A Boy’s Life: Mother Knows Best

How handy moms raise sons who marry handy wives

I AM IN the middle of trying to put up the second strip of wallpaper in my daughter’s room, wrestling with it the way I imagine a grizzly wrestles with a salmon, when I hear myself muttering. Why? Why did you do this to me?

The struggle continues as I try to get the piece to line up perfectly next to the first piece I’ve put up, which, now that I look at it, is so not straight. Yes, thank you, really glad you got me into this.

Finally, I get the piece attached, and I am standing there staring at it when my wife comes in. “Is there supposed to be that gap between the first piece and the second piece?” she
asks. I bite down on my lip and then — and, Jesus, please know that I am sorry for this — I think ­something a little bit ungenerous not about my wife, but about my mom.

My mother was Martha before Martha was Martha.

Wait, does Martha wallpaper? I don’t know and, actually, I don’t care. My mother wallpapered. That’s all I care about.

Now, when I say my mother “wallpapered,” I don’t mean that she simply smiled
approvingly when some high-priced decorator said, “Mary Ann, this pattern would look lovely in your foyer.” There was no ­decorator, or rather, my mother was the decorator, and she was an exquisite one because she has exquisite taste and our house looked exquisite — even though in real life she’s a librarian, not that there is any reason a librarian can’t have exquisite taste, but, you know, I’m just saying. Anyway, when I tell you my mother “wallpapered,” I also don’t mean she merely bought the wallpaper and then supervised a hanger who put it on the walls. There was no hanger; there was only my mother, hauling out her step ladder — ­actually, when she wallpapered the stairwell, she built ­scaffolding — and slapping that stuff up with perfect cuts and corners and not a gap in sight. She has done this — and I’m going to give you a number so large that you’re going to think it’s inflated for comic effect, only I swear it’s accurate — at least 117 times in the past several decades. Okay, that number is slightly exaggerated for comic effect, but the real number is at least 40.