Mom stopped participating in school mornings around first grade when we still lived in Boulder. One morning, I woke up groggy-eyed to find a note next to an empty bowl on the kitchen table. I’m not helping you get ready for school anymore, the note said. Fix your own hair. Make your own breakfast. Just like that. No explanations, just an abrupt end to what had been ritual for years. She had always been diligent in making sure I looked well cared for when I went to school. She’d comb through my long dark hair and twist it into creative braid ensembles. She’d pick out my clothes: cute dresses my Gramma had sewn, cute black shoes bought on sale at Payless. Now that was over. I sat at the kitchen table, crunching Corn Flakes, hoping my mom would change her mind.
Later, when we moved to Lafayette, mornings became dangerous minefields that I just could not navigate. A step in any direction and BOOM! I was a natural at finding the thing that would set my mother off. She usually wouldn’t wake up until 8:30 or 9 am, and hearing her come up the stairs induced immediate anxiety and jaw clenching. In what mood would she be? Angry quiet, angry sad, or angry angry?
One time she threw the sugar bowl at me. I thought I had covered all the potential grievances that waited in the kitchen: coffee made, dishwasher emptied, cats fed, sink cleaned, dishcloth rinsed and folded crisply on the divider. She came up the stairs and made her way to the kitchen, a frown already set on her face. Not a good sign. I could hear her coffee cup clang against the counter, followed by a heavy sigh. I braced myself. Despite my best efforts, a fuse had been lit.
“What is wrong with you, you ungrateful little brat,” she said, striding toward me so fast, I barely had time to sidestep the hurled sugar bowl aimed at my chest. It banged into the stereo speaker and fell to the hardwood floor, spraying glass and sugar in every direction. I clambered down the stairs to my room before she could wreak any more havoc on me. Damn, I thought, the sugar bowl. I hadn’t considered the sugar bowl because it had been half full. I should’ve topped it off. Coffee, dishwasher, cats, sink, dishcloth, SUGAR, I repeated to myself. After all those lost battles, I still thought I could find the right strategy to win the war.
It’s been years since I’ve lived with my mother, yet my jaw still involuntarily clenches when I hear the sound of footsteps coming upstairs. When my husband walks heavily in the house, I’ll say, “Shhhhh! Don’t walk so loud!” You might wake her.