Thursday, January 04, 2007

Meet the Parents

even though we had been living together for the last six months, dating for a year and a half, Mo still hadn’t met my family. this was the result of equal parts accident and intent -- ok, mostly intent. i’ll confess the thought of the Big Family Meeting made me uneasy, so i didn’t push it on Mo, who never asked. my parents, however, were asking often, and when they started up with “what should we get Marlin for the holidays?” i knew i could no longer delay the big reveal. we settled on the saturday before christmas at my parents’ house where we would exchange gifts and have dinner. my sister would be there with her husband and two kids. i would be there with Mo and my furry kid Juice. easy as pie.

truthfully, i had avoided the Big Family Meeting because it was too damn important. given that i’m 30, unmarried and jewish, such a meeting was incapable of being unimportant. and it was incapable of being easy: Mo is not jewish, nor is he russian — he’s actually a black man whose light skin allows him to regularly pass as white, a disorienting concept for most. he’s also without full-time employment, spending his free time daytrading and writing articles for Archinect. for me -- and probably Juice especially -- having him home often is a welcome treat, but for my parents, he’s probably not the guy they would have picked for me out of a crowd, especially with all the “nice jewish boys” on

plus, my family had grown close to my Last Serious Boyfriend and were as heartbroken as i was when things didn’t work out. during the unraveling of that relationship, my ex even told me, “tell your dad i’m sorry,” a message i relayed to my father who choked up and declared, “it’ll be hard for me to trust the next important man in your life.”

thankfully for him and me, there were plenty of unimportant men to keep me distracted until Mo came along. and while i know he’s important, i’m not sure that he’s “serious” in that one-thing-leads-to-another way that tends to be the hope of jewish parents with unmarried daughters who are 30. i feared that Mo might not be serious enough for the family introduction. his move-in was circumstantial and presumed temporary. we never discussed “our future,” never explored the mystery of “where is this going.” i always figured that our relationship would continue until it began to suck, at which point it would end, just like the relationships i’ve had before.


i woke up early the day of the meeting to begin chewing my cuticles and planning my exit strategy. was that pneumonia i felt coming on? doesn’t my numb left arm signify the onset of a heart attack? no, i probably just slept wrong. Mo gets up and i begin the prep pep talk while he fixes his morning coffee — “my sister’s husband is Patrick. he probably won’t talk to you much but don’t worry about it. my parents’ dog is Chip. he’s small so careful not to step on him.” Mo is barely awake, looking at me askew, but i keep the facts coming, regaling him with details, life stories, russian proprieties he must follow in order to make the right impression. (“you have to drink vodka with my dad.”)

Mo nods, or maybe it was an eye roll. he grabs my hands and squeezes.
“it’s too early?” i ask.
“it’s too much,” he says. “you’re worrying too much. today will be fine.”

i shake him off and keep going all the same, stuffing him like a holiday turkey. more information, warnings on their temperaments. i begin to think aloud: “maybe we should develop a secret language for today, like hand signals to let each other know what’s really happening. are you getting all of this?” phone rings. it’s my Ma confirming the time and asking whether Mo has any dietary preferences.

“i was just telling him all about you guys. you know, preparing him for today,” i say.
“what type of ‘preparing’? you think we’re all monsters or something?”
“no, mom! i’m just telling him everyone’s name and profession, that’s all,” i lied. an argument could easily erupt from here. “let’s have a nice day today, please.”
“ok, fine with me. come by in the afternoon around 5 p.m.,” she instructs.
“what should i bring?”
“your boyfriend and a good attitude.”
“i always have a good attitude, damnit!! Ma?? MA???”

but she had hung up. “damnit, she knows how much i hate it when she hangs up on me!!”
i feel the steam release from my ears, followed by a big exhale. i look at Mo, who’s quietly sitting on the couch, sipping his coffee.
“you know, my family,” i start, “they’re not going to be your ideal family to walk into. hell, they’re not my ideal family to walk into.”
“the craziest people anyone knows are always in their own family,” Mo says. “when i was growing up, the fabric of our couches matched the pattern of our wallpaper. they were both plaid.”


as we approach the front door of my parents’ house, i could feel the flight instinct taking over my body, making all my limbs twitch. for a moment i consider dropping the holiday presents i have in my arms, the bottle of vodka and bouquet of flowers i made Mo buy for my parents, just tossing it all aside and running toward the horizon, but Juice manages to snake her leash around my legs in a way that renders me immobile. i glance down and catch her big brown eyes, wide with encouragement. she had grown to love Mo as much as i did. there’s no reason the rest of my family wouldn’t do the same.

i look over at Mo for added encouragement and sense strain on his handsome face. in my selfish paranoia i had disregarded his feelings. immediately, my thoughts turn to his thoughts and i conclude that our thoughts are identical and still center around me. he must fear, like i fear, that the Big Family Meeting would make me too human, too flawed, too prepossessed of traits i couldn’t overcome. any remaining mystery that shrouded me — the exotic, lovable goddess i had imagined myself being in Mo’s mind — would vanish upon the unearthing of my roots, like cinderella at midnight.

door opens. cries of “hello, happy holidays” bellow from everyone. gifts are unloaded, hugs and introductions all around. my father and Mo stand facing each other, eye to eye, my two big loves, both six feet tall, dark-haired, bearded. the resemblance is undeniable. handshake. hug!
“do you drink vodka?” my pops asks.
“yes. definitely,” Mo replies, scoring points.
“good! hey Meel, i like him already. go help your mother set the table.”

and then, i don’t know. i helped set the table. we sat down, ate, drank, laughed, told stories — same as always, only now with Mo at the table. he fit in nicely, warmed up to everyone. there was no weirdness to sort though, no visibly tense moments. my family never brought up his job situation, and as i sat at the table looking over at my sister’s chinese husband and two biracial kids, i realized how silly i was to worry that Mo’s race would be an issue in my family.

my father seemed to appreciate that, like him, Mo wasn’t fond of cats, and he even found funny Mo’s story on how, during high school, Mo and friends used to record soft porn off the television in my childhood home, taking advantage of my family’s illegal “black box” that received all the cable channels, including the naughty ones. i beamed when the joke went over well, declaring dumbly, and perhaps a bit too loudly, “see, we all have the same sense of humor!!”

even Juice had a grand time, rummaging as she was through the pile of dog toys set aside for my parents’ miniature pinscher, who sat nearby looking forlorn. my sister’s kids were sparkling angels, despite my young nephew’s attempts at joining Mo as he used the restroom; and my parents and i got along splendidly, keeping our respective monster claws under wraps. Mo and i received various gift cards as holiday gifts, and were sent home with warm wishes and tupperware full of leftovers. on the whole, the night was thoroughly anticlimactic, almost unmemorable.

as the night was closing, i managed to steal a few moments with my parents for the debrief, which amounted to “so far, so good. bring him back!” on the ride home, i got the debrief from Mo, which amounted to, “overwhelming, but not bad. i could do it again.”
“‘again,’ really? it wasn’t too hard on you?”
“no, it wasn’t so bad,” Mo says with a smile. “i told you today would be fine.”

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