Monday, June 9, 2014

Flying Solo

Looking at a picture of me in my wedding gown, my grandmother told me that I belonged in Vogue magazine. I couldn’t believe that she said that. But, really, I could believe it. Since I had been a baby, my grandmother Ababel had been telling me how special and beautiful and wonderful I am.

So it should have been no surprise, when I gave her a picture of me as a bride, standing awkwardly on the rocks in Maine, smiling for the camera, that she said that I belonged in Vogue.

I was special just because I was her granddaughter. And she recounted with great pride the phone call she received on October 27th 1966, from my dad telling her that she was a grandmother. And, how she and Georgie, my late grandfather, flew to Boston to meet Megan Elizabeth. Who, by the way, was the most stunningly gorgeous baby in the whole world. I know because Ababel told me so.

And she would tell anyone who would listen about this spunky little girl with the beatific smile, prancing around in her white “glubs” and patent leather shoes. This precious girl who went to say her grandmother Isabel’s name and uttered it as only she could, a few melodious toddler-like syllables: Ababel.

Once, my sister and I flew to Pennsylvania alone, and were treated like royalty, wearing badges that said Flying Solo. The flight staff doted on us continuously, giving us extra bags of peanuts and cups of ice with soda. We assumed that they must have known Georgie and Ababel, who had been waiting for us in the airport window, probably before the plane even left Boston. I remember stepping off the plane feeling like a celebrity. Which is easy to understand, really: they had actually submitted an article to their local paper about our visit.

Even recently, I would get phone calls from Ababel wherein she would tell me how special and important I have always been to her, transmitting feelings to me that only a doting grandmother truly can. No matter where I went or what I did, she praised me and prayed for me.

I traveled to Dominican Republic to dig latrines for people living in impoverished rural areas. Ababel treated me like I was in the United Nations. After college, I drove to Florida to live on my own for a while, stopping in Pennsylvania on the way down for some food, a place to stay, and a dose of grand-parenting, which came freely and lovingly. Any doubts I had about succeeding on my own melted away in the glow of Ababel and Georgie’s affection. My car loaded with sandwiches, drinks and a healthy ego, I was ready for anything.

It was well-known that babies and animals loved and were comforted by Ababel. On my refrigerator, I keep a precious worn photo of her, as she gently rocks my contented three-month-old daughter to sleep.

My young son once caressed her arm and asked her why her skin was so smooth. She erupted into laughter, and then called her friends to brag about this little gentleman who had unwittingly earned a place in her already-crowded heart.

Lately, she had grown weaker and was unable to write, but she called to check in, and whenever I called her, she made me feel as welcome as I did when I was five. Oh Megan, I was just thinking about you. You’ve made my day. She always apologized for running up my phone bill, while never making me feel like she wanted to get off the phone.

And every phone call ended with her reminding me how special I was and singing I love you a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck…with a request that I hug everyone in my family for her.

When I got the call last Wednesday, that Ababel was failing, I was surprised, but not completely unprepared. I had talked to her the day before and I could hear the strain in her voice, the labor in her breath. I could also hear something else. Concern. But it was for something unexpected.

She was aware that my son’s birthday was approaching, and I sensed her concern that she was going to die or otherwise interfere with his birthday. You see, she was always the grandmother, now great grandmother, ever the guardian of the little children in our family.

She knew how special a birthday was for a little boy, as well as how meaningful it would be for his mother, the baby she had first held on that October afternoon over forty years ago.

Relying on advice that she had always given me, I reminded her that she shouldn’t worry because things always have a way of working out, exactly the way they are supposed to. Agreeing, in her most cheerful voice, she began her song to me I love you a bushel and a peck…

She died the next day surrounded by her family, a lucky handful who had only known life while enveloped in her warmth. Her angels came swiftly, the way we had all hoped, a unique celestial flight staff, doting on this beautiful lady. Our family imagined her on her way to see Georgie, waiting for her in the window, probably since before her flight even began.

On my journey, flying solo, this girl without a grandmother, I comfort myself with memories of being adored and cherished. I remind myself that while I won’t find her in her recliner or on the other end of the phone, I will always have what she gave me. I am a Vogue model, a world-class traveler, a beautiful girl, and a truly special person. Just because I was her granddaughter.

Megan Davis Collins wrote this column in loving memory of Isabel Richardson Davis, who died on July 2, 2008, at the age of 94

The Elephant in our Friendship

I learned about twelve years ago that you should not talk politics with your friends. My friend and I were yakking it up about things happening in the world. I was talking Clinton, she was talking Bush. And then I realized that she was stroking elephants, I was petting donkeys.

