The other day I did something I have never done in almost 44 years of living: I ate a hamburger in front of my mother.
It was a bold move. And I almost didn’t go through with it. But when you exceed the age of 40, you’re less inclined to ignore your body’s impulses for cosmetic or other reasons. Who cares? Life doesn’t go on forever. And I really needed beef. Pure fat-infested-juicy-medium-well-cooked-dead-cow-gooey-on-a-bun-with-condiments BEEF. My body was screaming at me, like Fat Bastard from Austin Powers: GET IN MY BELLY. Like a Latin cabana boy who’s just been released from prison, my stomach gurgled: GIVE IT TO ME BABY. So I did.
I remember the moment. Sara, the tattooed and pierced waitress at our favorite cafe in New Hope, came over to take our order. My mother went first.
“I’ll have a Portobello mushroom salad with no cheese, onions, olives, or dressing, and a glass of water with a lemon.” With great pride, she closed her menu, handed it to Sara, and glared at me like a prize fighter challenging his opponent in the ring.
I take a deep gulp and contemplate crossing my chest for solace, until I remember that I’m Jewish. And then, like a novice getting ready to jump out of plane, afraid there’s a hole in my parachute, I speak: “I’ll have the Lulu burger? With Swiss cheese? Medium well?”
“You got it,” Sara says, clueless as to the monumental effort behind what I’ve just said. She smiles, takes my menu and leaves.
I look over at my mother and mentally wrap my arms around the top of my head for cover. She fishes into her pocketbook. I fear she’s looking for a pistol. But instead she pulls out a tissue and blows her nose. Then, as if Mama Cass Elliott didn’t just rise out from under Main Street in front of us, she asks me what time Dan’s flight leaves on Saturday for Germany. (He’s going on business.)
I mean, I’m ready. For the lecture. (Do you really need a hamburger?) For the rolling eyes. (Well, I’ve done all I can to help you.) The guilt induced language designed to make me question my rights. (You know, boys don’t like fat girls.) The scrutiny of my chubby arms. (Like former Senator Mark Foley eyeing a new Page.) My full cheeks. (Just like your father.) The fact that I’m keeping my pocketbook on my lap which, in my mother’s eyes, is a technique designed to hide my paunch. (Which it’s not, I just like something to hold on to.)
She does nothing. She says nothing. Sara brings our lunch. I eat the hamburger slowly and suspiciously, while she chirps happily about whether or not to cut her hair shorter and add highlights. I’m out with an alien. And at any moment, her “people” are going to swoop down in a spaceship, land on top of Lulu’s patio, and melt me down hard with a laser.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want her to scrutinize my food choices (like she does with all of us), to get pissed because I’m not eating the way she would, or slap my wrist because I’m being rebellious. My mother has always taken what I choose to eat as a personal assault on both her character and parenting abilities.
Still, I don’t know what to do with this new behavior. I’m already struggling with the whole I’m-a-suburban-housewife thing, now I have a whole new MOTHER to negotiate? It’s becoming clear that I’m going to need a higher dosage of antidepressants.
So I eat my hamburger in silence, even though she has taken all the joy and pure pleasure out of it. And instead of going to the chocolate shop once we part ways (like I would have done in the past, after she yelled at me for being too fat to eat beef), I go home to work on book edits and drink a large bottle of water. I’m stupefied.
My father calls and I tell him what happened. “Really?” He is just as shocked as I am.
“Dad, she was AWESOME. She didn’t say a word. I mean, at first, I wanted to shake her and see if recognized me. Maybe she’s experiencing an early form of Alzheimer’s. When was the last time she saw a doctor?”
“She’s perfectly fine.” Big sigh. “Trust me.”
“But after I thought about it for a while, well, now, I’m really proud of her for doing that. Maybe she’s finally learning that she can’t badger us to eat healthy. Or get mad. I mean, I really want to tell her how proud I am of her!”
“Don’t push it,” he says. The voice of reason.
So I don’t. And after several days, I finally figure out why my mother said nothing and did nothing in the face of my ordering hamburger: I’m married now. DUH. And while she insists she never cared whether or not I got married, she’s a bold-faced liar. She did care. Does care. Even if she can’t admit it out loud. Not that I have a free ticket to get as big as a trailer (see my “vows” a few blogs earlier), but I guess it’s now okay if I have an indiscretion every once in a while.
I take a deep breath. And, upon this revelation, am able to rest easier. Mostly because it aligns with the universe–and the long-held perceptions I’ve always had of my mother’s behavior. All is right with the world, until, of course, the next crisis appears. (And it’s rumbling already, but I’m trying to think positive.)