TODAY IS MOTHER’S Day in Guatemala, Mexico, and El Salvador, and American Mother’s Day is three days away. I often forget about Mother’s Day until the last minute, and then wind up getting my mother something dumb, like tea. She’s always unduly excited. (“Wow!” she’ll exclaim, dangling a tea bag in the air as if it’s a strand of emeralds. “You always know just the thing!”) Being my mother’s daughter is like graduating to big-girl underpants every day. It follows that I harbor unreasonable expectations of others’ moms. My boyfriends’, for instance.
I admit I got spoiled at a young age by the mother of my high school boyfriend. He and I spent a summer playing competitive Scrabble at his house. Although we hardly spoke (mostly just, “That’s not a fucking word”), his mother and I chatted for hours on their deck. She kept a prom picture of my boyfriend and me on her mantle. She gave me Scrabble earrings, a tile to dangle from each ear.
Not that I always have it so easy. In my early twenties, I dated a guy for years whose mother pursed her lips whenever she saw me, as if to say, My teeth are too good for you. Because I’m both Jewish and a vegetarian, she liked to celebrate my visits by throwing a pig roast. Once, I accidentally left a skimpy lace thong under her guest room bed, and she sent it to my boyfriend in the mail. In a letter-sized envelope. With no note. Behind my back (but to the wrong people), she confided her deepest concern about me: that I would take Christmas away from her family. She was right to worry. I planned to take it not just from her family, but from all of America, and then from the world. Next I would take Halloween. And ultimately, Columbus Day.
Years later, I met George Glass. (His name wasn’t really George Glass, but let’s pay homage to Marcia Brady’s imaginary boyfriend.) George and I were set up by someone who, to be fair, didn’t know either of us very well. Our first date happened during an era when I had many first dates. To each of those men, I sobbed about my recent breakup, a routine that made suitors the world over desire me insatiably. But George, a corporate lawyer who owned no T-shirts, only suits, was unflappable. Not only did he let me cry about my ex, he acquiesced to spending an evening listening to a six-hour-long self-help CD.
“Can you let go of your pain?” asked the man on the CD.
“I just don’t know!” I wailed in George’s living room.
But despite these perks, I couldn’t have gotten serious with him because he had a small white dog who pissed and shit all over his apartment on giant diapers that George called “wee pads.”
Anyway. George loved his mom. They spoke on the phone daily. But maybe he loved her in a weird way. I inferred the weirdness when he told me, “She’ll love you. You know why?”
He took my hand, gazed into my eyes, and smiled meaningfully. “Because she loves me.”
The next time she came to town, the three of us went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner. Despite my misgivings, I couldn’t help feeling excited to meet her. She was a mom, after all. While George spoke to the hostess, Mrs. Glass and I sat at the bar and she turned her stool toward me. Gamely, I turned my stool toward her.
“I’m so fat,” she said.
She wasn’t fat. I stared at her, unsure I’d heard correctly. “You’re not,” I said.
“I am.” She scooted forward, touching her knees to mine. Then she rubbed my arm. “You must think I’m so fat.”
“Uh…nope!” I said, pulling my arm away to signal the bartender. I ordered a martini with extra vodka.
“I’m on a diet,” she said, as if asking me not to give up on her.
Once we were seated, I got to watch a super-fun mealtime game called Pretend Mrs. Glass Is Committed To Her Diet But Even More Committed To George. (Title credit: me.)
“Mom,” George said, when he saw her eye a pink beverage on a waiter’s tray, “get yourself one of those fruity cocktails.”
“I couldn’t possibly!” she said, indicating the invisible fat on her body.
“How often do you get to New York?” George swatted her arm. “Live a little!” He waved the waiter down. “My mother would like an apple-pear mojito,” he said.
Mrs. Glass sighed and shook her head at me. “I’ll only drink it to make him happy.”
Similar histrionics–Mrs. Glass feigning self-restraint, George permitting her to stuff herself–ensued while ordering dinner, and after dinner, three apple-pear mojitos deep, when Mrs. Glass spotted a cupcake bakery.
The next day, Mrs. Glass safely back in Massachusetts, George and I were hanging out at his apartment, probably doing something romantic like watching his dog defecate, when he asked me, “So, what did you think of my mom?”
I remembered her perched on her bar stool, stroking my arm. I wanted to say something honest. But nice. Couldn’t I find compassion for her? After all, I, too, often worry irrationally that I’m fat. Maybe my aversion to her was just recognition. Or perhaps I envied her candor?
“She’s…” I said. “Um.” I wanted to say, Being around your mother is like hanging out with my id. Instead, what popped out was, “She’s beautiful!”
George beamed. “Can I tell her?”
The dog leapt onto the couch and urgently sniffed my vagina. “What?”
“That you said that?” He was already scrolling through his Blackberry, and then holding it to his ear.
“Shh.” He put a finger to his lips. “Mom?”
I looked around his apartment for escape routes. A few bottles of scotch sat on top of the fridge. That was one option. There was also a big window from which I could hurl myself.
“I was just talking to Diana,” said George, “and she said…” He took a deep breath, building anticipation, and then glanced at me, flashing a quick grin and a wink. “That you’re beautiful!”
“Oh my God,” I said.
“No, she did, Mom!…Mom!…Yes, I’m—no, I’m not making it up!” He rolled his eyes; her unwillingness to see her own beauty was exasperating. “She said it!” he cried. “She did!”
He was smiling so hard, his eyes were shining, and all at once, I knew why I couldn’t be with George—it wasn’t the dog diapers carpeting his floors, or his commitment to defending the rights of corporations, but my own double standard: I can be a lover of moms. But I cannot love a mama’s boy.