At the moment, I feel very lucky. That’s all fine and dandy, except that feeling lucky is waaaay beyond my comfort zone. This makes me feel uneasy, which makes me feel unworthy, which makes me feel guilty, which makes me feel compelled to apologize for the less-than-admirable things I’ve done in my life.
Some of the things for which I am very sorry:
1978: In one of many futile attempts to be cool, I participated in the emotional torture of a nice girl named Julie by pretending to have a severe allergic reaction to her.
1981: Obsessed with the generous ink flow only a Mr. Sketch could provide, I lied to Lew and told him that the uber-cool coloring book I was about to receive with my McDonald’s Happy Meal would only “work” with magic markers. I did this knowing full well that magic markers had been contraband in our home ever since I drew a mural on the chartreuse velour couch.
1983: Clad in Snoopy-adorned flannel pajamas, I summoned Jamie as if I was going to provide a sisterly hug, then poked her in the eye. Please note, she sustained no permanent injury. Please also note that while I AM sorry, I do still find it a little funny.
1984: I let Grandma Ethel eat the saddest hamburger I’ve ever seen – a Whopper sans ketchup, mustard, lettuce, tomato, pickles, and onions – while I enjoyed her fully condiment-ed meal after the Burger King drive-thru attendant in Plainfield screwed up our order.
1986: In another futile attempt to be cool, I joined one of the popular girls in the gym class mockery of another girl’s last name, which happened to be a homonym for a woman of ill repute. I, of all people, had no business doing any mocking whatsoever in gym class.
Here in modern times, there are two people I’ve used disproportionately for comedic material in this blog.
To one of those people, the ex-husband formerly referred to as “Sloth,” I sincerely apologize. I know you’ve only said nice things about me, and I haven’t been as big of a person. Per your suggestion, and in honor of your beloved Red Hot Chili Peppers, l shall hereby call you Flea, even though I personally don’t think of that as a promotion.
The other person is Jan. As I tell her often, she does have a few indisputably funny traits that I can’t possibly be expected to ignore. But she happens to be a very nice lady with many wonderful traits as well. As such, I shall now officially share a few cute Jan tidbits.
- Jan is an excellent chef. In all the cookbooks she’s given me, there are little notes indicating which dishes are “delicious,” “bland,” “dry,” things that Lew “lapped up,” in need of more garlic, harder than they sounded, best served with a nice green salad, and so on. She always likes to hear about my culinary inventions and will almost always respond with, “What could be bad?”
- If Jan makes you a meal, it will invariably include representatives of all vital food groups: deliciously seasoned protein source, grain (often rice pilaf) and vegetable (most likely green beans). A dessert you once mentioned liking, in 1987, will be provided as well.
- Keep in mind that if you ask her for the recipe, you will get it, in real time, from tomato selection to supermarket check-out to 10-minute simmering period to table.
- If you receive a present from Jan, you can be sure she has spent hours investigating the options, thinking about what you might like and imagining you wearing or using it.
- She is one of the smartest people I know. I consider her grammar skills on par with if not superior to those of Strunk & White.
- If I have a doctor’s appointment, or any event I’m nervous about, she will always call within minutes of its completion to ask how I “made out.”
- When she hears a story that touches her, or she feels sorry for someone, she has a particular expression — a morph of “Aw” and “Ah” — that I find quite kindly.
- Jan is not easy to please. It’s a rare nail salon, Italian eatery or produce vendor that makes the cut. This can be frustrating at times, but gives added meaning to her compliments. And the ultimate compliment a fellow human can hope to garner from Jan is the “fine” classification. Keith is a “fine boy.” Loren, Kiki, Karen and the Thirteen Girls are “fine friends.” Nicole is a “fine, old friend” and Nicole’s mom, who wrote me a very nice note when I got engaged, is a “fine woman.”
- The summer before I left for college, she waited until almost 3 pm — when I got home from my job as a camp counselor — to have lunch with me, every day. Even 20 years later I still miss our chats at various Union County hot spots like Charlie Brown’s, Winberrie’s and a long closed gourmet salad place next to the train station in Westfield, whose name escapes me.
- Speaking of my college departure, she was not the type of mom who choked up or got the least bit sentimental when she thought of her first-born leaving for college 300 miles away. In fact, the way I remember it, she couldn’t wait to get rid of me. She claims she was just excited about the wonderful opportunities that awaited me. (None did, FYI.) I didn’t buy it. I wanted tears. She found it incredibly irritating that I continued to question her lack of emotion about my impending departure, but I couldn’t help it. Then, just before she and Lew left me in my 2×4 freshman dorm room, she gave me a mug decorated with pleasant gold script that read, “I Miss You,” “Hugs & Kisses,” and “XOXO.” It was wrapped in purple cellophane and filled with Hershey kisses. Looking at them after she left made me so happy I couldn’t even eat them. And you know how much that says.
- She is very astute at detecting anxiety and always worries when someone she cares about is “not themselves.”
- When people are mean or obnoxious to me, she always takes my side and makes me feel better. Unless I happen to be telling her about it after 10 pm, in which case, she can only respond with something that sounds like “feh.”
- She exchanged emails with Ollie (firstname.lastname@example.org) when we lived in Philly and once wrote, “Dear Ollie – I laughed and laughed at your newsy email.”
- She is the best owner I can think of to Claire, the fuzzy Maine Coon/Norwegian Forest cat who used to live with Kiki and me on East 95th Street. Claire is fed jars of baby food, premium yogurt and slices of fresh turkey. When I was Claire’s age, I made my own lunch on mismatched pieces of bread.
- I am incredibly proud of what she’s been doing in her post-retirement years. She has overcome her fear of MetroCards, mastered the public bus system here in Manhattan and spends her time exploring the galleries in Chelsea and leading museum tours on the Lower East Side. She’s much more New York than I am!
One of my favorite college professors, Joyce Antler, has written extensively about the topic of mothers and daughters – particularly those of the Jewish persuasion. Last winter, Jan and I were scheduled to hear Professor Antler speak and attempt to answer the question of “Why We Make Fun of Our Mothers.” Jan chickened out at the last minute because of the inclement weather (giving me another reason to make fun of her), but I went anyway with Kiki and Lisa. The audience was full of daughters who couldn’t wait to share their mockable mother stories. Even Professor Antler herself – a woman I had always thought of as a model mother – reported that she was the main topic of her daughter’s stand-up comedy routine.
I’m still not sure why we make fun of our mothers. But I am sure – even if Jan isn’t – that a mother can be very much made fun of and very much loved at the same time.