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Wrinkles of motherly worry, the ongoing stress of children

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I'm typing this some 36,833 feet above the earth, somewhere over the deep blue ocean waters of the Atlantic between Newark and London.

Some 2,400 miles from this hurtling flight, my mother is pacing the floor with worry.  As a parent of a teenaged girl with a driving permit, I can sympathize with the woman's concern over a child not making it to their destination in one piece.

Stakes are high on this trip, as I am interviewing for a new "day job" to supplement the king's ransom I make writing this column every week -- another cause for worry if things don't go well.

Flying to a somewhat unfamiliar foreign cosmopolitan city alone for the interview also causes the woman to bite her nails a bit, and I'm quite sure she won't sleep comfortably until I settle into Dad's family compound of Tuam, Co. Galway on my way home.

Of course, the worry machine will begin to whir into high gear when I board the plane to cross the Atlantic. Again, I can totally relate to much of this now that I'm a parent myself.

But on this trip she took worry to a new level.

"Ye have a good suit packed?" she asked.

"I just came home from the Brooks Brothers outlet, where they had a two-for-one suit sale. I got one in dark gray and one in navy," says I.

"That's good," she says. "Lovely. And there's a nice tie to go with it, yes?"

I filled my lungs with air and pressed my tongue hard against the inner lining of my front tooth to keep the thoughts I had in their proper place.

"Yes, one green and one yellow.  It will be paired with a powder blue suit. I haven't decided which suit to pack and the combinations will look good with either one."

"New shoes? Not those old ones yeh had on last time I was down."

"Yes, Ma," I said.

"And you have a decent suit bag to keep it nice and pressed? Not just throwing it up in an auld ball?"

"Wow, I'm glad you mentioned that, Mom," I said through clenched jaw, the blood percolating to a boil.  "I'll take it out of the bag now and see if I can smooth out the ball of wrinkles."

"Jesus, Eileen!" bellowed my dad, listening on the other end of the phone. At 78 and after 48 years of marriage, the man has long since abandoned the possibility of getting a word in edgewise.  "Jesus, Eileen" every few minutes is about all he can manage during these three-way chats.

"Ye don't have to get huffy, I'm just interested, is all."

"How did I ever make it out of the house to become a vice president of a company without you inspecting my wardrobe every morning?" I sighed.

"Really," my exasperated father said.

He definitely married his mother.  Granny Farragher was always a circuit board of worry.

Even after she'd put out a feast fit for a king when us Yanks would come over, she would sit at the head of the table and drum her knobbed fingers incessantly. She wouldn't actually settle into the conversation for a few minutes, her thoughts running through a mental checklist as she surveyed the table.

In the later years of her life, my father would have been the same age as I am right now when we visited her.  I can’t help but wonder if she inspected him for flaws in the same way she surveyed the table so obsessively?

I couldn't get off the phone with my mother fast enough.  This whole display of an Irish mammy mothering her middle-aged son to the point of exasperation on my part was broadcast over the Bluetooth system of our car. and my wife was shaking her head the whole time.

"That was un-bee-leeve-able," she said, the pent-up frustration erupting. "You held your tongue a lot longer than I would have. She still thinks she's dressing you for Communion or something! How did you survive that level of smothering?"

I shrugged my shoulders in an attempt to shrug off the conversation. I know Mom meant well.

We were heading home from the beach for one more kiss of the sun in an attempt to look a "Yank brown" to my Irish relatives later this week.

"Did you shake off the sand from your feet so that you don't track it into the house that was just cleaned?" my missus asked as we placed the beach chairs into the shed.  My daughters and I nodded absent-mindedly.

"And let’s put the beach badges back in the envelope where they belong," she added. "You know how nuts I get when we turn the house upside down looking for them, only to find them at the bottom of the washing machine."

A flash of enlightenment passed over me as I washed my pale toes with a hose. Dad might not be the only one that married his mother...

(Mike Farragher's collection of essays can be found on www.thisisyourbrainonshamrocks.com.)

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