Category Archives: mothers

On Compliments

On a recent visit home, I had a chance to see a group of friends from childhood, one of which is expecting a baby with his wife. He, I’ve known since the first grade; she, I met five years ago when they first started dating. But she is pure loveliness and fits in so well, I feel like I’ve known her my whole life. One evening, as she and I were chatting about her impending motherhood and I was waiting with my hands on her belly hoping for a kick, I told her husband that he found a really great woman and I was a happy to have her in our circle. As he thanked me, I went on to thank him for not letting her get away. And I told him that it felt really good to be able to say that and genuinely mean it. He delivered a second [this time modest] thank you as if taken aback by the sincerity of it all. And then I told him the story of when I first learned the importance of giving compliments.

I was probably six years old, and my sister Kristina five. We were with our mother at the checkout in the local grocery store, this rinky-dink place called Pantry Pride where everything was a little dingy and seeing a pretty face was like seeing sunshine after weeks of gloomy weather. The cashier—I remember her like she’s in front of me now—was a petite but slightly plump woman that I’m guessing was around 60 (though who really knows, because how accurately can a six year old gauge one’s age?). She had dark grey shoulder-length hair that she wore in big curls like from hot rollers, and thin wire-frame glasses that sat on the end of her nose. Her cheeks were a soft pink, like the color of raspberry sherbet, and her lipstick, a few shades darker. She had pale blue eye shadow on her eyelids and her eyelashes were long and lush. It sounds garish I know—first for a 60-year-old woman, next, for the grocery store—but it wasn’t. Honestly, she looked just like Mrs. Claus to me, but of course, in a different outfit.

Kristina was mesmerized the woman’s beauty as she watched her ringing up our groceries. She tugged at our mom’s arm and whispered up to her, “Mommy she’s pretty.” My mother looked back at her and replied, “She is pretty honey, but you need to tell her. If you don’t, she’ll never know.” So Kristina (who usually was not shy, but here, so in awe, was hiding behind our mom) mustered up the courage to lift her little head up to the woman and said, “You’re pretty.”

The woman beamed.

“See?” my mother said on the way out of the store. “Did you notice how she smiled when you told her? Whenever you have something nice to say about someone, you should say it to them. If you keep it to yourself, how will they know?” We nodded, acknowledging her instructions. “When you give a person a compliment, it makes them happy.”

I tell this story often, and whenever I do, I think yes, how wonderful it is that with something as simple as a few kind words, we are able to make one another happy, even if we’re strangers. As far away as that day in the grocery store is, I will never forget it. What a great lesson I learned from my mother that afternoon.

I have carried it with me ever since.

“Oh, You Want Me To Drive?!”

Living in New York, I can get by very easily without having to own a car, thanks to the MTA (despite its faults and fare hikes) and my trusty feet (despite their cuts and calluses). This doesn’t however mean that I don’t drive. I do whenever the need arises, and think I manage pretty well—once even maneuvering a 14-foot, windowless U-Haul truck down a Soho street to move myself from one apartment to the next. It’s been a while though, since that escapade—so long I can’t really remember the last time I took a seat behind the wheel on these mean streets. Well, that was until this past weekend, when my parents were in town.

My mother, a native New Yorker had an itinerary planned chock full of little adventures during their stay—a visit to this long lost relative or that old favorite place. Only instead of her or my dad doing the driving, like they did all on our of my childhood vacations in New York, it was my foot on the gas pedal. Their lives in my hands!

When I saw the car, (and once I regained my vision following a near-blindness set on by its neon blue exterior) I felt quite at ease, it being a Ford Explorer as opposed to anything in the 14-foot/windowless category. I climbed in, adjusted myself in the seat, acquainted myself with the dash and set us on our way. And then pulling out onto Second Avenue, suddenly (as my friend says), part of a massive school of fish rushing upstream (or uptown in our case), the nerves hit me. In this school there is no room for error; no guidance through your hesitation; and no allowance for quitting. It was me against the world– or at least me against the driving contingent of the upper east side on that particular Saturday. And in all truth, I was a minor basket case.

In the backseat, my mother toggled between her Tom Tom (which was clearly having issues, still stuck in Florida) and my blackberry, as I scolded her for rattling off too much at once: “One line at a time mom. I can’t memorize all of this. New York City driving is stressful, remember?!” In the front, my dad did his best at navigating us through the immediate—reading road signs, directing me in lane changes and so on. Poor man, if he even so much as replaced a windblown hair from out of his eyes I would yell at him: “No moving Daddy! You’re making me nervous.”

