My Mother is a Saint and her Daughter is a Weirdo

I sometimes forget that my parents were there for all of it. This lapse in memory is no accident. It’s a willful, calculated move by my subconscious because when I say they were there for all of it, I mean all of it.  Parents witness an encyclopedia set’s worth of embarrassing events – be it silly or catastrophic. The harmless stuff is usually fodder for small talk when meeting a significant other for the first time or to be used in their speech at your wedding. But the dark stuff – oh, the dark, dank, horrific, terrible, terrible things – those are repressed and only come out when someone’s intent on WRECKING you during an argument. This is why a person shouldn’t put their parents in a shitty retirement home. They have worse dirt on you that anyone will ever have.  

I’m going to share with you one of those stories because Janis is a saint. Now, everyone who loves their mother will say this and other general platitudes that are certainly true, and thus amount to a conversation that nobody could really give a shit about. No part of me doubts that your mother is amazing. Mothers are amazing! I just don’t want to hear about how she really supported you when you were doing something difficult and impressive. Yawn. If you’re gonna brag about your incredible mom, I’m not gonna listen unless I get something out of it. I want blood my friends. So, in honor of mother’s day, I will sacrifice my dignity to show to you what a saint my mother really is, having put up with me.

When I was in middle school you weren’t a cool girl unless you wore a thong. Bras were so age 11. Everyone had bras. Bras were standard issue by the time you got to middle school. But thongs, thongs were cool as shit. And for reasons that I can’t quite remember or understand because I’m now teacher age, everyone knew what kind of underwear you were wearing. How? Honestly, I don’t want to know.

I first encountered the concept of a thong as something cool and subversive on What Not to Wear. It was a typical episode: another tragic case of human complacency was broken down and built back up with super stylish early 2000’s clothing. There was this young woman – let’s call her Plain Jane – who wore glasses and sweatpants to the grocery store like a fucking gremlin. She was made over to look like a lawyer who has cosmos with business client friends on Sunday evenings. She was wearing a sheer, clingy skirt and when she twirled around Clinton and Stacy noticed that her bottom was as smooth as a renaissance sculpture, nary a pantyline in sight. Stacy gasps and then says, sotto voce, “Plain, are you wearing a-” and then dramatically mouths the word “thong”. Plain Jane lets out a mischievous giggle and nods her head. Clinton and Stacy are fucking thrilled.

Then I started to hear from so-and-so and who’s-his-what around the cafeteria that some girls were wearing thongs! Thongs?! How did they get them? Aren’t they too young for such a thing? Should I have thongs? If so how many?! I didn’t want to be behind the trends, you know? God forbid I’d be the “late bloomer” in the class!

While shopping at Kohl’s with my mom one day, I said, “I need new underwear.” Broaching this subject was never easy and I knew I was about to step into new territory. I pretended to look around at all the normal underwears, haphazardly picking them up and putting them back until I worked my way to the thongs.

“Oh this is cute.”

I pull up a stringy, lacy contraption. In retrospect, it wasn’t cute.

“No, you are too young for that.”

“Oh…okay.”

I put it back and somehow continued along with my life, even though I had just suddenly died of embarrassment.  

Not long after I was exposed to the first frays of womanhood, we moved to Texas. Not only was I in a new state (some might even say country), but I went to public school for the first time since I was in second grade. The girls had highlighted hair, tans, and golden eyelids. It appeared I had a lot of catching up to do, being mousy and granola having gone to catholic school in a state where marijuana is now legal. I felt so immature compared to them. After settling in and making new friends, I found out that I was behind not only in regard to my exterior but in another, more private arena: my underwear.

I was not going to ask my mom to buy them for me. I was not going back there. But I needed to act fast, my place in the hierarchy of public middle school was tenuous at best.

I come from a family of do-it-yourselfers. It’s a tradition I continue to this day, running the gamut from wacky paint jobs to shoddy but passable home repairs. It’s only natural, that as a girl with no place to turn, I had to do it myself even if I was only thirteen. My mother had an excellent and extensive crafting and sewing workspace and I knew how to do a basic stitch. With a little luck and a lot of determination, I could most certainly pull this off.

In the middle of the night, I snuck into her crafting storage. I perused the fabric scraps that she had for fabric that wouldn’t be missed but also had a pattern that I liked. I grabbed some thread that also wouldn’t be missed and a pair of old scissors from the back of her drawer. I ended up with a plaid cotton fabric that was more Outlander than Victoria’s Secret, some ¼ inch white elastic, and lime green thread to bring it all together.  

