the healing muse

Volume 13, 2013

Future Grandma: Green Is Grief

Melissa F. Pheterson

      Green is grief. This is the first piece of advice my mother shared after I got engaged. Lucky for me, the only green I’d bought was frosting on the engagement cake, so I only had to pay $40 to fix it last minute. That was a lot of money in those days.
      At college, don’t try to sound awake at 3 am even when you’re phoned by the only boy who’s glanced your way the whole semester. Tell him you were sleeping, even if your pulse is racing and your body craves warmth. In ten years, you will not want to rise at that hour to breast-feed your own son, your flesh and blood. Save your energy.
      If you get a mysterious sore on your crotch junior year, don’t text a picture to your mother and talk about what a nice boy Mr. 3 am is, a boy who you’re certain doesn’t have any STDs. Go to the clinic. It’s probably a stress-related pimple, so don’t make the stress worse by forcing it upon your mother.
      Cry when a man breaks your heart, but only for a day. My grandmother—she never dated—used to refer to my bloodshot eyes and listless state as “sitting Shiva.” My great-uncle used to say, “A pity she’ll be an old maid at twenty.” Try to feel the love in their mockery even if you want to choke them with your bare hands. Don’t roll your eyes, or they’ll just sting more. Don’t chop onions that day either. Let your mother cook for you. Request meatballs.
      Enjoy the first helping of whatever your mother cooks, because she will be very torn over whether to give you seconds. You’re still single, after all, and you can’t let yourself go.
      Relish your mother’s conflict between nurturing you and watching your weight.
      When you gaze at old family photos and sigh over how perfect life was, remember that Photoshop hides a multitude of sins. My perfect white wedding dress had a chocolate crumb lodged in the lace right over my nipple. Because I just had to grab that extra slice while waltzing out the door.
      Don’t eat food standing up, least of all at your wedding. Photoshop can excuse this, but not Granny.
      Tell only your parents when you’re first pregnant, and your in-laws if you must. You will want the childhood favorites your mother knows how to cook, and she will help you watch out for health hazards like mackerel and Caesar dressing. Do not let your mother-in-law take you into a knitting store for bunting yarn at any point. The excitement is not worth your mother’s rebuke of tempting the evil eye.
      Take the utmost physical precautions, but do not believe for a minute you’re actually getting a baby until he’s crying in your arms.
In the same vein, don’t find out whether you’re having a boy or a girl. Buy a gender-neutral layette. No green, though. Babies look so cute in yellow, even if they’re jaundiced.
      Don’t wimp out by getting an epidural; no joy without pain.
      Don’t ignore the stab of pain when you see your newborn squeeze his eyes to block out the camera flashes. Don’t whisper your protests like I did. Don’t be ladylike. Be mammalian. Scream. You’ve just given birth; milk it.
      When the hospital photos come out blurry and streaky, display them proudly. You can tell your baby when he’s grown that this was your first act of protecting him, of molding your neuroses to his little identity.
      You can also admit to him that you were afraid to pick him up in the hospital, not because you wanted to be just like your mother, but because you really thought of him as a precious fragile treasure better left to the nurses than your own clumsy hands.
      Do not post any pictures of “Baby’s first poop.” How could you shame a grown man like that?
      Take pictures of your naked baby—how can you not? Those chubby little legs!—but erase them immediately. If you text them around, you may be arrested. The world is a crazy place.
      Hard drives destroy precious memories, and I’m not getting any younger. Back up your data.
      For the precious memories that do survive, like the first recording of Baby grabbing at monkey rings in his bouncer, you don’t want to be caught bitching about your hemorrhoids in the background, oblivious to the camera. Check the status of all electronics before you speak.
      If your phone screen displays a picture of the baby, move the little icons around so it doesn’t look as if he’s choking on a globe or a joystick.
      If your mother seems neurotic around the baby, blurting out “opinions” that you must follow lest the baby suffer a terrible fate, perhaps ending up like, God forbid, the man you married, or if she seems to preempt your every move and every thought, try to look beyond the irritation and feel the love that pulses within her anxiety, like the little cardiac muscle that twitched within the gray clouds of your ultrasound. Take comfort in her. Take pity on her. Take that date night with your husband she insists upon.
      If you really want to scream every time she worries the baby will be too cold, try planting a seed of worry that perhaps the baby is too hot. Remind her how overheated buildings are in the winter and how frigid they can be in the summer. Eventually she will see that you can worry as skillfully as she can, that she has taught you well. This will make both of you proud.
      When your in-laws do the very things that surely doomed your husband to his terrible fate, such as making the baby laugh while he’s eating or flipping the baby upside down after he’s done, you just might blurt out something that will make them scowl and say to each other: “She’s just like her mother.” And though they don’t mean it as such, you will regard it as a tremendous compliment. You just might start acting sweet to them.
      Acting sweet to your in-laws will surely irritate your mother.
      Don’t avoid taking pictures of your overbearing parents as a passive-aggressive way to deny their involvement. You will lose them someday—your parents, not the pictures; I already told you to back up your data—and you will search in vain for that captured moment of them dancing with Baby, your father singing “Ring Around the Rosie” off-key.
     Remember this formula for vacations: You suggest x jars of food for the plane. Your mother suggests x * 2. You counter with x * 4. Your mother agrees, packing everything in her carry-on because she loves to struggle for Baby’s sake, then gets cavity-searched by a TSA agent for the “unreasonable” amount of food she’s bringing on a two-hour flight. The TSA agent tosses the jars until you wind up with x jars. Applaud your intuition.
      Don’t worry if the baby never seems to have a clean face when you look through pictures. You can tell him later in life that you couldn’t bear to interrupt his playtime, scramble the feeds of discovery streaming into his head. But if you’re sending said photos to your snippy sister-in-law, Photoshop your heart out.
      Don’t feel pressure to place anything in the microwave, even if your mother assures you it’s safe. Wear your phobias with pride.
      You will find the baby has wiped clean all memories of your vaginal stress pimple; the time you called your mother at 3:30 am sobbing and screaming because your “gentleman friend” (as your uncle called him) failed to materialize; the chocolate crumb that ruined your $5,000 wedding dress. That dress, virgin white though it may be, will not reboot your life nearly as well as the little fusspot in the milk-stained Onesie.
      If you find an otherwise perfect house that has green carpeting in the baby’s room, you don’t have to refuse to move in. But if you do refuse, be sure to let your baby know why as soon as he’s old enough to understand or at least marvel in the crush of your irrational, inimitable, undeniable love.

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