I approached the conversation in a different way. That didn’t work. Soon, we were screaming at each other. I was puzzled, then I was hurt. A third-party observer pulled me aside and said “Never talk politics with your friends”.

I had heard that cliché before but thought it only applied to angry old men in the fifties. Don’t talk politics, religion or money…Yeah yeah yeah, but who really thought it was true? I never did. Until I realized that my friend was a Republican.

She always seemed a little more conservative than I, perhaps a little less tolerant. She sometimes calls me a granola-crunching tree-hugging hippie, but hey, that’s just a little good-natured ribbing between friends. You really voted for Bush…AND his son?

Don’t even tell me you are considering Hillary for president.
Yeah, I was. The problem has not gone away. I avoided politics for over 12 years with her. And then, over a glass of wine, I saw her rolling her eyes at my Hillary sign. Actually she screamed out loud when she saw it hanging on my front door.

The shouting started up again- she, calling me a fool for giving another Clinton a chance, me calling her a traitor for not considering voting for a woman in the White House. She accused me of trying to get people to vote for someone just because she’s a woman. That’s not what I’m saying, but come on MITT ROMNEY??!

Now, it’s all about John McCain. I keep getting emails about McCain’s superior stance on the economy, the war, and illegal immigrants, as compared to Obama’s crazy, hippie, loosey-goosey, anti-American sentiments on all of the above and more.

I start to shoot off an email countering each point, but then remember the wise words from that third-party observer back in 1996. I am not going to win this. Neither will she. So, I delete the email, but can’t help sending a curt ‘Give it up, he’s gonna lose”.

As fate would have it, this friend and her rather large pet elephant, were at my kitchen table shortly after McCain had picked his controversial running mate. As we watched CNN, over a few drinks, I was feeling kind of smug. Is this pick for real? Mr. McCain seems to have gotten sucked into the Obama drama, impulsively picking the youngest, most unexpected candidate he could find, forgetting about- oh, I don’t know- THE VICE PRESIDENCY!

My friend remained calm, reserving judgment. I sensed that she was a little nervous. But, like any good Republican, she kept her comments to herself, mumbling that she’d have to do some research on this woman from Wasilla.

No need. The research emerged, the controversies continued. As is typical, what should have been politics as usual, turned into something akin to Inside Edition. Over the next week, I watched in horror as the spin backfired. What was supposed to be a gaffe, turned into an up-by-her-bootstraps story. Her fiery speech, like some gigantic pep rally, got the elephants jumping. And the pounding was hurting my ears.

What remains clear, now as it was back in 1996, is that friends shouldn’t talk politics, because people are not really interested in changing their minds. Certainly not the two seated at opposite ends of my kitchen table.

Recently, things have really become heated. She sent me a picture of Obama next to Osama bin Laden in some sort of ridiculously offensive poster. I called her racist. She mentioned the “lipstick on a pig” comment; I called her sexist. If anyone had said that about a male candidate (and MANY politicians have), no one would have been offended. Now, people are implying that women need to be protected.

C’mon! I thought she was a pit bull! More emails flew back and forth. Womansaynotopalin is a website for women to speak out against this choice (who, incidentally, speaks out against our choice). What about the notion, in the wake of losing Hillary, that just any woman would make a suitable candidate? That’s pigslop!

I even hit “reply all” to desperately try to reach anyone in her circle of elephants who would listen to me. Will I never learn? The elephants don’t want donkey food. And I would sooner vomit than listen to their foolish trumpeting. Although I did get one reply: it was just my friend assuring me that I wasn’t a donkey, I was a jackass.

But I was too busy trying to finish this sentence to care: “If the difference between a hockey mom and a pit bull is lipstick, then the difference between the Governor of Alaska and the Vice President is…”

I heard jokes about Obama’s inexperience. I fired back about McCain’s hawkish approach to the US at war. She asked me what I would do if my daughter came home with “that problem”. (Does she mean “pregnant”?). I ranted about the need for open discussion and education, not just preaching abstinence and repression.

I screamed at her for voting for someone so anti-women’s rights. Censorship! Drilling in Alaska’s virgin territory. Don’t get me started about drilling in anyone’s virgin territory! I was out of control. Angrily tapping on my computer. Sweating. Muttering. Swearing. I called her ignorant. She called me clueless. Friends, it’s voting season!

