My mother was always inappropriate; she prided herself on it. I’ll never forget sitting in a restaurant in Burlington with my sister Ellen and our mother. My sister and I were grown women, 30 and 40 years old. A very attractive male waiter walked up to the table and asked us if we wanted something to drink. Mom glanced over her menu with her bifocals perched on her nose, did a literal double-take at the waiter and announced loudly, “My! Aren’t you pretty!” Even at this adult stage my sister and I wanted to crawl beneath the table. Not that the exact thought hadn’t occurred to both of us you understand, but we would have sooner died than tell him so at the top of our voices for all to hear.
My mother’s inappropriateness was most apparent when it came to the issue of sex. At that time most people’s parents wouldn’t even say the word. My mother would proclaim loudly to anyone who would listen that sex was the single most important thing in a relationship, and that anyone who didn’t agree obviously was frigid or had a small penis.
I’m still trying to erase the memory of being ten years old, giggling in the back seat of our family station wagon with my girl friend of the month, Nancy Weiss. We were discussing oral sex, which we found both repugnant and infinitely interesting. We were having your typical fourth grade little girl gigglefest when I made the socially fatal mistake of asking my mother, “Ewww, Mom, you never did that, did you?” To which she replied in front of my aghast little friend, “Sure! I did it all the time! I loved to do that to your father!” Needless to say, that was not the first time I felt like crawling underneath the seat in front of me. The next morning at school Nancy told all of her friends, and by the end of the day it had spread throughout the entire school. Is it any wonder I announced to my brother later that week that I wanted to be a nun and join a convent?
I used to excuse this behavior as a consequence of my mother’s drinking, but it only got worse with age and sobriety. A month before my wedding and six months before my mother’s death, I went to visit her in the hospital. She was not capable of helping with the wedding plans beyond offering emotional support, so as an attempt to make her feel part of the process I brought the wedding rings that my fiancé and I had just had made. I walked into her semi-private room and politely greeted mom’s bizarre neighbor (an ancient toothless woman with the brightest and most clown-like wig I have ever set eyes upon). I sat down on mother’s bed and proudly handed her our shiny gold rings. My husband has very large fingers, and we had to have his ring specially made in a size 14½. Mom held up my husband’s ring, looked through it and pronounced, “Oh my! It looks like a cock ring! You know, the rings men wear on their penises to maintain their erections?” Through my mortification, I could hear evil conspiratory cackling from the next bed. I guess that unlike me, the old lady with the bozo wig shared my mother’s crude sense of humor.
A year after Mom’s death my siblings and I all got together to go through her belongings in storage. This was a gathering with a party-like atmosphere: not disrespectful, but celebratory. I’m afraid the highlight was the moment when my sister-in-law Moira reached into a box and unearthed an item she held aloft like Excalibur while emitting a high-frequency shriek. To my embarrassment, she held a vibrator in her hand. It seems my mother could even humiliate me from beyond the grave.
But all these years later, I appreciate just how different my mother's attitude was. My friends would come over just to talk to my mother about their problems, their questions. Their parents weren't nearly as cool about things such as sex, drugs, and rock and roll. The ironic part is that I ended up being asked to speak to both of my nieces about sex as their mothers felt they would listen more to their "cool aunt" than to their mothers. So although I would like to think that the kids in my family will feel comfortable talking to me when they have questions they don't want to discuss with anyone else, I draw the line on humiliating them. I hear that trait skips a generation.Powered by Sidelines