Contributed by Jenny Guediri
Once in a blue moon I get a message from my mother. It’s her form of nurturing, front and center at the Publix meat department, shortly after 2 in the afternoon. Oh, it’s going down on my immediate left: There is my mother, who passed last year at age 77, offering up her unsolicited advice as I reach for a steak and push my finger slightly into the beef inside the package.
“That’s not how you tell it’s good.” I look up in wonder. Did I misinterpret the tone? Nope, no smile. A little too loud, bordering on obtrusive but clear and assertive: the voice of my Mom. Yep, it’s her. The collective maternal consciousness of her generation, that is. The voice of immigrant pragmatic no nonsense mothers from around the universe.
“You have to look for the fat,” She counsels. Spoken like a true survivor.
Why are these women so big on fat? Too much is unattractive. “She needs to lose weight if she’s going to find a husband.” Excess is unhealthy. “How is she going to keep up? You need stamina to find a good man.” Not enough lacks flavor. “That one is too skinny. No hips. How will she carry my grandchild?”
Like the package of meat, a daughter needs the exact amount of fat. Curves prove her prowess. Bulges say forfeit and neglect. Women have been calculating for years, coordinating cross-cultural comparisons into a magical formula equating a daughter’s (and their) happiness.
I have already chosen the package with the optimal amount of fat. I’m good with what I’ve got. In fact, I went through at least nine packs before deciding on the one I’m touching. But the collective Mom caught me in a superfluous act and went in for the kill.
She’s making a connection, that’s all, and I’m supposed to be gracious.
The all-encompassing mother is with me, wanting to relive our dance. I get it. Women everywhere are just trying to help and I can either go with the flow, “Thanks, I’ll keep that in mind.” Or try a shot at challenging the old wisdom. Second guessing, without scientific evidence, is not good. I am from the mother-daughter land that comes not with a welcome so much as with a warning: If you are planning to be yourself, voice your opinion, go against the ancestral grain, you better:
a. Prefix it with all due respect
b. Speak loudly, preferably drawing the attention of others to give the impression you have allies
c. Be ready to feel guilty because by having your own voice, you have indirectly made your mother feel slightly off balance and therefore less in control
d. Watch it
So why do I bother to communicate my approach? Just take the advice and run. Make her day. But I have to put my two senses in, as if I’m going to bridge the mother-daughter generation gap. True, I see she’s annoyed and vaguely insulted. Exactly what is it again that propels me to share my way of interacting? It’s my mother, for goodness sake, and in real life my message was often lost on her. The same way her message, frustrated with that eternal, impractical, female sensitivity, was almost lost on me.
I admit that poking the package is a silly habit. Its progress for me since back in my vegan days, the thought of having to clean and cook meat, ergo touch it at some point, made me queasy. Though, that’s not the point. The point is assumptions can be a turn off. Opinions and the words that carry them can be harsh and disconnected.
When I end up saying thank you, I know I’ve misfired. Personally, I prefer when Mom appears in my mind. She’s still up close and personal, though I feel her energy lightly hovering above me. I know she is watching, giving me the unspoken ok. Sometimes, there’s sadness and a sigh of relief but her vote of confidence is all I need. It’s the faith and support that everything is going to be fine. Only now that she is gone, it’s all very clear.