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Thursday, July 21, 2005

Mother meets new daughter

I went to the airport to pick up my mother and her best friend. They would be here for a week, and the purpose of the visit was for my mother to meet her new daughter

The previous day had been a long one, including a landmark counseling session in which the counselor promised me a letter for my gender on my driver's license in our next appointment, and then I had waited at the airport for hours late into the night, not knowing the Ladies had been held up in Salt Lake City by a missed plane.

Once again, on Saturday afternoon, I watched hundreds of people go by, dwindling to a trickle, followed by the aircrew in their uniforms, chatting among themselves and wheeling their identical little luggages behind them. A moment of despair --

And then there they were. An attendant was pushing my mom in a wheelchair, and her lifelong buddy, "Auntie," was trailing along behind.

They clearly weren't seeing me as they began to pass, ten feet away.

What were they expecting to see?

I wore medium-length hair, bangs, and light makeup, and was wearing the blue jumper with the princess seams and a short-sleeved peasant blouse, with brown shoes -- no socks -- and carrying a matching brown leather purse.

I stepped from the crowd, touched the arm of the wheelchair, and said, "Hi, sweetie." Jaws dropped.

Later, as we waited for the rental car to be delivered to the curb, I was distracted for a moment from the chair by luggage issues, and my mom rolled toward the curb. Fortunately the car was perfectly placed to catch her as she pitched forward, but it was an awkward moment, to say the least. Several of us tried to reach her before it happened, but to no avail.

After we settled her again in the chair on the sidewalk, with the brake properly set, a young man who had joined the rescue knelt before her with strong emotion in his face. He held both her hands and said, "Ma'am, I tried to reach you in time but I failed you. Please forgive me."

This struck me as interesting. Clearly, I too, as well as Auntie, had tried to reach her, but we were no part of his narrative of rescue attempt and apology.

Oh! It's because we're girls! He felt the sole responsibility because he was the only man present!

When we reached their motel room, I remarked on this. My mom merely observed, "welcome to our world." Then she remarked on having watched me walking through the airport on my various missions for rentals and luggage retrieval.

"You got your walk down, honey; maybe just a little too well, 'cuz the men were watching your bottom."

Oh. I would never have known. Wouldn't I be too old for them?

From the moment the Ladies arrived, I knew I had a problem ... despite their determination to be supportive of my condition, they cannot rewire fifty-six years of name-and-pronoun habituation. They would even argue with each other as to who was blowing it:

"Yew called him him again!" -- Auntie's voice is permanently set for crowd-control megaphone level.

"Did not!" Mom's is not much softer.

"Did too."

"Did not! And anyway yew just called him him yourself!"

"I never!"

I turned to the waitress. "Umm, just water for me, please."

We went shopping. This was successful, notwithstanding the dreaded pronouns, flung back and forth across the stores with wild abandon.

I have had a horror of my mom's general taste in things, especially gold-toned costume jewelry and all sorts of pale green clothing, accessories, and geegaws. She even had a car once in "her" color, purportedly aquamarine,. And her ideas about boys' clothing and possessions always gave me hives.

But something about my being her daughter has changed everything. We seem to have a new respect for each other, and a warmth that helps us each listen to the other's opinion in matters of practical femininity and taste. I found four dresses, two skirts, four bras, some panties, a pair of shoes, a purse, a matched set of imitation amber earrings and necklace in silver settings, reading glasses and non-prescription sunglasses (I'm now wearing contacts for the first time ever), a blouse, and some nightgowns.

Everything but the shoes worked out well. I will have to put inserts in the shoes and soften the leather, to see if they can be salvaged.

She also brought old treasures, of dubious value but much loved, from her jewelry box. Daughter and I pawed through these and exclaimed over the variety -- glass dogwood blossom earrings and pin, faux pearl string and matching earrings, service pins, glass strawberry brooch, and half a dozen little wristwatches, all gold-toned and all needing batteries.

During the visit, I called to check on my dad; also to see if he would talk to me. It turned out he would, which was pretty much what I expected. We didn't say much.


"Oh ... hey."

"I caught a three pound trout."


"Umm, how's the dog?"

"Oh, she's ok."

"You sound a little poorly."

Well, blood pressure is low; I'm laying in bed and if it gets any worse I'll get the neighbors to take me to the VA."

"Does Mom know about that?"

"Oh, yeah."

"Well, I just wanted to see how you were holding up."

"Yeah, I am, kinda."

"All right, love ya."


Well, it was a start.

Beloved and my most local son and I spent much of one evening visiting with the Ladies in their room. I had to go home early to take out my new contacts (which is still excruciating for me to do) and Beloved stayed to talk longer. She gave my mom a hug and told her she loved her (which was a new experience for them both) and thanked her and Auntie for their support of me.

The boy and I took them to lunch, next day, at an Italian place that we both really love, forgetting that my mom doesn't like "fancy cooking." As she looked over the menu, she began grousing. I lost control of myself.

"We can go somewhere else, you know!"

"What's with you today, son? You been waitin' to jump on me all day."

What had just happened? Other than my being outed to my sixth waitress in a row? I realized I had revealed resentment in my tone.

I thought about this. I had learned, as a faculty member, and through the efforts of my friends over the years, many of whom were socially "above" me, the difference between low and high quality art, music, literature, food, and drink, and had tried to share my knowledge with her over the years. None of it took. Not that she doesn't have standards -- she regards my dad as uncultured -- and her standards in manners are high, if a little dated. But she tends to suspect anything that might be regarded as foreign or new and often rejects out of hand experiences toward which I try to lead her.

I had forgotten. And so I had taken her to an Italian place with a terrific chef, when what was wanted was a hamburger and fries from a fast food place. The gift was simply inappropriate.

We had embarrassed each other. And I had shown my claws.

I excused myself from the table and ran to the bathroom and dissolved in a flood of red-eyed tears. I washed my face, washed it again, dried it, washed it again and dried it again, took my three deep breaths and, putting on sunglasses, returned to the party and sat as quietly as I could, dabbing at my nose with a handkerchief whenever I thought no one was looking.

"Have yew been cryin'?" shouted Auntie between bites. My mom touched my knee in a conciliatory way. I gave everyone my best fragile smile.

Back at their room, I curled up on my mom's bed for a bit of rest. She put away her cane and sat down heavily on the edge of the bed. I was turned the other way; so I curled my legs around her back, so she could rest against my backside. This was a thing no "son" in our family could ever have done; it was, for us, strictly a girl thing.

As they began gathering up their belongings to pack, my mom handed me an envelope marked "Risa."

Inside was a card. On the front of it there was a drawing of a vase with a single flower. Inside, the copy read: "You bring out the happy in me."

She had added, "Thank you for a wonderful week. God Bless you and keep you safe. -- Mom."

We looked at each other.

Auntie said, "Yew two start cryin' agin' an' I will hit yew both."

-- risa b


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