“Don’t fall in love with your son’s girlfriend.”
This directive was recently offered up by Cathy, my best friend from high school. We were together at a small reunion and we resumed our natural roles, me sitting at her feet as she dispensed advice. Cathy married first and had children first, so she’s always been a bit of a mentor to me.
Cathy was the one who, early in my parenting, told me, “You can’t force a child to eat or sleep or poop, so don’t even bother trying” – a piece of information that saved my sanity if not my life.
In fact, I’ve taken to heart most of the mothering advice she’s handed down, so, I admit, her cautionary words did dance around in my head the first few times I met my son’s girlfriend. But I’m afraid, for the most part, Cathy, it’s too late.
Is that because The Girlfriend is fresh-faced and dresses like Stevie Nicks? No.
Is it because she has an infectious smile and an easy laugh? No.
And it’s not because she’s smart or funny or upbeat or urbane. In fact, I don’t know if she’s any of those things, because I barely know her. But what I do know is that she’s a girl – a commodity this household has been woefully under-stocked with in the last seventeen and a half years.
“Hi,” she says to me when she walks in the house. “How was your day?” (This is a sentence that has never been uttered by my own offspring. No, not once.)
“My day was great,” I say, and I begin telling her about the jewelry show I’d been invited to that day. I tell her how a woman in town makes interesting costume jewelry and sells it at a very reasonable price and that I normally would just go to look, but today I ended up buying five pieces and the whole experience made me downright giddy.
I notice, as I tell her this story, that there’s a fluidity missing to my speech. I hear myself deliver it in tentative chunks, waiting for her eyes to glaze, as my sons’ do whenever I offer more than two words of detail about anything that has to do with clothing. Or jewelry. Or haircuts. Or me.
But there was no glazing. Instead, she responded in a way that was so remarkable I found myself replaying it in my head for the rest of the day and even for days beyond.
She said, “Really? Can I see it?”
She just asked to see my jewelry!!!
I bounded upstairs and reemerged a minute later with a silly smile on my face and a fistful of baubles in my hand. I showed her one piece at a time, offering detail after detail of the event itself – how three strangers told me that the turquoise piece was perfect for me, and how I just went ahead and bought it even though it was a little more of a “statement” than I was used to making.
“Ohhh, it’s so pretty,” she said, in a sing-song girly way that couldn’t be more foreign in my burp-and-grunt home.
Is she blowing smoke up my butt? I wondered. Maybe. I don’t even care. In fact, like it.
As a mother of boys I’ve told myself certain stories over the last many years: Girls are high maintenance. Girls have too much drama. Girls are petty and bossy and mean. As an ex-girl myself, I know all too well how vicious and rude girls can be to their mothers. I tell these stories to feel ok about living in house full of boys – boys who don’t want to discuss the nuances of nail color or the finer points of feelings – and I’ve convinced myself that I’m somehow better off in the long run because I don’t have all that gooey girl stuff to deal with.
But I’d forgotten about this. The authentic and palpable excitement about some very important aspects of life that, let’s face it, boys can’t even be bothered to feign.
Am I really in love with my son’s girlfriend, Cathy? No, of course not. But I do have a wicked mean crush.