Thursday, September 18, 2014

CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL: Daughter, her boyfriend mortified by mom with a dustbuster

By AMY NEWMARK, Chicken Soup for the Soul | 5/2/2014

I just might make it, Janeen Lewis must have been thinking as the evening drew to a close. She’d brought her boyfriend to meet her parents, and so far the strangest thing her mother had done was greet them wearing a filtration mask, just a minor quirk compared to the eccentric behavior Janeen had feared. As she wrote in her story “Busted,” for our book on quirky families, Janeen always imposed a strict rule on herself: “Keep any potential mate away from the family as long as possible.”

Previous visits to her parents’ house had inspired the rule. There was the time she and a roommate had pulled up to find the front lawn covered in sheets: Janeen’s mother was trying to keep the flowers warm so they’d survive the fall. On another visit, a friend spotted a sticky note on the fridge that read, “Satan 7 p.m.” It turned out to be a reminder about a TV show, but that didn’t make it much better. Decorations were another matter. The house was always full of silk flowers, fake plants and models of woodland creatures. In February, the living room — decked with heart-shaped lights — looked “like a Vegas wedding chapel,” Janeen wrote. So when the worst that had happened so far was the filtration mask, Janeen felt she’d done pretty well.

I just might make it, Janeen Lewis must have been thinking as the evening drew to a close. She’d brought her boyfriend to meet her parents, and so far the strangest thing her mother had done was greet them wearing a filtration mask, just a minor quirk compared to the eccentric behavior Janeen had feared. As she wrote in her story “Busted,” for our book on quirky families, Janeen always imposed a strict rule on herself: “Keep any potential mate away from the family as long as possible.”

Previous visits to her parents’ house had inspired the rule. There was the time she and a roommate had pulled up to find the front lawn covered in sheets: Janeen’s mother was trying to keep the flowers warm so they’d survive the fall. On another visit, a friend spotted a sticky note on the fridge that read, “Satan 7 p.m.” It turned out to be a reminder about a TV show, but that didn’t make it much better. Decorations were another matter. The house was always full of silk flowers, fake plants and models of woodland creatures. In February, the living room — decked with heart-shaped lights — looked “like a Vegas wedding chapel,” Janeen wrote. So when the worst that had happened so far was the filtration mask, Janeen felt she’d done pretty well.

Then she picked up the cat.

The cat shed, Janeen was covered in hair, and, before she knew it, her mother was approaching her brandishing a hand vacuum. “No, she wouldn’t,” Janeen thought. “But, yes, she would.” Janeen tried to escape, but her mother caught her and started vacuuming her sweater. “No, no! It’s OK!” Janeen protested, mortified. “But the damage was done. I had been dustbusted by my mother in front of my boyfriend.”

Everything turned out fine. When Janeen and the boyfriend married, Janeen’s mother gave them a dustbuster. The woman had a sense of humor, it would appear, and I’d like to think, maybe from solidarity with my fellow moms, that Janeen’s mother might not have been quite as clueless as her daughter thought.

•••

“Grace,” a recovering alcoholic, was overcome by the desire to drink. She was a flight attendant walking through the Los Angeles airport. And she was on the verge of losing her job for previous infractions. Her doctor “Jim C., Jr.” wrote about how Grace saved herself from a relapse in “Friends of Bill W., Please Come to the Gate ...,” a story published in our book on recovering from substance abuse.

Grace tried to just “think through” the craving, “but it was way too powerful,” Jim wrote. “It was so powerful, in fact, that she was resigned to the fact that she would just go drink.”

But this dismayed her. “She truly had wanted to stay sober,” Jim wrote, “but she was in trouble.”

On her way to the airport bar she had a flash of clarity, a final chance to keep herself from drinking and knocking herself off the rails. She went to an airport paging phone and said into the receiver, “Will you please page friends of Bill W.?”

Bill W. is a code. In Alcoholics Anonymous, it is a way to identify yourself as a member, because Bill W. was co-founder of AA. So, when the words came over the loudspeaker — “Will friends of Bill W. please come to Gate 12?” — every AA member in the airport knew what it meant.

People from all over the world left their gates, knowing they would miss their flights, and converged on Gate 12. There they found Grace crying as she watched strangers come to her aid. They had an ad-hoc AA meeting right there, and Grace stayed sober that day and kept her job.

In his story, Jim pointed out that Alcoholics Anonymous has a principle that anyone anywhere should be able to reach out a hand for help and receive it from another member. It’s a message that’s extremely powerful within the context of AA, but it also can work elsewhere. Sometimes, in a time of profound need, the best and only thing to do is let out a cry for help, even among perfect strangers, trusting they will have your best interests at heart.

Syndicated by Chicken Soup for the Soul Publishing, online at www.chickensoup.com

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