Out of the three children my mother gave birth to, I was the only one smart enough to figure out how to breastfeed. Then when I was just shy of my first birthday, I was mature enough to wean myself. Apparently, my mother cried from the rejection, but I’m sure it wasn’t personal – I just didn’t want to be that close to her anymore. I probably babbled some conciliatory baby message like, “It’s not you. It’s me.”
The next time I broke my mother’s heart was the first day of preschool. I strutted into the classroom without a backward glance at the woman who had been my constant companion for the last three years. My wimpy classmates were crying, clinging to their mothers’ knees and pleading with them not to go. I, in contrast, forgot to even tell my mother goodbye.
As I grew older, my relationship with my mother evolved into one of steadfast closeness. We shopped together, watched movies, cooked for the Sabbath – okay, she cooked and I watched – and in general, enjoyed each other’s company. I could tell her anything without fear of reproach or judgment. My mother’s soft-spoken, gentle personality perfectly meshed with my own easy-going temperament. Sometimes I would eschew my friends’ invitations for play dates because I knew I preferred my mother’s company over theirs; she never fought me for the best looking Ken doll, after all. She was my parent, yes, but she was also my friend.
Life was beautiful.
Then I became a teenager and all hell broke loose.
I went through what my parents politely refer to as “phases” during my teenage years. There was the “Dead Poets Society” phase which involved lighting candles under my desk and writing dark sonnets while shrouded entirely in black. With teary eyes, I would write about the meaning of life – but more importantly, death. The next phase involved long hours spent on Internet chatrooms with titles like, ‘Jews for UFOs’. For some reason, I was certain that I would meet my future husband there, and that one day we would tell our grandchildren that we bonded over the shared belief in the existence of little green aliens orbiting around the earth in Frisbees. Thank goodness that didn’t happen. Next up was the awful makeup and hair phase: I was a cross between Gene Simmons from the band KISS and Snooki from “Jersey Shore.” Then in my senior year of high school, I took Judaism to the extreme, forsaking my beloved secular books and movies, and dressing like a nun-in-training. (Except for my red lipstick, obviously; I had to keep that.) If anyone tried talking Lashon Hara (gossip) with me, I ran from the room, fingers in my ears and shouted, “My soul! I need to safeguard my soul!”
I also embarrassed my mother a lot. During a particularly memorable trip to New York, my mother and I went into an underground women’s Shabbos robe store in Boro Park. My mother came out of the dressing room wearing a conservative all-black robe.
“What do you think?” she asked me.
I nodded. “It’s perfect for a funeral.”
A hush fell over the crowded little store and every head swiveled in our direction; apparently, the women of Boro Park did not share my sense of humor.
Then there was the time my parents took me to test-drive some cars and the salesman held out his hand in greeting. I jumped back as though his hand was covered in leprosy. “I’m Jewish,” I explained, “so I can’t touch men’s body parts.” Oy vey, you should have seen the poor man’s face – and my parents’. My father quickly tried to explain what I had meant, but you could see the salesman had already ticked us off in his mind as delusional.
I’m 34 and I still embarrass my mother, but at least the teenage angst and moodiness are long gone. While both of our lives have gotten busier in the last decade, we still make time to talk on the phone several times a day (okay, I call her and she mostly picks up). Whether we’re discussing politics or makeup or pondering why our dogs don’t see us as strong leaders, we never run out of things to say. Our relationship has come full circle, and I can honestly say that my mother is one of my best friends.
And I am, of course, her favorite child.
Happy Mother’s Day, everyone!