I called my mother the other day to see if she wanted to get
together for dinner and a movie. Mom didn’t know it, but I had this
whole plan laid out, in which I would take her to a nice restaurant,
then catch one of the movies she’s been saying she wanted to see. It
would be nice, I thought. We’d share Raisinettes and gossip about my
brothers and sisters.
“No way, Jose,” my mother said in her “don’t-bother- asking-again”
tone of voice. “I’ve had it with you kids. I’m going to a party and
you’ll be lucky if I ever come back.”
It had been awhile since I’d heard my mother pull one of her
famous “You’ll be lucky if you ever see me again” routines, and it
surprised me. She typically doesn’t threaten us with a disappearing
act unless she’s at her wit’s end with one or several of her
children, and I hadn’t realized things were getting to that point. I
asked her what was going on, and the complaints started pouring out
“I’ve just had it with your sisters,” she said so loudly I had to
hold the phone away from my ear. “You have no idea, the drama I’ve
been putting up with here. I’ve got this one, Yvonne, saying she
wants to move back home, and that other one, The Beeper -- you just
don’t know. Anyway, I’ve had it -- I’ve had it, I tell you! I’m going
to fly back East and never come back!”
Yvonne has been hassling my mother about moving back home ever
since her girlfriend moved out and left her holding the rent bag. My
sister Linda has been a thorn in Mom’s side since a judge recently
ordered her to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet as a condition
of probation. The bracelet bothers my mother so much she’s taken to
calling Linda “The Beeper.”
“Is that what I raised you kids to be?” Mom continued.
“Freeloaders and beepers? Was that what I sacrificed everything for?
Well, I’ve just had it. I’m flying back home and you kids will never
see me again!”
For as long as I can remember, my mom’s had this fantasy in which
she’d pack up and fly off to live out the remainder of her days with
her sister and nieces in New York. She would buy a one-way ticket and
conveniently forget to leave anyone a forwarding address. Whenever
things got too thick at home, whenever my brothers or sisters or I
would cause more headaches than she felt she could handle, she’d
threaten to turn her back on all her troubles and just fly away. Back
to problem-free Manhattan.
“Mom,” I said, attempting a rational approach. “Do you really
think life in New York City right now would be any better than here?”
“Don’t underestimate your sisters,” she answered.
I suppose there had to be a time once, back before Mom had a track
record, when her threats of abandonment actually inspired concern.
Perhaps there were moments many decades ago when Yvonne, the oldest,
would break into trembling tears and plead with Mom not to go. But no
one takes the threats seriously anymore.
My mother knows this. She sees the rolling eyes and the poorly
hidden smirks, and they make her even angrier; they make her put on a
bigger show of it. It used to be that just threatening to run away
let out enough steam to bring her frustration below the boiling
point. But as her children grew older and the problems we got into
grew more sophisticated, mere verbal threats became no longer enough.
By the time I was in high school, Mom had taken to supplementing her
threats with phone calls to her sister.
“You’d better get that room ready, Rosie, I’m coming home!” she’d
say into the receiver, her voice carrying throughout the house. “Yep,
I’m serious this time! These kids don’t deserve me! I’m coming home
and I’m never going back!”
When this failed to inspire the desired level of fear among her
children, Mom began using visual props. We’d come by the house and
she’d have two suitcases by the door.
We’d sit down on her couch and notice the New York City hotel
brochures conspicuously fanned out on the coffee table. Whenever we
would ask her about them, she would just smile mischie- vously and
walk away. But eventually the brochures would disappear and the
suitcases would go back into the closet.
The furthest Mom ever took it was when, about seven years ago, she
stumbled upon some drug paraphernalia hidden in Yvonne’s coat. We had
long known Yvonne had a drug problem, but until she held the evidence
in her hands, Mom had managed to maintain her denial. To everyone’s
surprise, she reacted to the discovery by actually buying a plane
“You thought I was kidding before, but now you’ll see!” she
shouted. “This is it! I’m leaving and I’m never coming back!”
Out came the suitcases and the hotel brochures, along with garment
bags, a couple of romance novels and Dramamine. It was the Dramamine
that made Linda nervous enough to sneak a look at Mom’s plane ticket.
When she reported to the rest of us the ticket was round trip, we all
Still, in hindsight, I wish we had made a better show of acting
“I want you to promise me you’ll take care of yourself,” Mom told
my brother Michael as he drove her to the airport. “And check in on
Davey every once and awhile. It’ll be really hard on him now that I’m
gone. And make sure someone waters my plants!”
“I will, Mom,” Michael said, pulling into LAX. “Bring me back
“I’m not coming back!”
“Oh, that’s right. Well, have a good time.”
A week later, Mom called me at work to tell me she was having the
time of her life. She had looked up old relations, was getting fat on
New York pizza and had even checked out the view from the top of the
World Trade Center. “Is somebody watering my plants?” she demanded to
A week after that, she called to see if I could pick her up when
her flight arrived. Driving to her house, she told me all about her
“Ay, mijo, I don’t how people can live like that, all packed in
like sardines. And the humidity! You could swim in it! Still, it was
good to be back home.”
We pulled into the driveway. I was happy that she was back safe,
and though I’m usually pretty clueless as to her needs, it occurred
to me that she needed to hear something.
“Mom, I want you to promise me that you’ll never take off like
that again. We were so worried, you have no idea. We thought you were
never coming back!”
“I’m not going to promise anything. I’ll promise if you can
promise that you and your brothers and sisters will behave.”
“I can’t promise that, Mom.”
“OK, then,” Mom got out of the car and looked at her garden. “Oh
for Pete’s sake, Davey, my roses! Nobody’s been watering them! You
see? I can’t leave you alone for a minute!”
* DAVID SILVA is the city editor at the Leader’s sister paper,
the News-Press. His column runs Saturdays. Reach him at 637-3231, or
by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.