I didn’t have a pattern, but I knew what thongs looked like. I thought I did anyway. The first prototype was a small triangle of fabric with three elastic bands connected to each point. When you think of a thong, that’s what it basically is, right? Sort of. Except this piece of fabric was too small and did very little of what underwear is supposed to do. You know, cover your bits.  So, I thought okay let’s go bigger. The second prototype had a rather large triangle of fabric and I thought, yes surely this will cover it all! It was far larger than any piece of underwear should be, but again it did a poor job at covering the…ah… bits. Then I had a eureka moment: I needed some more fabric to cover the bits! The third and final prototype did just that! Sort of. It looked more like a medieval maxi pad than your average thong and it was as comfortable as you might imagine that to be. The fabric had no give and the butt floss part of the elastic was drastically off-center.

So this is where the story gets weird. Really weird. Like, as I’m writing this I’m seriously considering deleting this article in its entirety and burning everything I’ve ever owned and becoming an ascetic painter who lives in a small town in New Mexico.  

You see, I needed a real life example. I needed to steal a thong. But not from the store – though given the alternative, I as an adult would consider this the morally superior choice. I had to steal someone else’s thong. Yes. You heard me.  

But none of my close friends actually had thongs either.

So. I stole one of my mother’s thongs.

What strikes me now is how little I was icked out about it. I was very matter of fact and not at all aware that what I was doing was strange. I tried to make patterns by tracing the outline of the thong on pieces of paper, but for obvious reasons it didn’t quite work. And in execution, analyzing a piece of someone else’s underwear was, well, really strange.  After about a week of a failed foray into making lingerie, I angrily crumpled the whole project into a ball of paper, fabric, underwear, and broken dreams. I took that wad of ineptitude and stuffed it in between my mattress so that it would remain hidden for the rest of time.

Time passed, I learned how to apply eyeliner, and I forgot about it. But the thing about burying the past is that it then beckons, begs to be dug back up.

I don’t remember what happened in the moments preceding it, but I did or said something dumb to my mom while she was in my bedroom that made her decided to snoop around. She was doing it jokingly and wasn’t actually looking for anything. To say the least, she wasn’t expecting to find the fucking discovery of the century under my mattress. As with any life or death moment, time slowed down. I remember right before she said, “what’s in here?” as she playfully creeped over to my bed like the Grinch toward a Christmas tree. The second she put her hand under the mattress I remembered something crucial. It was in that moment that I knew my life would never be the same.

“Ooooooo what’s in – wait what? What is this…”

Her face had a bemused if not slightly frightened smile as she began pulling out a knotted mess of elastic and plaid fabric.

She separated each tragic attempt, looking at it and then back at me asking, “what is this Michaela?” while trying to stifle her laughter. When she got to the underwear, she had a look on her face that could only be described as penultimate what the fuck. It’s a look that only parents can understand because parents are the only ones who experience the unbelievable what-the-fuckery that kids are capable of.

It was a look of “What the fuck is my precious, beloved, freakish creature of a child doing?”

She awkwardly tossed the heap of creepy on the center of my bed and walked out of my room. We never spoke of it again.

I just want to say thank you to my mom and all other moms out there.  Because they’ve seen some shit. Some weird, weird shit. We always talk about the way our mothers love us in spite of the bad things, or how if it weren’t for them we would never have graduated from college. But we never talk about the embarrassing stuff. We all did some weird, uncomfortable, embarrassing stuff growing up and believe me your mom remembers all of it. And chances are, she still loves you! Hell, my mom still likes me after that. If it weren’t for their ability to love us in spite of all the weird shit we’ve done, not a single person would have survived puberty!

And how she resisted the temptation to bust out this fantastic story any time I brought a new friend or significant other home is beyond me. I mean, could you imagine my dumb face? She never held this card over my head, and I am forever grateful for that. They say absolute power corrupts absolutely but that just isn’t true. Don’t ever think your mother hasn’t got all the power world just because she’s kind enough not to abuse it. Just for the love of god don’t put her in a shitty home. You’ve been warned.

Btw Mom, now that I’ve put this forth in front of God and everyone, I would be perfectly happy to die having never spoken about this with you again. In fact, if we could never speak the word underwear in each other’s presence again that would be greeeeaaat.
Happy belated Mother’s Day. Thanks for loving us freaks.

Artwork and Article (Reluctantly) By Michaela Heidemann