why we care if they like us

In ALL, MARRIAGE, WRITING EXERCISES by Stephanie Klein1 Comment

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Once upon a time ago these ladies bit their nails over a dude. They cared, very much, what his parents might think, if they’d approve, give their blessing. They spent years worrying about finding a husband, only to grow old with one another. And I love that.

My parental anxiety sounds like a Lou Reed song
Each time it’s the same. A fight starts it; a fight ends it.  Can’t you go without me, why do we have to spend so much time with them?  Not so much time is repeated in my voice, exaggerated back to me. Leaky mascara. Things are slammed; outfits are tried, talked through with girlfriends over the phone.  The reinforcements come in, caffeine and digital camera in hand.  I look fat flutters around a room. Hands damp, why isn’t he putting his arm around me, how could he leave me there talking to her to get a damn score.  Get back here you ass.  Parental anxiety.  Then back to it again after a breakup.  It’s not sudden, your caring so much what his parents think.  You feared their disapproval when you met them; you fear their I told you sos even now, with every sight of him gone.

MOM’S parental anxiety sounds LIKE A BIRTHING ROOM
It was as bad as being told the baby Jesus dislikes you: the scene at my paternal grandparents’ house the day my father was announcing his engagement to my mother.  He had rehearsed something to say the night before when he was trying to sleep; it started with asking his parents to sit down.  But when he and my mother arrived in Forest Hills on that slate of November morning, the housekeeper Vernell answered the door, and his parents were already seated at the dining room table.  Grandpa was thumbing through the Times in a dark v-neck sweater.  My mother was surprised that he was bald.  My grandmother was hollering about how he had better not get any of that silvery newspaper ink on her Venetian lace tablecloth as Vernell took their coats.  Mother felt awkward but was thankful that she insisted on carrying in the white box of pastries they stopped for on their ride over to the house.  Her hands were wet.

“Don’t get up.”  Dad said as if he were convinced they were going to.  His mother put her cheek out for him to kiss, and his father briefly put down the paper and shook his son’s hand.  “This is Yolanda.”  Dad said as he awkwardly swung his arm around her shoulders and squeezed.  Mother hated her outfit at that moment.  Her blouse was pulling at the bust, and her bra was too tight.  It cut her breasts into four sections.  If I were alive and there, I would have pointed.

“It’s nice to finally meet you both.”  Mom hated the sound of her voice.  She felt the heat of Dad’s hand on her shoulder.  She didn’t know what to do next.  She handed the white box to Mrs. Klein with a smile and stepped back politely.

“Donald, what does she mean by finally?  How long have you been hiding her from us?”  Grandma looked just like her restricted voice.  Everything about her was tight.  Her hair was pulled back so tightly that she looked like she needed help blinking.  She penciled in her eyebrows, and Mom tried not to stare but she thought it strange that she had no eyebrows.  None.  She was wearing a black turtleneck with a heavy pearl necklace resting over it.  "Way too big.  Very gauche."  I would have said.  “Vernell.” She did not wait for an answer.  Vernell came shuffling into the dining room in slippers carrying a kettle of hot water.  And without instruction, she poured my grandmother another cup of water for her tea.  “Well sit down, sit down.”  Mrs. Klein demanded as she waved her arms to the two chairs, one on each side of her.  “Please help yourselves.  I don’t know what you eat anymore Donald.”
“This all looks great.”
“Does Yolanda like lox with her bagel?”  Mother knew, just then, that Dad had already told her that she wasn’t Jewish.  “It’s just salmon dear.”
“Yolanda eats anything.  She’s not picky.”
“I had hoped I could say the opposite of you my boy.”  She said under her breath, but loud enough for my mother to hear. 
“Would you two like Mimosa’s with your brun—?”  Vernell interjected. 
“No, Vernell.”  Grandma snapped.  “I told you she can’t drink.”  And with that comment, Mother was unsure if she somehow got the impression that mom was genetically inclined to be an alcoholic because maybe Dad might have mentioned that Popoo drank Vodka with his toast and eggs in the morning.  Would he tell her that? 

“Uuuh, Mom, Dad, before we dig in, I just want to say,” he put his napkin on his lap, “that I brought Yolanda here because I want to introduce you to the woman I am marrying.”  Mom closed her eyes and waited. 

“Yes, we know that dear.  You told me on the phone.  This one is just like his father…always a production.”  Grandma said.  She swung her legs around on the chair and faced Mother.  Clasping her hand, she said, “But we didn’t really get a good look at you dear.”  What?  Was Mother hearing things?  “Why don’t you stand up again and do a turn.  Pretend you’re on the runway.”  Mom stared at Dad with her I-can’t-believe-your-mother-is-for-real-what-are-you-waiting-for-do-something stare.  And he looked back at her and gave a blank stare coupled with a what-am-I-supposed-to-do-this-is-what-I’ve-lived-with-all-my-life shrug.  And then, she did it.  Grandpa let his paper fold in at the corner, and he watched Mom.  She actually pushed the chair back, stood up, and turned.  With her arms outstretched, I imagined that she looked like an opened umbrella and couldn’t help but wonder if it was all bad luck. 

Then, it happened.  Grandma stuck out her index finger and poked Mom  in the stomach.  “So how far along are you?”  Dad spit his coffee out.  Grandpa went back to reading.  Vernell came shuffling back with a wet cloth. Mom walked to the closet, ripped her coat off the hanger, and tried to walk out the front door.  There were too many locks, and the amount of time it took her to finally get the door open took away from her dramatic exit. 

Through the years, she got used to Grandma’s need to touch her.  When she finally did get pregnant with me, three years after they were married, Grandma dragged her shopping.  She was in search of the ultimate nightgown.  It had to be cotton, but with no sleeves, and it couldn’t be too plain, a little lace, but not too much because she didn’t want to look like a “harlot.”  Mom was holding nightgowns up to her body in the mirror, when Grandma came up from behind her and squeezed her breasts.  “They’re not big enough.”

Comments

  1. One of my exes dad’s made me stand up and do “just a little twirl” in front of the ENTIRE family. Mortifying!

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