What’s a Mother to Do?
by Ann Edwards Cannon

Chapter 31
Back to Biology 

[p.97]The other day as I was wandering through the living room, I happened to notice that our two-year-old son, Geoffrey, was playing the piano with his toes. I couldn’t quite make out the tune (possibly a little something from The Phantom of the Opera) but I did give him high marks for dramatic interpretation. Also I was interested in the fact that this is an ability which apparently runs in our family.

When my mother was a little girl—and this is the honest truth—she once played the piano with her toes on the Major Bowles Radio Talent Show. I used to think this distinction was due to the fact that she grew up in Wyoming where there is a definite shortage of things to do once you’ve gotten tired of hanging out with the holsteins. I figured Mom hiked in from the pasture one day and said to herself, “Gee, I’m bored. Maybe I’ll play an adagio or two with my toes for awhile.”

Anyway, I was in the middle of relating all this to my mother and grandmother as we were having the Number Five combo at our favorite Mexican restaurant, when my grandmother suddenly announced she would very much like to see that new movie in town, Princess Di. Mom and I shot each other questioning looks because we’d never heard of such a film.

“She has such a sad life, really,” my grandmother went on, “having to live with Prince Charles and all.”

After considering the matter over chile rellenos for a while, Mom and I figured out that Grandma must mean The Prince of Tides—not Princess Di.

Now my grandmother didn’t mistake the title because she’s old or because she doesn’t hear well, but rather because she’s a female member of our family. Not one of us can get a movie title right to save ourselves. My mother and I, for instance, always refer to that Sigourney Weaver movie Gorillas in the Mist as The Gorilla in Our Midst, which I personally believe is a much better title anyway.

Quirks like these are genetically transmitted, thereby causing a person to be completely at the mercy of nature in some things. We [p.98]just can’t help ourselves, don’t you know, which is why my brothers and I all watch television with our thumbs firmly on the remote control button. It’s a family trait. Our dad watches television this way, as did his ancestors before him, flipping through thirty-five channels in sixty seconds or less, driving all their spouses who did not share the same genetic predisposition completely mad.

We do this with radio stations, too, by the way, racing through the call numbers like wildfire in hopes of finding various family members playing the piano with their toes.

I was thinking about this the other day because one of my sons brought home a letter from his school library basically telling us we would all have to go to jail if he didn’t please, please, please return an overdue book.

“Where is this book?” I demanded. “Did you lose it?”

He gave me a look of disgust. “Duh, Mom. I didn’t lose it.”

“Where is it then?”

He rolled his eyes at how dense I was being. “In my desk.”


He shrugged me an answer, then ran outside to enjoy another terrific afternoon of not returning library books. I felt a stab of guilt as I watched him go. The sad truth is that he comes by this tendency to collect overdue books naturally.

In most areas of my life I am a fairly responsible person as the following list clearly demonstrates.

1. I do not litter.
2. I do not speed in school zones.
3. I do not remove tags from mattresses that don’t belong to me.

In these ways, people tell me that I am practically a paragon of public virtue. But when it comes to returning library books on time, I really stink.

In fairness to my mother I must say that she rarely returns books late, and when she does, she marches straight into the library and settles her debt in an expedient and honorable fashion. She would never think of doing what I do all the time—(a) dropping books into the after hours bin at midnight while (b) wearing a disguise thereby causing neighbors to have late night conversations such as the following:

[p.99]FIRST NEIGHBOR: There goes Ann wearing a moustache.
SECOND NEIGHBOR: Off to return library books again, I see.

So, I’ve made a New Year’s resolution a few months late. From now on MY CHILDREN AND I WILL RETURN OUR BOOKS IN BROAD DAYLIGHT.

And maybe we’ll even take them back on time, too!