Tuesday, January 31, 2012

That Sinking Feeling (or the effect of grandparents)

You should always own up to your lies. That's what my grandfather taught me.

Grandparents have special import in our family. My children are named after all four of mine, and when the girls were little my parents gave them each lockets with tiny pictures of the couple whose name (at least in Hebrew) they carry on.

My daughters have also heard stories about my special connection to my mother's dad, who thought that I was the smartest, funniest, boldest little girl he'd ever known. I thought he was the wisest man in the world, despite the fact that he never went to high school. He adored me. And I adored him. He had a tremendous influence on who I am. And my daughters get the benefit of his self-deprecating humor. The Kaufman girls know how to laugh at themselves.

Dixon has his smile or, more accurately, what we used to call his shit-ass grin. My grandfather was wild when he was a kid, and mischievous even when I knew him, but he always told the truth. He couldn't help it. His grin would always give him away. As does Dixon's.

My girls only have one set of grandparents. And the mutual adoration is a bit much to take sometimes. When my folks visit, I tend to stay home and do all the things I've been wanting to get to, while the four of them happily go off and do something. OK, while the four of them happily go off and shop. Because shopping and style are surely the legacies that my children are going to take away from their grandparents.

And that's OK. Dixon has a unique personal style, and has been saying since she was three that she wants to be a fashion designer. She has an acute eye, and I rarely go on a date without asking Dixon how I look.

I do not have a sense of style. I'm a dyke. And I'm stubborn – another legacy of my grandfather. When I was a teenager, my mother took me shopping every Saturday and I figured that if she was going to torture me in this way, I was going to be as miserable as possible just to torture her back.

I learned a lot from those weekly outings, but it was a mix of things. I learned that my mother wanted me to be something I wasn't, and that neither of us really understood at the time who I really was. I also learned to be very sensitive to the criticism my mother gave me about how I looked. That was how she got me to go every weekend. And I've found that when you grow up, the impact of those criticisms doesn't go away.

But I also took away a vague idea about what style is, and a notion that I should try to look good – whatever that meant.

So, when my mother looked at me on my daughters' birthday this December and told me I needed new bras, I immediately knew she was right and that I was doing the world a disservice by walking out my door with saggy breasts in 2-year-old bras. Of course, I was also pissed off. I had just spent the day greeting all of the parents of the 14 people my kids had invited to the bowling party, and my mother picks just before we go out to dinner to tell me that my breasts are touching my knees?

Where are the days when she wouldn't let me out of the house with holes in my jeans!

I immediately got new bras and asked the girls to please let me know when they thought I needed to replace them. Honesty is important in our house, even when it's not always complimentary. Taking yourself too seriously is deadly. It's laughter and truth that make happy people.

This truth thing came up last week with Dixon, who justified getting school hot lunches by telling me that they serve vegetables in every box. I asked her if she actually ate those vegetables. She told me she preferred not to answer that question. In the ensuing discussion I explained to her what the Fifth Amendment was, and that every American had the right to not have to tell if they were guilty of something. She pleaded the Fifth. Of course, I then told her that was just a legal technicality – anytime anyone pleads the Fifth, everybody knows he or she is guilty, they just can't use it in court. She looked at me, and then she said, “Let's talk about homework.”

Just like my grandfather would have done.

This morning it was my turn. My daughters bought cupcakes at the store on Saturday. There were six of them, and they carefully apportioned out who would get which cupcakes – three, of course, for each. But last night I noticed that they had only eaten one apiece. There were four left. And the cupcakes were already 2 ½ days old. They would be getting stale soon. So, in the spirit of the mischievous grin, I ate one, concocting a story I would tell them in the morning about little elves who came in and cleaned up the kitchen and must have helped themselves to the cupcake.

My daughters are 9 and, despite the fact that their favorite TV show is about mermaids, they didn't buy the elf story. Delaney, in particular, was outraged that I had eaten one, mostly because it was in her row. I suggested that the only solution was to sacrifice one of Dixon's to the little elves tonight.

“Mom,” said Delaney, “Tell the truth.”

“And don't take the Fifth,” Dixon chimed in. “We know you're guilty.”

Just as I was figuring out how to answer this, I noticed Delaney looking at me funny.

“Um... that shirt doesn't look good on you.”

“Really?” I said. “Should I change?”

“Tell us the truth and I'll answer you.”

Seriously? She seriously decided to prey upon my blindside for style to get me to fess up to the cupcakes? I was caught between my desire to surreptitiously eat my children's treats and my desire not to walk out of the house with my mother's disapproval ringing in my ears. She had me, and what was worse was the realization that she was completely believable. Dixon might be a designer, but Delaney has the makings of a remarkable actor. Frankly, that scared me more than being caught with the cupcake.

“Yes. I ate it. Happy?”


“Good.” I paused.

“So how's my shirt?”

I'm thinking now that perhaps my daughters should spend a little less time with their grandparents.