You’re probably wondering why I didn’t phrase the title as a question.
The truth of the matter is that it is a constant question of mine, and the following is my feeble attempt to explain the enigma that is my mother.
Ladies & Gentlemen.
Who is Planet Sheila.
To understand where “Planet Sheila” comes from, you have to understand that my mother operates by her own rules and communicates in such a way that seems cryptic and bizarre yet is so profoundly simple and earnest. I first introduced Planet Sheila as a “character” of sorts in my life, far beyond the standard role of “mom,” to friends who questioned some physically present as well as world-view oddities I carried with me; the only way to make sense of what I couldn’t easily explain (at least not without a million back stories and “you had to be there” moments, which let’s face it, are painfully boring if you weren’t) was to tell people she hails from another planet: Planet Sheila. Maybe the laws of society and physics and reason don’t apply here on Planet Earth; but in a galaxy far, far away, the rules for which my mother is bound and lives her life is perfectly sound.
You see, her out-of-this-world behavior(s) and communication style are not merely wacky or utter nonsense. Quite the contrary, in fact. It happens with such frequency and pattern that it can’t be chalked up to typical “my mom is crazy” rhetoric. No, no… this is a social scientist’s dream of a case study.
Or space scientist, as it were.
For instance, when the dawn of texting came about and the shorthand along with it (LOL, BRB, WTF, etc.), my mother essentially invented her own. It took me months to be able to understand it without staring blankly at the glowing screen, and I wasn’t sure whether to be proud of myself or worried of my own understanding of it coming so easily. She also texts exactly how she talks, long before voice-to-text was even a thing, complete with emphasis on her word choice and with the same speed and chaotic jumping around she does in real life. During those days of running myself ragged in college and to this day of trying to manage a business, reading her texts between those intense moments of work bring me some weird little comfort of “hearing” her voice.
Probably the most famous of the Planet Sheila character points comes from the goodie boxes she sends on the occasion, whether special or just-because. I am 100% convinced she doesn’t realize she does this because it’s just too perfect (and maybe it’s a Planet Sheila social custom). Since I went away to college years ago, she still sends several boxes of items meant to bring some small joy and touches of the heart, but not without wondering where some of this stuff came from… it never, ever fails that a Planet Sheila box comes with the following three things: a practical item (ex: a travel wallet, a notepad, an “as-seen-on-TV” type device, etc.); a fun & frilly item (maybe a bracelet, some chocolate, wine with a fun label, cute slippers, etc.); and a WTF item. As in, I have no idea where it came from or who or why they would sell it… so random and bizarre it can only come from a store on Planet Sheila. A bright green St. Patrick’s Day stocking with my name embroidered on it (because on Planet Sheila, the elves fill a stocking then, too). Statues of religious icons (Child of Prague? yup, we’ve got him). A bright red shoe covered in bedazzles meant to hold your wine (as if we keep wine around long enough to need a holder). The list goes on.
But then there were the things that she introduced my siblings and me to from Planet Sheila in my early years and kept the spirit alive so well I can’t imagine having grown up without some of those memories.
For instance, we didn’t listen to Top 40 in the car driving to school or running errands, but rather my mother loved show tunes and ballads from big musicals. It opened up the conversation to things like history and asking what certain words/phrases meant in songs, and it wasn’t until I was in college I realized how weird it was to my siblings and I to beg for the Les Miserables soundtrack (“Red, the blood of angry men; Black, the dark of ages past!”… not exactly Kidz Bop).
Then there were the Christmases we’d bake an absurd amount of cookies or fudge or rice crispie treats to deliver to the usual suspects, but then we’d have the real fun and drop off goodies to those who we generally just found to be fun people in our lives: the attendants at the mailroom; our family pets’ vet; the shop owner of the quirky general store; the owners of the eclectic restaurant; the lead pharmacist at our favorite local drug store; etc. I grew up thinking that’s what you’re supposed to do, and I remember year after year getting so excited to see what new friends we’d add to the list of deliveries, thinking my lumpy and awkwardly designed in colored icing treats were better than any grocery store could hope to make.