By the time this appears in print, I will have cooled down. I may even have a certain someone at my kitchen table. By then, I will pour her a drink and tell her that I still love her. Even if I do occasionally call her a racist, sexist pig…with lipstick.

Megan Davis Collins is a writer, social worker and mother:

Ask Your Mother

If you are like me, you have probably been in a situation wherein your child says something in front of other people that you would never, in your wildest dreams, have wanted him to say. As a parent, you may struggle to balance the need for honest confrontation with the strong physical urge to disappear.

Questions like “Why is she so big?” “Is he a leprechaun?” “What happened to his nose?” “Why does she talk like that?” are fine fodder for the privacy of your home or car, but when asked in a public setting, often in front of the person in question, they challenge our reserve and dignity as parents.

If we are lucky to have our own mothers around, a call to them may offer some wisdom on how best to address these well-meaning, but overly-inquisitive, little people.

Once, in an effort to expose my daughter to the variety of people living in our world, I brought her to the nursing home where I worked. What a wonderful idea, you may think.

What a smart, sensitive mom I am to teach my adventurous, inquisitive little four-year-old daughter that there are people who struggle every day. Much can be learned from life in a nursing home, although, as usual, the lessons we learned were not what I had planned.

I was excited for her to leech wisdom from the elders in our tribe. The visit began predictably, as I had explained that it might. Lots of wrinkled smiling people reaching for her hand, touching her face.

She tolerated it and even blushed a few times when they gushed about her beauty and curls, her youth and strength.

I wasn’t even thinking about how Patrice would look through my daughter’s eyes as we entered her room, so caught up was I on shuttling diplomacy between youth and age, innocence and wisdom.

Patrice greeted us skeptically, but not hostilely. Stoic and reserved by nature, she seemed slightly amused by my miniature assistant. When I felt my daughter freeze at my side, I realized my lapse in judgment.

Patrice had one leg, the other a stump that was jutting out of her johnny. She had a patch over her eye and oxygen tubes up her nose. She was tremulous. And, unfortunately for us, she was eating scrambled eggs.

While my child remained hidden behind my legs, peering out nervously, I answered questions.

“Who’s going to clean her up?” “Where’s her leg?” Is she a pirate? Can we go home?”

I began facilitating our conversation in my loud social work voice. “Patrice, my daughter is worried that your eggs are on your shirt. I told her that after you eat, someone will come to help you clean up.”

She burst out laughing and immediately felt what so many of us do in the presence of a child: relief. For the honesty and candor that comes from someone in the room saying exactly what’s on her mind in an attempt to learn about the world.

After all, that’s what we have encouraged them to do. Right? Well, yes. Unless you’re in the department store line of a gender-ambiguous cashier.

“Is that a boy or a girl?” I have never made so much noise in line, talking over my son, rustling the bags as they were being filled, asking irrelevant and asinine questions. And talking in that loud social work voice I use when my world is in turmoil.

Then, to confuse everyone, I began singing “You’re a boy and I’m a girl and we’re buying cleaning supplies!”

The people behind me were amused. They wanted an answer to the question too.

I finally had to resort to an old parenting maneuver: The Smiling Desperate Whispered Plea for Asylum. I know you’re curious, but we really can’t talk about this here. It’s not polite. Wait until we’re outside.

As we headed out to the car, without knowing the gender of our clerk, I found myself wondering why it matters so much what someone’s gender is. I felt annoyed at the clerk for confusing us and at myself for being as curious as my son. I was struggling, as I often do, with just how honest I want my children or myself to be.

We preach honesty and curiosity, until it makes us uncomfortable. I was stumped. I knew it was not polite to ask somebody about their gender, but I wasn’t exactly sure why. Other than being none of our business, I wasn’t sure how to really explain this to my son. I like rules and reasons. I called my mother.

Someone who sees the humor in any situation, she values forthright discussion about anything. I knew her wisdom would guide me. She gave me the best answer I have ever heard on the subject.

Megan, tell him that the cashier knows what s/he is and it would hurt the cashier’s feelings if other people didn’t know.

My son listened and nodded and then I reminded him to save any and all questions about other people until we are alone.

“Can we tell people what we are?” I paused only briefly. Guided by my mother’s wisdom, I gave him the best answer I have ever heard on the subject. “You can tell them, just don’t show them.”

Megan Davis Collins is a mother, writer and social worker living in Billerica.


Saturday, June 7, 2014

Rolling, Rolling Clothes Rack

It all began with a rolling clothes rack. My mother, once again, conned me into taking a carload of crap that was “really nice, wait ‘til you see it.” This is code for “I have limited storage space and no idea what to do with this junk.”

