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MOM'S THE WORD

One Mother's Day a few years back, Mom and I were waxing nostalgic about what a delightful child I had been and how lucky she was to produce me in only one out of three tries.

Actually, Mom wasn't reminiscing so much as rolling her eyes skyward and making rude gagging noises. But I was definitely in Golden Memory mode. And it finally seemed as if sufficient eons had passed to confess the greatest triumph of my youth without getting whacked upside the head or grounded for life.

I was in junior high school at the time and determined to stay home the next day, due to some long-forgotten horror (a test, a schoolyard beating, or perhaps a zit the size of Herve Villechaize). Yeah, I could have faked a simple fever or stomach ache, but this was no time to take chances. I needed to create the illusion of near death.

My plan seemed foolproof from the start. I got up in the middle of the night, took my bedroom wastebasket into the kitchen, and proceeded to fill it with raw eggs, refried beans, creamed corn, leftover lasagna, vinegar, cottage cheese, Alka-Seltzer (for that all- important bubble effect) and anything else I could find to create two gallons of the most realistic fake vomit this side of Repulsive Novelty Items R Us.

When Mom sounded morning reveille, I brilliantly recreated John Agar's death scene from The Brain from Planet Arous while pointing (ever so weakly) to the pot of artificial upchuck near my bed.

Lemme tell ya, it was a glorious start to a glorious day of TV game shows, soap operas and The Four-Star Afternoon Movie.

So glorious that, 25 years later, I broke down and told Mom what I'd done so she could at last call all of her friends and brag about the cunning child she raised.

"I knew that was fake vomit," she said with a laugh. "Don't you remember? I was a nurse. I just thought that any kid who'd go that far to get out of school for one day must have an excellent reason."

At that moment, I knew my search for a really cool parenting role model was over. I'd had one in my own family for years and hadn't even known it.

Of course, if I were truly cunning, I'd have started appreciating this woman long ago. Like when she'd let me go to the movies on a school night to be first in line for the latest Steve "Hercules" Reeves movie, because she knew they were important to me.

Or when my high school principal asked Mom, in my presence, if that was her signature on the fifteen or twenty absentee notes spread out before us. It wasn't. But on the way home, Mom didn't rant or rave or threaten to ship me off to military school. She didn't have to. (From then on, I forged her signature only when it was absolutely necessary.)

Or--perish the memory--when I was sixteen and announced my plan to get married. Mom said no, absolutely not, I wasn't mature enough to make that kind of decision. To prove her wrong, I ran outside and threw myself on the front lawn while kicking, flailing my arms and screaming, "I am mature! I am mature!"

Thank God she won that debate.
For better or worse, it was my mother who influenced me to become a writer instead of a cartoonist, which was my professional goal at the age of ten. Every day I'd show her my latest drawings, and she would offer endless praise and encouragement. When I took my first stab at prose, I expected the same response. Instead, Mom very politely suggested that I go back to cartooning. As soon as possible.

Naturally, being a budding teen rebel, I had no choice but to promptly trash my drawing board and start saving up for a typewriter. (Although Mom doesn't recall this incident, she continues to ask if I've drawn any cartoons lately.)

Like all kids, I thought at times that my mother possessed a cruel and unusual sense of justice. Once, while my brother and I were doing the evening dishes, we got into a sword fight with Mom's brand new carving knives and nicked the blades so badly they couldn't slice warm Jell-O. Our inhumane, emotionally scarring punishment, after the screaming died down? We were forbidden to watch our favorite TV hero, Zorro, cross blades with his enemies for two weeks!

Mom was so upset that it didn't occur to her that the thirty-minute program was only broadcast once a week. But even so, if it weren't for reruns, I never would have forgiven her.

At least, not until she admitted knowing about the fake vomit ruse. Now I know why "Mom" spelled upside-down is "wow."

I took my wastebasket into the kitchen and filled it with raw eggs, refried beans, creamed corn, lasagna, vinegar and cottage cheese.

My high school principal asked Mom, in my presence, if that was her signature on the fifteen or twenty absentee notes spread out before us.

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Michael Burkett