Day has always been a weird one for me. To say that my mom and I didn't get along well is an understatement.

If my mother had been a species of fish, she would have been the type that eats as many of its young as possible, as soon as they are born. It's good for those species in the evolutionary sense, since only the strong survive. The weaker fish, and the unlucky ones, help to nourish mom, I guess.

That comparison isn't much of an exaggeration. My twin, as well as my aborted twin brothers, two years older than I, were not survivors.

Meanwhile, my mother spent a lot of her pregnancy with me trying to deny she was pregnant. At first, I was menopause. The doctor was wrong, she said. She obviously couldn't be pregnant. Or could she?

When it became apparent that I was still hanging on, mom had dreams that my deceased grandmother was trying to hand me to her, but mom didn't want me. In the dreams, she tried to refuse to take me from grandmother, over and over again.

Even though mom tried to refuse to take me from my grandmother's arms, that wasn't enough to stop me from being born. And just like that ... I turned a woman into a mother.

That's not to say that my entire childhood was hell. Mom taught me lots of fun things, like how to play poker for money, how to bet on horses at the race track, and how to pick out the brand of whiskey she liked. I became a regular at the grocery store and drugstore, buying whiskey and cigarettes for mom, long before I was old enough to write my name in cursive.

She taught me many things unintentionally. I learned that fall-down-drunkenness was unattractive and disgusting. I learned that I never wanted to be so dependant on a substance that I would search through filthy ash trays to find a cigarette butt that was long enough to light.

I learned how to block out distractions because of her need to always have noise in the tiny apartment. I learned how to ignore the constant babble of TV and radio when reading or doing homework. I learned how to listen with half my attention while thinking about other things.

Now, I can actually watch television, listen to the dialog, and type completely different words at the same time. The downside to this talent is that sometimes I need the distraction of television when I need to do a lot of writing.

Mom, in her single days.
It could be worse.

I learned that when people tell you things, even if they earnestly believe them, these things are not always true. "They say that ..." is not proof that something is true, and "I don't believe in that!" is not a logical way to refute facts. I learned how to look things up and come to own conclusions.

These days, I spend a lot of time looking things up.

I learned that even if mom trusts someone, that person might not be trustworthy. Some people are pure evil in friendly-neighbor's clothing, and sometimes trusting your gut is best.

I learned that not all bad people go to jail or are even arrested or prosecuted.

Sometimes one has to hope that karma is enough.

I learned that the only person who can keep a secret is the person whose secret it is. Once the first person hears the secret, it is free to spread to neighbors, relatives, and even to the mom of your first-grade crush at a PTA meeting while your first-grade crush hides behind his mom's skirt. Literally.

I learned that liars are not as adept at lying as they think they are, and I learned to spot tells. Sneaky liars seldom get past me. Regular liars are totally transparent.

Speaking of lies, my dad had the good sense to never put me in a position where I would feel stuck between telling the lie my mother told me to tell, or being honest with him. If he knew my mom told me to lie and say we were at the grocery store instead of the bar, he wouldn't ask me.

Mom and Dad. Awwww ... newlyweds.
I learned that telling the truth was the easiest thing to do. Liars have to remember their lies, and which versions they told to which person. If you tell the truth, you only need to remember one thing.

I learned that a lot of people lie when they don't want to answer a question, and I figured out that I didn't have to answer every question asked of me. I didn't have to tell my secrets and let them into the world.

When confronted with questions I didn't want to answer, I grew confident enough to say, "Sorry, but that's private," or "I'm not really comfortable discussing that," or "Now is not a good time to talk about that."

Or, "If my husband didn't tell you, then I'll honor his decision not to reveal those things."

I learned not to rely on other people to make me happy. When, on the evening of my 16th birthday, my mother told me that I was too old for birthdays, I was devastated. I had hoped for a Sweet 16 surprise. Maybe a party. How about a cake after dinner, with candles? As the day wore on, my expectations grew lower. I would have settled for a card. But all I got was the announcement that I was too old for birthdays.

So, I decided that on my birthday from that year forward, I would buy something for myself, or do something for myself that was special. I continued that tradition well into adulthood. Most years, I got cards or presents from others. But I knew I didn't have to count on them to treat me well. I was allowed to do things for myself, because I deserved it.

I learned that I should not give someone money for safekeeping, or loan it to them, if it would bother me that I never saw the money again. Birthday money, spare change collected for carrying the neighbor's groceries, and nickels saved from redeeming soda bottles found on the street was said to be "safely put away" for me in mom's bank account. By now, it should be worth a tidy sum, right?

Because of my mom, I learned how to cook without recipes. When I was an adult and mom refused to give me the recipes I remembered from childhood, I figured them out based on my memory of the flavors. I became confident at creating my own recipes and replicating others that I tasted. I guess you might say that she's at least partly responsible for me becoming a food blogger.

Not quite the same smile after I came along.
I learned about marriage from mom's friends and relatives. Some were married and remarried with frightening regularity. They had ugly divorces in between, and bad relationships with many exes. I knew I didn't want that. Others stayed married even though their husbands were abusive. I knew I didn't want that, either.

I knew, without a doubt, that I didn't want to be like my mother. She was my role model of who not to be.

When mom broke her hip and decided not to do physical therapy or help herself get better, I watched her long decline. I took care of her, and I took care of her dwindling finances. For the first time, I wished that I had siblings to help bear the burden. And then she was gone.

I was sad, mostly for the fact that we never had the sort of relationship other people had with their mothers. She wasn't my friend, my mentor, or my idol. She was the woman who gave birth to me, and who consequently gave me enough care so I could grow up and move out.

This isn't a sad story. I have no regrets. My mom made me strong, inquisitive, skeptical, and independent. She made me a survivor.

But still, when Mother's Day rolls around and my friends talk about how wonderful their mothers are or how sad they are that their mothers are gone ... I feel a bit of loss. Not that she's gone, but that I never had the sort of mother that I would actually miss.

So if you had a mother who was your friend, inspiration, and confidante, be happy that you had her in your life. If your mom is still your best buddy or if she now needs your help and support, enjoy your time with her.

And if your mom was like mine, celebrate that you were one of the strong little fish that grew up to be the person you are today.

Thanks, mom. This one's for you.

Baileys Banana Milkshake
For the record, my mom would have hated this drink. This is all about the flavor. She preferred whiskey and water for maximum kick and minimum fuss.

1 ripe banana
1 generous cup ice cubes
1 1/2 ounces Baileys Irish Cream
2 ounces heavy cream (you could use milk, if you like)
Tiny pinch of salt

Place all the ingredients in a blender (salt is optional, but it enhances the banana flavor), and blend until smooth. In a Vitamix (which is what I used) turn the knob to the frozen/ice cream setting and just let it do its thing.

Serve, slurp, enjoy.

You can make a non-alcoholic version by swapping the Baileys for milk or even water. You could simply eliminate it, but the extra liquid makes blending easier.