Luckily, I stopped the moving truck that was en route with an over-sized L-shaped, twenty-year-old, itchy sofa. When I told my family that “we’re getting a new couch!” it was my son who set me straight as he collapsed on our current couch and said “I HATE that thing!” That’s all it took to snap me back. What was I thinking? The same thing I’m always thinking when someone tries to peddle me their old furniture:

First, “hmmmm, we could really use a bigger couch [sewing machine, set of speakers, exercise bike …]” Second, I begin to feel righteous about reducing, reusing or recycling something. Finally: I announce to my family that we are “getting some new stuff!”

It is worth noting here that at this point, the recipient may feel a little triumphant about scoring the “goods”. But herein lies the classic con-artist maneuver: people don’t just hand over “goods.” Oversized suitcases and rolling clothes racks will outlive your entire family if you let them.

It’s like a bad cartoon: I’m left at the end of my driveway, a little bubble over my head with the words “Kablooey, she’s done it again!” Meanwhile, my mother is halfway back to Cambridge

I pull out the roll of canvas, rattling as it moves, unwrap it and discover that it looks very much like the rolling clothes rack I already have, except that this one, a generation older than mine, will soon be wearing a forest green dress. I stare at it, began inserting metal pipes into the rolling bottom shelf, and then break into a sweat as I realize that the pipes have to be inserted (jammed) into the designated holes at each corner of the “dress.” When complete, the whole ensemble stretches itself into a bad 1970’s camping tent. I know because I inherited three of them last time.

So now, I’m sweating and swatting at this hand-me-down prize, wondering how my day took this turn. It started out reasonably, with coffee, chatting with my children as they got ready for school, enjoying a peaceful walk in the woods with my dog, and suddenly, I’m involved in this rather violent skirmish with a hideous canvas clothes rack. The cruel twist? After its awkward assembly, I have nowhere to put it and nothing to put on it.

So I roll/drag/battle it out to the curb. Then, with the precision and determination of General Patton, I seize a lamp, a bag of blue streamers, some Christmas lights, a Pakistani rug, and three sets of galvanized rubber hooks, all “gifts” from my mother.

Kablooey. I’ve done it again.

Megan Davis Collins is in recovery for her recycling addiction. Email her at

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Voodoo Child

Voodoo Child

So I picked up a voodoo doll and a watch at a yard sale the other day. These transactions presented a few problems: one, I didn’t need a voodoo doll; two, the watch was broken and three, it was my yard sale. These problems were exacerbated by the fact that I had been waiting in line behind my son while my daughter was working the register. My son had just picked up three stuffed animals and two squishy clear jelly-filled I don’t-know-what’s.

My daughter glared at me as I stepped up to the register and said “Wait, why are you the only ones buying things here? I thought we were having this yard sale to get rid of stuff.” I just stared at my new voodoo doll and promised that it would all work out somehow. She charged me full price.

It’s really bad to buy junk, really, really bad to buy your own junk, and it is beyond bad to pay for an old broken watch that you didn’t even use when it was working.

I remember having a yard sale when I still lived with my parents. No sooner had the tables been set up and the cash drawer stocked, than my mother began selling my father’s stuff. Looking out the window, he began screaming as a man wheeled away on his 3-speed. “Hey! That guy has my bike!” No sooner had the cyclist made it down the driveway than another eager customer waddled away with his stereo speakers. It was a good thing because his albums were next.

I have slowly been letting go of some of the many, many things we have acquired over the years from dead, divorced or down-sizing relatives. When we visited my in-laws recently, they had created a care package of stuff for us from Grandma B. We protested and said that we have way too much stuff, but before long, we were each rooting through a cardboard box of the strangest items- things not just unnecessary, but very similar to the very items we had been trying to sell.

My husband watched me like a hawk as I fondled bottles of lotion, baby powder, contact paper, sewing paraphernalia (I don’t sew, but I was threatening to teach the kids.) Later he marched past me triumphantly, toilet plunger tucked under his arm.

Also packed to go, was one large bag containing framed pictures of us, our children, and us as children. I have to say, there is no greater feeling of rejection than having your mother hand you a bag of your old baby pictures. If you take them, you feel kind of like a loser but if you toss them out, it is heart-wrenching: you notice a mild self-loathing creeping in. So, in a fit of indecision, you stash them in your closet. And you vow to never give your own children their baby pictures.

Until one of them sells you a voodoo doll and a broken watch.  

