Contributed by Jenny Guediri – “Look for the Fat”:
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.
Contributed by Sherry Shameer Cohen:
Your website is wonderful. The content is so substantial and it’s very nicely designed. I know I’m going to blog about it as well again. I just don’t know when. Perhaps after Thursday’s parenting workshop. It’s called How to Raise a Mentch. It’s a Chabad thing at my son’s preschool. The thing is that all the Chasidic families (and we’re nowhere near Orthodox) are so calm. Ken and I are high strung.
We moved in with my mother because our townhouse wasn’t child-friendly. I love my mother, but she, well you know, drives me crazy. I’d worry more if we lived apart. She doesn’t believe in going to doctors. When we were in the apartment, she fell off a chair and broke two toes and kvetched about the pain. Duh! Thank goodness we were living with her when she jabbed her good eye. (She’s been blind since birth in the other eye.) “Oh, I don’t need a doctor. I’ll be fine.” She NEEDED surgery that day to save her sight. It took about 8 months. Even a week after the surgery, when she saw floaters, she didn’t want to go to a doctor. Is there any wonder why between her and Alex’s terrible twos that I need Xanax intravenously?
Visit Metro Journalist to read Sherry’s Help, My Mother is Driving Me Crazy blog
Contributed by Sally B.:
So here’s what I get to deal with on a daily basis….
My mother is going to win an award!!! “And the trophy goes to Mrs. B for Filthiest Apartment Ever!” The trophy is a model of Pigpen surrounded by dirt. Ok, I am just kidding about this part but the rest of this email is true… She is having a “heavy duty” cleaning service there today, and it was originally scheduled for 2 hours, but the woman from the office called me to, as delicately as she could, tell me that it is gonna take the whole day!!! And they sent in back-up, a second cleaning woman, plus they have maintenance men moving the fridge, stove, etc. Oh dear! I hope they are all wearing hazmat gear. The entire apartment is only about 450 sq ft, and the kitchen is only 4′ x 4′. Oh my gosh, this gave me a laugh!! It’s so disgusting but funny.
We have to laugh otherwise we’ll cry, right???
Contributed by Anonymous:
I am 45. For years growing up my mother yelled constantly and did not act as if she cherished me. She probably did love me but she did not know how to show it in ways that I needed. She was not abusive, it’s just that she couldn’t be bothered with a lot of the things that I cared about. She didn’t know how to handle that I had my own mind, ideas, and interests. At times I was depressed and she just “pooh-poohed” it. She was not well equipped to be a parent of kids born in the 60’s and never learned from her parenting mistakes.
My father died when I was 16 and in a lot of ways I became the one in charge. I guess to summarize, she took care of the “big picture” things like keeping the house when she had no job, paying the bills, getting my sister and me to the colleges we wanted, but when it came to any sort of conflict resolution, her solution was to slam the door and yell, so we had a household of yelling. She has always tended to try and take the easiest way out of things. She never apologized for some of the bigger things she did wrong. At age 26, after years of her spouting “get out of here!”, I moved out quickly when I got a new job. Then she cried to my aunt that I moved out. I moved 100 miles away and liked it very much.
Fast-forward 15 years and her health is failing so we move her to a nice little apartment near where I live. It’s a godsend in that I can be there for medical issues, yet she has her own space and has made many nice friends. In many ways she is a lot easier to deal with than years ago, but also she is very needy. I try to keep as much distance as possible. I realize it’s not productive to think about things she did wrong 20+ years ago but I am sure it impacts how I feel about her today. There are snippets of nice times we have together these days, and I would like to have more of those, but she still manages to say or do things that push my buttons (probably not on purpose but she is so oblivious sometimes it makes me crazy!).
Contributed by Alexandra D., Connecticut:
I just keep my mom at a distance….I am so busy I only see her 1-2x a month on average, and I like having my own life so when we get together we keep it short and sweet. I do talk to her but mostly about business, as she takes care of my kids when I work in another state. I don’t actually see her because I leave/arrive home before she comes/after she is gone. However, I am giving her the chance to know her grandchildren and vice versa.
You can’t choose your family…but you can choose your friends. As an adult, I make the choices on how to spend my time and who to spend it with. I love my mom, but we have different interests and that is ok – like I said, I just keep it short and sweet and that works for me. She is involved in volunteering and has a group of friends to get together with, so she can enjoy her own interests. This will all change when she can no longer drive, but I am living in the moment!!!
If you would like to contribute your own brief story or “moment,” click here for more information.