Friday nights growing up, if not spent watching classic movies (okay, and occasionally Dumb & Dumber because Planet Sheila would snort-laugh at how stupid it was), were spent going to the theatre or opera or ballet. We learned the etiquette of applauding through movements, dressing for the occasion, and were always treated to a late-night dessert and discussion of the production afterwards.
Planet Sheila prepared food in such a way that either made you eat until you exploded or questioned the meaning of life. There was the one time she made a wild attempt at making biscuits when we moved from the Midwest to the South, and I thought she was trying to murder us by choking on the chalky, dusty hunks of flour and water (true story, I didn’t touch another biscuit until I was 19 because I thought they were supposed to taste that way and I thought Southerners were insane for liking them so much). But then she could make the most incredible corned beef or rack of lamb that to this day rivals any gourmet restaurant, and her invention of the “Squirrel Gut Cake” (a layer of brownie and a layer of cake separated by a thick filling of gooey red colored icing and topped with ugly green colored whipped topping and “guts” – basically nuts and a crap-ton of sprinkles and gummy worms) had all the neighborhood kids asking for that hideously delicious dessert.
On Planet Sheila, there are no strangers – only friends, and interesting ones at that. It took me years to realize she and my father didn’t “know” everyone in town… but they, especially my mother, gave them the space to be themselves and found everyone they met exceptionally fascinating. While I operate from a place of caution with a guarded heart, Planet Sheila opens hers to people she knows needs it most.
The attitude of gratitude is hallmark of Planet Sheila, as is the necessity of showing up BIG when called to do so (for Halloween one year she went full zombie and wore one of those creepy beauty peeling masks with some strategically placed makeup that was so perfectly horrifying, I’m still shocked Hollywood special effect people haven’t figured out how genius that was).
On Planet Sheila, time is a construct and not a fact, which can be so endlessly frustrating yet liberating at the same time. (If she’s 15min early or late, she’s basically “on time.”)
Sharing really is caring on Planet Sheila; she carefully choose several angel tags off the Christmas tree at church and invited us to shop for the people those tags represented, to whom I only knew by name. But I remember getting really excited to pick out sparkly pens and stickers and clothes for them and hoped one day we’d meet and share stories about who we were going to be when we grew up (and what their favorite scene is from Guys & Dolls, because doesn’t everyone have one?).
Generous. Bright. LOUD. Overtly positive yet with a hint of doom and cynicism. Curious. Hungry for new experiences. Full of life. Full of surprises. There is no word for “dull” as it’s a concept that doesn’t even exist, and bathroom sinks are used for vodka and wine storage. #alwaysprepared
These are the qualities you’ll find on Planet Sheila.
While one may never know when you’ll receive a transmission or maybe when her ship unexpectedly lands in your backyard, but I will say I can always count on her presence to light through the cosmos when you need it most. She can find the humor in anything and remind even the most self-inflated personalities, HEY MAN, we all put our green corduroy pants on the same way.
I hope one day I get the chance to visit Planet Sheila, as it must be simply marvelous. But until then, I’ll look to the stars knowing she’s always orbiting like a bedazzled spinning tea cup ride in the sky, sprinkling joy and absurdities everywhere she goes.
In the spirit of Planet Sheila and this weekend being Mother’s Day, I’d like to take a moment to officially announce my start of a new weekly newsletter inspired by the woman herself. Each week you’ll receive another piece of junk in your inbox with links to three new discoveries on the interwebs: 1 practical item; 1 fun & frilly item; and 1 WTF item. Sign up here (if you dare) and prepare to be amazed. Or at least mildly entertained.
And with that, I bid you all adieu, Earthlings.
Hugs & High Fives to infinity – and beyond!