Bubbles out the Window

As our children age, we watch some dreams of our  happy family float out the window.  Like ducks waddling on the playground, or riding bikes together.   A young girl grabbing your legs so you don’t leave her side.
Now, she glares at you from across the room.  She rolls her eyes at you.  You remember when you did the exact same thing to your own mother.  You were told this would happen.  You told yourself even.  You were ready for it.  You remind yourself what a bitchy little teen you were.  You know it’s coming, but dammit, when your little girl tells you to leave her alone, either in words or with a flip of her hair, you realize that you are in no way ready for it.

You hurry to keep up with her as she stalks off a soccer field or up a different aisle in the store, and you remind yourself that this is normal.  She’s supposed to rebel.  You are doing your job right if your children try to get away from you.  She’s just growing up.

I remember when you used to hang onto my legs, you whisper, more to comfort yourself, than to her. We used to blow bubbles together.  You used to cling to me when we waded into rough surf.  You screamed at me when I diverted my eyes from you.

Now if I stare at you too long in your skimpy bikini, you tell me to quit watching you.    

I remember the endless afternoons with my children orbiting me like happy planets, spinning on the grass or playing on the swings.   I remember cooking as they played with dolls or trucks, always within earshot, often squarely in my view.

Now, I’m on a field with only one child.  I can’t see the other.  I tried to convince her to watch baseball with us.  But she’s adamant. She doesn’t like baseball.  It’s boring.  Well, if you watch it long enough you may like it.  Just come with us.

I remember being a family seated together at the bleachers, she tugging at me as I tried to watch the game.  Now, the seat beside me is empty.  The tug is from across town, a different galaxy it seems. 
My friend and I mourn our aging family as we walk our dogs.  She offered to bring her daughter dinner while she waited at high school in between activities.  I cooked some fish the way you like it.  Mom, I’m getting burgers with my friends.  You don’t even like burgers.  Yes I do.  When the hell did that happen?

As you struggle with your sense of what used to be and how your family constellation is changing, you pretend you are ready.   You remember what you were like at her age. 
You were told this would happen.    You told yourself even.

But as those dreams float out the window, all you see are the bubbles you used to blow with your little girl.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Prepare for Take-off

I could not be any less suited for travel.  I fret the moment the flight is booked, tracking weather patterns, terrorist threats, even glacial shifts that may somehow affect travel.  I begin saying goodbye to people in sad, inappropriate ways.

My daughter finally said “Mom, why do you keep acting like the plane is going down?”   I don’t!  You just said “Since I’m convinced our plane is going down…”  Oh that.  I was talking about something else.

I asked my sister if she had realized yet that if our plane goes down, it’s the end of our family line.  No, she hadn’t quite thought of that yet, but thanks for the warning!    

I began organizing my office as if I were leaving Earth, converting it into a mausoleum.     Once the 10-day forecasts were released, I started tracking all upcoming weather- and precipitation-related events, like snow storms.

For the ten days leading up to our departure, the weather was predicted to be perfect, albeit frigid.  I researched de-icing practices and felt pretty confident, based on airline policy and interviews with various travelers, that iced wings would not be the thing to take us down.  I was feeling confident.

On day seven of the 10-day forecast, though, suddenly things shifted.  The day that had promised to be sunny, crisp and safe held the tail-end of a major snowstorm.  I went into calamity preparation mode.   And my version of calamity preparation mode would not prepare me for much.  It involved me telling everyone I saw about my fear of flying, hoping that someone would reassure me enough to drop it.   I never met that person.

I began praying in earnest and making little deals with God and myself.  I denied being worried, hoping it would convince my brain that I was not worried.  My brain had gotten really good at knowing when I was lying.  I started a computer file for my husband “If I don’t make it back.”  I began to worry about my dog.  How would he manage without me?  I eventually became obsessed with this thought, treating him like a terminal patient.  “Oh buddy, you’re gonna be fine.  Everything’s ok.”  He definitely picked up on my angst and began limping around, sagging his head, watching me cautiously from his half-sleeping state.  He never fully closed his eyes around me.  Great.  Now I’ve ruined my final days with him.

That’s when I stopped myself, remembering that I had done this before my last trip, and the one before that.  There’s always a flight or a storm or an illness.  Isn’t that just life? We do not control of any of this, and my efforts to wrestle it are wasted.   The only moment I have is happening right now.  Why can’t I seem to get that?  So I let myself accept that the flight is probably not going to take me down.

And began worrying that the crazy cab ride might.

Megan Davis Collins hates to fly, but loves the Gulf of Mexico.