Today was my Mom's birthday. My dad called me early this morning, just like he woke me up early on my own birthday, and left me a message reminding me it was Mom's birthday and to call her ~ but then he sneaked in, "and me, too." Which was sweet ~ my Dad calling me to sneak-in an "I want to hear your voice" request. I called my Mom and was glad to hear that she was carrying on the family tradition of celebrating her birthday for several days, if not a week. She had already been taken out to dinner over the past few nights by my father, my sister and her boyfriend, and one of my brothers and his fiancee. I wish I could have been there ~ or even that I had something to send my mother. I hate being the poor-nonprofit-baby-lawyer thousands of miles away; especially since I am the oldest. Ai, but for my mom, she said that my voice was enough to complete her birthday. And so, in her honor, I wanted to share two especially funny puns she inadvertently (but maybe purposely) made up, years ago.
When I was 19, I worked at the Front Desk at a hotel in Union Square in San Francisco ~ I had only lived here a few months. My mom came to visit me, her first trip to San Francisco and indeed her first vacation trip even out of Texas (working as a strawberry-picker in California when she was pregnant with me does not count as "travel"). I was glad I could get her a discounted room so she would not have to sleep on my futon in that slum I called home in the Lower Haight. At work, I had learned how to say "the key" in Italian, and I tried to show off for my mom. I told her ~ "la chiave" (la kee-ah-veh). She laughed and told me, "Por supuesto, La Que Abre" ~ which means in Spanish, literally, "Of course, The One That Opens." And I was stunned by her humor, her quick wit, and the memorable pneumonic device which, to this day, helps me remember how to say "the key" in Italian. That was the first private moment we shared where I felt at ease with my mom ~ almost an adult, but with so much to learn ~ such as how I got to be such a smart-ass myself ~ where I got my own sarcasm, humor, and penchant for puns. This funny moment with my Mom made me realize I wasn't some tortured teen who had developed her personality despite my family's quirks, but because of them ~ I had spent so many of my angst-filled teen years trying to be so unlike my Mother, that I had failed to value the ways in which we were so alike ~ the verbal mirror-image. Later, my sister joined us ~ just the three girls; our first adult trip ~ and I showed them the City, took them to see the Nutcracker Ballet, and, before reaching the point where I would feel trapped by the touristy sightseeing, put them on a bus to go see Muir Woods. I will never, ever forget that image of my mom in the hotel, laughing, waving a key in front of me, and making me laugh ~ it felt like looking in a mirror, but not at a reflection of how I look ~ more like at how I am ~ it was touching, reassuring, enlightening.....and funny.
Months later, I went home to Houston to visit. And my mom joined my sister and me upstairs. My sister and I were sharing lotions and potions and all sorts of girlish retail therapy items, and my mother sat on the floor with us. It was accidental ~ we nearly resorted to our knee-jerk adolescent reaction of whining, "Mommm, get out of our room!" But we didn't. Three adult women ~ two generations ~ two languages ~ three shades of brown ~ having known each other for a child's lifetime, and now tentatively and humorously getting to know each other as adults. My sister and I used to like to tell my mom how "fancy" we were, with all our high-end beauty products (way before my current poor, nonprofit years). My Mom would feign admiration and say that she wished she was as lucky as we were ~~ deftly and subtly weaving in a storyteller's sleight-of-hand: forgiving our youth-induced, blissful ignorance of the fact that we wouldn't be so damn lucky if it weren't for her and my Dad ~ I mean, do you know how hard it is to work as a strawberry-picker, while you're pregnant? Sheesh, and now there we were, in a fancy house, wasting fancy strawberry-scented lotion. Then my sister rubbed some lotion on her shoulders ~ they shimmered and radiated softness ~ and of course they did; she was like 18 years old! My sister "struck a pose," glancing seductively back over her shoulder at us and said to my mom, "feel them ~ mis shoulders son tan supple" (yep, Spanglish for "my shoulders are so supple.") Supple. A word my mother would never know. Or so we thought. My mom's retort? "Por supuesto, como un sapo!" ~~ which means, "Of course, like a toad!" As you may have guessed, "sapo" rhymes perfectly with "supple" and both, well, sort-of, allude to a soft, shiny texture of the skin. Our howling laughter scared my Dad downstairs ~ maybe because he had rarely heard us have so much fun with our Mom like that. My sister displayed mock mortification at Mom's comment, but secretly we both must have marveled at how smart, and witty, she is ~ something we rarely admit to her.
So, Happy Birthday to my kick-ass Mom and mil gracias to her for her sense of humor, her unexpected puns, her radiant skin and good genes which will keep me glowing until I'm 90, and for putting up with two smart-ass, kick-ass, bratty daughters!