Most of the time, Mama and Daddy answered endless questions from Ginny and me with thoughtful, thorough answers. There was nothing we couldn’t ask that they wouldn’t try to explain.
However, when I complained about the fact that something was unfair, Daddy’s favorite answer was, “When you meet fair in the road, come get me.” I squinted my eyes, wrinkled my nose, and let my mouth gape, not daring to respond with the bordering on disrespectful, “Huh?” His answer made as much sense to me as, “If you don’t quit crying, I will give you something to cry about.”
When I moaned and groaned things did not work out the way I thought they would: a high school dance, a relationship, a job, Daddy would pull me into his arms, swing me around the living room and sing, “If that’s all there is, my friend, let’s keep dancing.”
I cannot adequately express how frustrating that was, not only because Daddy is tone deaf, but also because this made less sense to me than meeting fair in the road. I didn’t think either response adequate, but they were equally effective in getting me off subject. Who can argue with a tone-deaf man singing an answer? Not this kid.
Not so long ago, my teenager said to me on our way to work and school:
Jack: Hey Mom, what do you do at your job?
Me: Well, lots of different things. I answer the phone and write lots of emails. I schedule meetings, keep up with different kinds of contracts; work with the accounting office. Office work kinds of things.
Jack: Ha! You know what? You’ve digressed to a factotum.
I wasn’t sure which word made the tears spring to my eyes as quickly as they did: digressed or factotum. After thinking about it for a while, I decided it was both because they were true.
It had been a while since cold, hard truth had slapped me and left one of those red-palmed stingers across my face, but boy, out of the mouth of my first-born, it hurt. Of course, he is intuitive enough to know that something he hadn’t intended to happen had happened. “Mom, what’s the matter? Are you ok?”
I nodded, but couldn’t say anything. My throat had closed in that squeezing way it will when you are trying to keep feelings pushed to the bottom.
He continued, “I was just using a vocab word. My teacher said we should use the words to remember their meanings.” (Thumbs up to you, teacher. Excellent idea. Truly.)
“So,” I whisper-choked, “which was the vocab word digress or factotum?” It was factotum. Consequently, factotum is now known at our house as The Word that Makes Mom Cry.
That tiny little exchange knotted me up for days. I would forget about it for a while, and then it would rear its ugly head like a bruise, hangnail, or a toothache. How did I digress to a factotum?
After being cast in the chorus of “Fiddler on the Roof” in college, I declared as a theatre major. I loved all that was being a part of the theatre, but never considered what I would do with a theatre degree. Terrified of auditioning outside my comfortable, safe college bubble, I didn’t. I didn’t even consider graduate school.
After Jamie and I married and settled in LaGrange, I looked for a job. I didn’t think about a career. I was young, in love, and we had bills to pay. I didn’t give career a second thought.
We moved to Alexandria, VA, for a job Jamie was offered building scenery for Broadway plays and televised awards shows. I was afforded the opportunity to think a little about what I might like to do before rushing into a job. I was led toward non-profit advocacy and remain convinced if we had stayed in Virginia, I’d likely have a successful career within that field. But we didn’t, and I don’t.
Instead, we moved home to southwest Georgia. There are lots of good reasons we came home, but the most important was Jack. At almost two years old, Jamie and I felt strongly that he needed space to roam and trees to climb and red-clay on which to play. I like to say Jack was dirt deprived.
After we came home, we paid out-of-pocket for a family health insurance policy. However, once the Affordable Care Act took effect, our out-of-pocket premium skyrocketed alongside our deductible. Soon, our monthly insurance premium began to rival our mortgage payment.
In a nutshell, that’s how I became a factotum. A factotum with excellent healthcare insurance for which I am thankful.
You may find it hard to believe, but being a factotum isn’t as glamorous as it sounds. By Tuesday morning at 9:30 am, I’d had it mansplained to me how to address an envelope, found half a million receipts on my desk with a sticky note that read “Sort,” and when the paper jammed in the copy machine for the eight hundredth time, I was the Gal Friday called on to help.
I took a break from all that excitement and sought refuge in our little office café. I ordered a cherry Coke, straight-up, on the rocks. The lady at the register looked at me as though I could be on the verge of a complete breakdown and handed me a bottled cherry Coke. “Just double checking, ma’am, you don’t serve alcohol in here anywhere, right?” I winked at her before I accepted my Coke. I’m pretty sure she called human resources after I left.
Recently while Jamie was out of town on business, he sent me pictures from big-city restaurants. The seared scallops atop buttery, herbed pasta that looked so rich I could smell the white wine through the tempered glass of my cell phone incited envy that would qualify as sin. But it was the video of individually packaged coconut macaroons being parachuted into the venue for dessert that made me want to claw my eyes out. Who does that, and where can I get one?
Instead of a parachuted macaroon, I made brownies out of a box and served them warm with whipped cream on top. The boys were very impressed. Before I put the whipped cream back in the fridge, I double-checked to make sure no one was looking and squirted some straight from the canister directly into my mouth. The Redi-Whip nozzle made its incredibly satisfactory sch-le-erp noise. I am a rebel. Ask anybody.
To be fair, when Jamie is out of town I’m not alone in the thick of it. I’m very lucky that my parents pick the boys up from school so that I don’t lose the job with the healthcare plan. Yesterday by the time I arrived home, Jack and Colin had done all their homework and chores, and Mama was at the kitchen table matching socks.
Sock matching at my house is a never-ending Memory game which I’m sure I’ll be playing in purgatory. Jack doesn’t help the situation at all. He’s started wearing mismatched socks on purpose. He wore a navy blue chevron right sock with a Mona Lisa left sock to church on Sunday. I didn’t notice it until we were home and he’d taken off his shoes. To my shrieking mortification, he replied with the dreaded, “Everyone is doing it.” Super. All this new fad does is keep socks from ever finding their mates. There is no way any pair of socks will ever end up in the dirty clothes at the same time now. Clearly, “everyone” didn’t discuss this trend with their Mamas first. I fear if I throw away a sock, I will find its mate the day after. So, I keep them all in a laundry hamper and match the ones I can while watching “Forensic Files” on Netflix. Currently, I know enough about mitochondrial DNA testing to join a task force.
While I was pulling supper together, Mama made the mistake of asking me, “How is work going?”
I launched into what Daddy calls “dramatics.” Within my monologue, I used words like factotum, bored, and missed opportunity. Acting like a petulant child, I ended my pity-party with something high-pitched and super whiny like, “I mean, is this my calling? Is this what I am meant to do for the rest of my life?”
Jack, who was working on homework at the other end of the table, looked directly at me with his big blue eyes and said, “Mom, please don’t get fired, or do one of those super-dramatic things like give a big speech and walk out. We really need the health insurance.” I wondered how many other children felt it necessary to ask their mother not to be “super-dramatic.”
When the 14-year-old understands the complexities of the private-pay health insurance dilemma, I’m pretty sure I need to get over myself and be thankful. Another hard-truth dealt me by my man-child. Bless him Lord, and forgive me.
For now, I squirt Redi-Whip into my mouth at every opportunity, order 20oz cherry Cokes like they were dirty martinis, and look for the missing Mona Lisa sock. Every now and then, I spin my boys around the living room singing, “If that’s all there is, my friends, let’s break out the booze and have a ball.”
Sooner or later, it will make sense to them and to me.