By SUSAN DROMEY HEETER, InDepthNH.org
Earlier this week, I gave an impassioned speech on a topic close to my heart; I spoke forcefully, passionately, directly. When it was over, I shared my experience with my sister and remarked, “I was Mom at the top of the stairs.”
Today I muse joyfully on sibling shorthand, on those phrases recognized by those who once shared a household, those brothers and sisters who need no explanation, who get it from the start.
“Mom at the top of the stairs” translates to “angry, you have no idea how much trouble you are in at this moment, no idea how miserable your life will be in the days to come.” I grew up in a very old house with five brothers and sisters. When we were in high school and tried to sneak in at night, we attempted to pussyfoot up some very, very creaky stairs in that very old house. Success was especially elusive when there was alcohol involved, when it was any time beyond midnight, when Mom was at the top of the stairs.
We’d slip off our shoes, take each step with the grace of a cat burglar, Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible. Inevitably, my mother would be standing, waiting in her Lanz nightgown at the top of the stairs, a slight curve preventing us from seeing her until the very last moment, the very last step.
The terror was palpable. We were caught. Mom at the top of the stairs.
When I speak with my brothers and sisters, I can simply say, “Oh, I was Mom at the top of the stairs” – and the meaning is clear: there was passion, there was discord, there was hell to pay. My own children have their own versions of Mom at the top of the stairs, they know when the buck has stopped, the Lanz nightgown is on, the legacy of being held accountable is palpable.
Today I muse joyfully on sibling shorthand and on all of those Moms at the top of the stairs; and if you’re trying to sneak past, good luck. Those creaks resonate for decades.