Most of my readers know about my ambivalent relationship with my mother. She was so many things – ill, sad, and abusive, but also independent, feisty, and in her very peculiar way – loving.
When the memories of her other characteristics threaten to make her unredeemable, I remember this story.
She could see things that other people couldn’t or refused to see. When I was struggling with my weight as a teenager who desperately wanted to be a ballet dancer, she took me to the perfect meal. Weird, huh? A meal.
I had spent my fifteenth summer at a dance camp, and I came home freaked out. A couple of months before going to the dance camp, I had gained the necessary ten pounds to jumpstart a late-onset puberty. Literally, before the weight gain, my body fat was too low to provide the necessary materials for a teenage body and brain. Pleased with my new curves, I went with another girl to our yearly dance intensive.
But throughout the camp, my dancing teachers had complained about my weight gain.
After the first few days, they would take me aside and say things.
“Your dancing weight is 98 to 103 pounds. Do you weigh that now?”
I let the ice cream drip down my hand, onto my toe shoes.
“105 is too much for your height.”
I was 5’6” tall.
“How much do you want to dance professionally? Really? That much. Well, you can’t be a dancer at that weight.”
In an audition, before my fellow dancers and competition, my teacher said, “If you lost some weight, you could make the company.”
When I fell out of a double pirouette, the ballet mistress said, “Maybe you could bind your chest. And your hips.”
I slept the whole way home from camp, too exhausted from writing down every little thing I ate, trying to find my balance (no one explained the needed rebuilding to suit my no longer androgynous body), while every second blocking out the faculty’s hurtful comments. Mom met me at the door, and I burst into tears. All week, I would catch her watching me.
On that next weekend, Mom said she was going to the mall and did I want to come? I must have muttered something because we ended up wandering around until we were standing in the doorway of the mall’s cafeteria. Over my objections, Mom pulled me in. She giggled. I had heard her laugh before, but giggling was new. She tucked my arm under hers. Like girlfriends.
“Let’s have dessert for dinner,” she said. “Pick two.”
She slid me a tray, smiled at me, and went off to pick her desserts. Lost before a line of forbidden desserts, I looked back at her. She was bright enough to keep her overt focus on her choices. Time to choose. Anorexia or dessert. I picked the chocolate cake and Jell-O. She didn’t say anything about my choices. Just paid. It was not a big moment but a decisive one.
I guard that memory. Mom could be so many things, lots of them ugly and painful but every once in a while, she was perfect.
Happy Mother’s Day. Share one precious memory, and we’ll guard them together.
(Image used with permission. By Andrew Giovinazzo.)