My parents know I’ve been seeing someone (I’ll call him “John”). Immediately after my divorce, they were the drivers of the “Cougel needs to find another husband” bandwagon, but that was almost four years ago, and since then I’ve had my share of bungled dates, breakups, and experiences that seemed to have stemmed their concern. Or rather, they’ve seen me navigate the single path and grow, and at this point, they just want me to be happy.
Note: For those of you that don’t have a Jewish mother, or parents to whom their children and grandchildren fill their days, thoughts, and hearts, you might think I “worry” what my parents think waay too much. That dedicating a post to their involvement in my love life is immature or misdirected. That’s okay. But if you do, I hope you keep reading.
My parents’ trust in my decisions shows. They take my lead. I’ve mentioned John in passing, when relevant, but mostly, unless I bring it up, they don’t ask. By “they,” I really mean Mom. She’s done a 180 as far as the nudging goes. And for a Jewish Mother (especially mine), that’s huge. I’ve been busy and immersed in my new job so I haven’t actually had the opportunity to talk about him to Mom, but also, I’m taking things with him day by day. I’m not forcing my future or collecting people’s support as forward momentum.
I haven’t been quite ready to have John meet my family anyway. My family is a lot. There are many of us, yes, but we are all close, break into Hebrew randomly, and talk over each other. There is a lot of hugging, complimenting, hair touching, and eating. It’s no small feat for someone who cares what I think, and what my family thinks of him – not to mention him being culturally and religiously different – to meet them for the first time. I’ve been home for countless Sabbath meals since John and I met, and bringing him with me wasn’t a consideration.
Until this past week. Something shifted. Our relationship is growing, as all things should with time. My mother planned a BBQ dinner in honor of my sister’s birthday. I didn’t ask anyone what they thought about my inviting John – if it was too early, or what they felt about it. I just asked him to come. He was pleased. We didn’t make a big deal about it. I didn’t feel like it was a big deal. If I did, then I suspect I wouldn’t have invited him in the first place.
My dad called to ask me if “The Him” was coming to dinner (translated from Hebrew: “Ha-hoo”). It basically means “the guy” but with less weight. My father is notorious for “forgetting” the names of his daughters’ significant others, until they become truly significant. I laughed, “Yes, Dad. I’m bringing The Him.” And then he surprised me by asking me to spell my boyfriend’s first and last name for him. (His real name is more complicated than ‘John’). “What do you need his last name for?” I said. “I’m sure Mom already Googled him.” (I know for a fact that she has but I wasn’t sure she told my dad.)
Dinner was great. John had plenty of things to talk to my brother in-laws about (by things I mean, I overheard phrases like “interest rates” and “economic reform”). My nieces didn’t flinch when introduced to him, which I had been worried about. Just last month my 2.5 year old niece asked me where “the boy with the black T-shirt was,” referring to my ex-cub. This time, she interrupted the mortgage rate conversation to look me and John in the eye and ask us, “Is there a baby in your house?”
When we checked the NJ transit schedule, we realized we had ten minutes to get to the station to catch our train back to NYC and scrambled to get our coats. Every time I see my parents, my mother asks me to send her a list of things I need. I can easily get all of these items in NY (almonds, avocados, advil, socks), but I send her the list anyway, because it makes her happy.
Mom was thrown by our abrupt departure. “But wait! Cougel! What about your things? I didn’t have time to collect them for you!” She ran to the cabinets, opening the refrigerator to toss coffee and muffins into a bag. I told her it was OK – that I’d get everything in the city, no problem. On my way downstairs she pushed a ziploc filled with ibuprofen into my hands (Mom only buys generic).
Goodbyes and thank yous were exchanged amidst the flurry, and John and I, along with my cousin and his girlfriend, packed into my dad’s car in the garage and got ready to pull out. And then I saw Mom. She was standing at the car window holding a four-pack of toilet paper. “You need some?” she asked, pulling a roll out and holding it up to me.
I don’t know if I felt worse rejecting the forlorn roll of toilet paper, or my mom, so I took it.
The train was pulling up as we got out of the car, and John turned to thank my father for the lovely evening. I overheard him say: “You have a beautiful family…and a beautiful daughter.”
“You’re welcome. Nice to see you,” My dad said.
And then my father called my boyfriend by his name.