By Lisa Scottoline
It’s the time of year when Mother Mary comes to visit, and drama follows.
This time it begins as soon as I picked her up at the airport. Brother Frank wasn’t able to make the trip with her, so he had ordered a wheelchair to fetch her from the gate. She can walk, but he wanted to make sure she was able to find her way out of Concourse A, and I thought that was a good idea.
So I waited for her at the end of the concourse, expecting to see her emerge in the wheelchair, but no dice. Easily three hundred people walked by me on their way out of the concourse, all of them tan and superhot, which I have learned is the Miami Express. Finally, at the tail end of the photogenic horde came Mother Mary, all four-feet eleven of her, in her oversized white South Beach T-shirt and white Capri pants. She walked very slowly, watching every step to make sure she didn’t fall, so her head was downcast, showing a gray-white whorl at her crown. Right behind her was an exasperated airlines employee, pushing an empty wheelchair.
I didn’t understand. “Mom, why aren’t you in the wheelchair?”
“What did you say?” She cupped a hand to her ear.
“The wheelchair, behind you.”
“Forget it.” I gave her a hug, and she felt little and soft in my arms, like an octogenarian Elmo.
The guy from the airlines shrugged in his maroon jacket. “I told her I had the wheelchair for her, but she walked right past me. I guess she didn’t hear.”
I took my mother’s arm. “Ma, you wearing your hearing aid?”
“What?” she asked, but I saw that it was nestled like a plastic comma behind her ear.
“I didn’t hear,” she said.
The reason she’s here is that she asked me what I wanted for my birthday, and I told her—a visit from her. So she was guilted into coming, which I’m not above. We had my favorite birthday dinner of take-out hardshell crabs, and by the time the birthday cake was lit up with candles, I asked myself The Question.
Let me explain.
Every birthday, I secretly ask myself this question: what lesson have I learned this year? This is my version of the birthday wish, because my birthday wish never comes true. For example, for many years, my go-to birthday wish was not to get older.
See what I mean?
So instead, I try to figure out what I learned this year, because if I have to get older, at least I’ll get wiser. I make lots of mistakes every year, so I try to pick the biggest one and learn a lesson. My biggest lessons, of course, came from Thing One and Thing Two. And though someday I might make the mistake of Thing Three, I’m pretty sure that with my new system in place, I’ll stop before Thing Nine.
Usually the lessons I’ve learned are Oprahesque. For example, last birthday, I learned to Ask for What You Want. The birthday before that was Take More Risks. And before that was, Don’t Say You’re About to Ask a Dumb Question before You Ask A Dumb Question, Because They’ll Find Out Soon Enough.
But this year, my birthday lesson was simpler:
Margaritas are Fun.
That’s one you can take to the bank.
It might even be BREAKING NEWS.
I learned it at my birthday dinner, when daughter Francesca showed off her college education by making us the most superb margaritas ever, and three generations of Scottoline women got sloshed en famille. We played Frank Sinatra on the iPod while my mother told stories from her first job, in Woolworth’s toy department, when she was seventeen. She still remembered the toys she sold, and it turns out that kewpie dolls and windup cars were big at Christmas, 1940.
And Francesca remembered that when she was six, she threw a stuffed animal at my mother, but was lucky enough to miss. And I watched them laugh in the candlelight, with Sinatra singing in the background, and I was thinking about how lucky I was to have them, and wondering if Margaritas Are Fun was my only lesson this year.
Because by the end of the visit, I had learned a better lesson.
As Long As You Can Walk By Yourself, Do.
Copyright Lisa Scottoline
Lisa and her daughter, Francesca Serritella, have teamed up to bring their hilarious and witty perspective on everyday life as mother and daughter in their weekly essays. With stories that will have you laughing out loud one minute and tearing up the next, Lisa and Francesca connect with readers on a deeply emotional level because of their honesty, warts and all.