Over bridges, through tunnels, on parkways from one borough to the next…they we were, the brightest blue fish, keeping up with the rest of ’em.

I don’t really know how—perhaps it was the memories of family trips as a kid, or the stories my mother was telling that day—but somehow, soon enough, the knot in my stomach was gone and I was actually loving it, this crazy New York City driving thing. I thought of the million and one times we drove over bridges from my aunt’s house in Long Island to my uncle’s place in the Bronx and I remembered how funny I thought all the names sounded—the Triboro (before I realized what it meant) and the Throggs Neck (which of course I thought was Frog’s Neck). I remembered looking out the window as we would be approaching a bridge, hoping that there was really another side to it and that we wouldn’t end up in the water. I remembered the time I fell asleep in the back of the van next to my cousin Michael and how by some very bad stroke of luck my green Chewels gum ended up in his brown-black hair, and then my mother had to comb it out with peanut butter once we got to Uncle Dave’s.

Our minds collectively drifted in and out of memories and before long we arrived at City Island where my grandparents owned a neighborhood grocery store fifty something years ago. My mom reminisced about her days growing up in the Bronx– days at Orchard Beach and news stories of “mafia activity” in Pelham Bay Park. I imagined what it must have been like and thought how different from my New York life, but in some ways, how very much the same.

If I hadn’t actually had to pay attention through it, I could say it was a joyride. Definitely the best drive I’ve taken in a while. And despite how nerve-racking it can be, I actually think its something we non-driving New Yorkers (licensed of course) should force ourselves to do every now and then—to really feel the energy and craziness of this city that just isn’t the same on foot.

Mother

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I am weeks past due writing this as it was supposed to be a Mother’s Day post, but I figure since it’s still May (for a mere 59 minutes I know), it still counts. I’ve wanted to blog about my mother for a long time now, as to me, she is the original Gal in the City.

Many moons ago it was right here in Manhattan where she was born, and ‘til the age of nine, it was on 7th Street between Avenues B and C where she lived. Following her remaining childhood and teenaged years in the Bronx, Manhattan, like it did to me too, called her back. And for the next fourteen years these city streets were hers, for a time for work, and later for play. When her prince charming finally came along to marry her and start a family, it was farewell to big city life and hello to sunny days in a small town called Cape Canaveral.

The story continues with a fast forward to the summer following my high school graduation. With a jam-packed mini-van and me, her doe-eyed daughter, it was back to NYC—this time to 27th Street, to the Fashion Institute of Technology. There I would start my college career, and though I’m not sure either of us realized it, I’d also be starting my life as a gal…in the city!

It was my mother’s own experience with the goings-on in this crazy but wonderful vortex of creativity and culture that allowed her and my dad to drive away that August day and wish me well on my new adventure. Even though they both knew that somewhere beneath my youthful skin there was curiosity, and bravery to fuel it, they knew another truth: I was a fledgling. I suppose my mother could reason that she did it, so I could too.

As the years passed and my life in New York City unfolded, and my relationship with my mother simultaneously strengthened, the two of us began to feel as if I was reliving her life from decades before. Though neighborhoods had been gentrified, favorite storefronts closed to make way for bigger and better, and old city pastimes replaced with modern day fun, New York was still New York.

I can never tire of hearing my mother’s stories. I love the one about the time she and her gay friend Gil went to dinner at The Sign of the Dove. In a dress she borrowed from the store where she worked (and yes, returned in perfect condition the following day), he in a suit and tie, it looked like they were on a legitimate date. But when the check came, as they’d agreed to ‘go Dutch’ she had to pass him money under the tablecloth. And then there was the guy she dated that despite his looking like Howdy Doody, she liked. The problem was that his mother didn’t like her ‘cause she was a schiksa! (When I asked what a schiksa was, my mother explained, surprised I didn’t know, as now- as opposed to my childhood years- I live in a much more culturally diverse community. I’m just not down with all the slang!)

There were extravagant beehive hair dos that I only recently found out were wigs, and the loony roommate who my mom once found with her head in the oven. It’s been a joyride for me, going back with her in time and sharing stories of my own. And we get a kick when I’m doing something she did years before; like going out in my favorite wig! I even learn a thing or two, like to take the bus which years ago I scoffed off in favor of subbing it (and by that I mean taking the subway).

“The bus is great,” she said. “It gets you where you need to go and you get to see the city outside. I used to take it all the time.”

Now here I am telling people to ride the bus. And I feel like my mother.