It’s said that you never understand your mother until you become a mother yourself. Unless you count my helicopter parenting of my dog in 1990 I never became a mother. At least not the kind that wasn’t followed by the F word.
I grew up in Maryland, south of the Bacon-Dixon Line as my sister Lindy used to call it, and you don’t know humiliation as a teenager in the suburbs until you’re at the mall and your French mom yells across a crowded store, “Suzeeeeeeeeeeeeeee, we finally found a brassiere small eeeeenough for you.” A French mom, just what every teenager needs to match her acne and double A cup bra.
Although Mom speaks English, it’s not her first language so some words still elude her:
MOM: If I'd had stinking balls I would have thrown zem at zose people.
ME: You mean a stink bomb?
MOM: Oui mon Dieu, STINKING BALLS.
ME: How are you this morning?
MOM: Not gude, I was reaching for somesing and injured my rotating cup.
ME: You have a cup that rotates?
MOM: Don’t you know anysing about anatomy?
And she doesn’t understand idioms at all. At my 8th birthday party she told my little friends that “You can’t have your cake and eat it too” and they all burst into tears.
Talking on the phone with her requires enormous concentration and math skills. Recently she told me that "Things haven't been this bad since the end of the Civil War.” Apparently she's older than I thought. She’s lied about her age for so long that I’m now older than she is. She said she has a doctor's appointment on Dec 13, 1912. She'd better push that appointment up BECAUSE OH MY GOD HOW IS SHE STILL ALIVE?
When she makes her yearly pilgrimage from Paris to Los Angeles the first thing Mom notices is what's wrong with my hair; the first thing Mom doesn’t notice is my rage. She can never open her luggage upon arrival, the key is missing, lost, or stolen by the customs inspectors trying to make off with her 32 year-old house dress. Then she sighs and when my mother sighs, it's the sigh of a thousand failures, which the French perfected. She’s such an expert at it that once in a hotel room she sighed so loudly she inadvertently ordered room service. I always joke that I'm getting my mother a silver lining for her birthday. Really not a joke.
She stays six weeks with my sister and two weeks with me and Lindy and I live in the same city. She demands so much attention that my friends can’t reach me as I’m basically incommunicado, which is Latin for Close to a Nervous Breakdown. I’m not my mother’s favorite child, as you might have figured out by now. I figured it out after she gave me her wedding gown for my own marriage and she knows full well I look terrible in maternity clothes. I brought out my baby scrapbook one day and in a group picture from kindergarten asked Mom to pick me out. Apparently I was a Chinese kid
But the irritation goes both ways. Whereas I can sit in a chair for four days straight, mom can't sit still for two minutes. She starts dinner. At 11 am. She has this bad habit of opening a window wherever she is: a car, your home, in every room. Needless to say I'm afraid to fly with her. She snores as rhythmically as a metronome so it's really too bad I don't play a musical instrument. She always calls me by my sister's name during phone calls but when we hang up I make sure to say, "Goodbye Dad." And Mom, if you’re reading this, you can’t get Dad’s military pay because he’s been dead for ten years so NO I CAN'T CALL HIM FOR YOU.
I make fun of my mom a lot. In my act, on the Internet, and in real life. And the person who laughs the loudest is my mom. She’s a good sport about it all and I know she enjoys the attention. But it has occurred to me the reason she laughs is she probably doesn’t understand my jokes and wants to throw some stinking balls at my head.