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It's genetic (part 5)

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A parent is a loaded weapon

November 26, 2000

 

Mom was here for Thanksgiving, and of course my stepdad too.

 

How do I describe my Mom? There is so much history and baggage associated with one's own parents, plus the everchanging perspective from infant to child to teen to adult, that it's difficult to objectively describe them. I'll pretend I'm a non-relative who's just known my Mom (we'll call her Joan) for a long, long time.

 

Joan was the only child of a manly-man industrial engineer who worked on the Alaska Pipeline for Mobil Oil Corporation, and a critical, matronly clothes-horse who worked as a bank teller until she married and became mother and housewife.

 

Both parents had wanted a son; when Joan was an adolescent her brother William Jr. was born, and he died some sort of crib death at only a few days old. At age seven Joan fell victim to the polio epidemic of the early 50's and was hospitalized extensively. She had a leg brace and walked on crutches the rest of her life. Though she was a tomboy, she was a girl and a cripple; a far cry from the boy her father yearned for. To prove his disappoiniment, he would show her snakes he caught in the woods, knowing she was terrified of them and couldn't run away.

 

Joan's mother, though nurturing and loving, hated her own mother and had developed a general loathing of women. She had worshipped her father and she worshipped her husband. Consequently, Joan fell into the path of criticism and disapproval of her very existence.

 

Of course I knew both of her parents well. Her father was a cruel, hateful man whom I loved dearly as a little girl, as we was very kind to me; but he tortured my brother for not fulfilling his antiquated concept of masculinity. I know very well that if he hadn't died when I was 15, there would have ultimately been mutual hatred between him and his grandchildren, who turned out much differently than he would have hoped.

 

Joan's mother lived until the mid-90's, and turned out to be like a second mother to me in many ways. I hated her bigotry and criticism and narrow-mindedness; but I cherished her for her big heart. It's easier to forgive one's grandparent for intrinsic shortcomings than one's parent, so I had no trouble seeing the way she had molded hypersensitivity and guilt and low self-worth into Joan; and yet I loved her.

 

So back to my Mom. She is a consummate suburbanite who loves television, butterfly motifs, and instant coffee, but she's also a casual, youthful, funlovin' gal who always seemed more like a slightly domineering overgrown teenaged sister than a Mom. She can be fun to hang around and shop with, but there's that parent-child dynamic which is unavoidable -- every child learns to pin their worthiness upon their parents' approval, right?-- that pops up sometimes and makes us both act weird and bicker.

 

Like, at the hotel where my brother and I put them up for Thanksgiving week: it's a rather posh place off Union Square which a friend of my brother's used to manage and get us discounts. Mom likes the place, so although David's friend doesn't work there anymore we still take turns getting her a room there. It was my turn this year, and I made the arrangements months in advance. The room was around $400 per night, which is not as big a deal to my brother or me as it would be to my Mom and stepdad. So Friday night I was there at their room, and I wanted to go alone up to a different floor to see if there was a balcony from which to view the Christmas tree-lighting in Union Square.

 

As I left the room, Mom called after me, "If anyone asks be sure and tell them your parents are registered here, in case they think you're a vagrant or something." Until that moment I had felt well-dressed and attractive; suddenly I saw myself as the freak she thinks others see me as. I frowned. "Well, Mom, I'm the 'vagrant' who's paying for your room."

 

That's what parents do: With a word, they build you up or destroy you. We spend a lot of our lives wondering where the silent subtext of our self-doubt comes from, and trying to squash it. I tell you, it happens with one unintentionally damning word directed at you when you're like three, and it's always with you; and there's nothing you or your well-meaning parents can do about it.

 

One point of great bonding Friday night was when David took us all out to the House of Prime Rib for dinner. Ashley is a vegetarian, and I myself hadn't eaten red meat since around 1985 when I gave it up to impress a cute red-meat-eschewing guy. (Ashley assures me that his own vegetarianism was also in effort to impress a member of the opposite sex. Seems as good a reason as any; I've managed to get him to eat fish, again.)

 

For some reason it seemed like a fun idea to make this the night I tried meat again. I was assured that if one were to eat meat once in a lifetime, this was the place to do it and prime rib was the cut to do it with. So I ordered a prime rib the size of a toilet seat, as Moe from The Simpsons would say. While Ashley delicately nibbled his palm-sized piece of seabass, I ate my hunk of beef with increasing vigor to the point of inhaling it. I had totally forgotten the flavor: Slightly salty with a delicate metallic tang, and so wet and juicy and senuous like only nearly-raw meat can be. I started talking in cookie-monster voice, saying, "Me eat BEEF! Rahr!" and pounding my chest. Mom *loved* it. The freaky kid was eating meat and enjoying it, like a regular red-blooded American.

 

Though I have no intention of making any sort of habit of eating beef now, I can already see this event is now fodder for many ribbings and reminiscences for Mom. It's good to give them ammunition once in a while.

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