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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Selective Omission

I can remember very clearly the moment in 2004 when I told my mother that my then-girlfriend was taking me on a ski weekend. She was sitting on the living room chair, her legs criss-crossed underneath her, wearing one of her trademark, after-6pm-sweatsuits made by Russell Athletic (the kind I used to wear in elementary school-- no, to elementary school) and she looked at me. She looked at me with those thin-lips and those crinkly eyes that made you feel instantly that you were no longer talking to your mother, but rather a psychoanalyist, or an assistant principal. Or Carl Jung's assistant principal. In a gray sweatsuit.

Anyway, my mother looked at me and she asked one simple question, the way my mother often does. There isn't a barage of interrogatives or pejoratives. That would be a waste of carefully cultivated and conserved breath on her part. She uses her breath quite sparingly, though her wit gets a healthy dose of exercise. She tilted her head to one side and regarded me for a moment before asking,

"Now why would you go and do that?"

Of course, I know what she meant. I mean-- I'm her son-- even back in 2004. She didn't mean, "Why are you [specifically] doing that?" She knew why I, the carbon-based form of life that is, was, and always will be her only son, was going skiing. The answer to that question would have been quite painfully obvious: I was falling in love. And anybody who's ever known anybody who's ever fallen in love will tell you that people who fall in love do all manner of moronic, insipid, and/or potentially dangerous things. So, clearly my mother's question wasn't why I was going skiing. The question was: why would anybody go skiing?

Anybody. Ever. In the world. She could not fathom it.

And, really? I get that.

Why would anybody in their right mind shove their feet into constricting, heavy, ridiculous-looking boots, shove those boots into fiberglass planks (that you're then supposed to wax, you know-- to make them faster) and then hurl yourself down a fucking snow-covered mountain in the middle of winter?

After skiing now for seven years, even I can't really explain it. I guess for me it's still about love. Ski slopes are my wife's happy place, and now that she no longer skis with her father, I want to, and I guess I'm really supposed to be the man who makes that happen. Although, now that I have new skis and new boots that don't tear large chunks of skin off my feet, I'm actually really starting to enjoy it for its own sake. (Don't tell my mother! She worries!)

As you go through life, you hear a lot of stereotypes-- some perpetrated by mass media. Some by your family and your friends. Some by the balding jackshit in the burgundy button-down shirt at work. I don't really mind stereotypes very much, because they're either true, or they're ridiculous, or because I recognize them as defense mechanisms or tools of the ignoramuses in our midst. I generally just don't pay them much mind. But one stereotype in particular really sort of gets on my wick, and that's the stereotype of the Jewish mother as The Worrier-- especially when it comes to her children. I find this stereotype annoying for several reasons:

* It implies that other mothers don't worry about their children. I kind of have a problem with that.

* It paints the picture of Jewish mothers fainting on couches and having panic attacks and fanning themselves with large brassieres whenever little Schmuelie goes out with a couple of friends for the evening.

* It creates a very uneasy feeling inside of me when I talk about my mother to people who don't really know me very well and they go, "Oh, your mother must really worry about you!"

Well, actually, yeah. She does worry about me. She worries that I'm depressed. I think, in high school, she worried that I was gay. My freshman year in college, when I was mercilessly bullied and harrassed by 3/4ths of the residents of my hall, I'm sure she was worried that I was going to commit suicide. She worried about me the first time I was prepared to become a police officer. And the second time, too, eight years later. When I was a little boy, full of neuroses and eccentricities, I'm sure I gave her plenty to worry about, as I impersonated Andy Rooney in my room alone and memorized entire episodes of "Fawlty Towers" for fun. And, every day, she worries about me entering a locked psychiatric facility that houses some of the most acute and assaultive patients in the state.

Wouldn't your mother worry about that? And wouldn't she worry about that whether she was Jewish or not? I kind of think so.

My mother doesn't worry because she's Jewish. She worries because she has chronic anxiety. Once, when I was seven or eight, she told me about a nightmare she had. She and the three of us kids were playing on the beach on summer day, and she saw some ships in the distance. By the time they got close, thousands of what she described as "naked, screaming Koreans" started jumping off the boats into the water, and then running towards the beach-head, screaming their heads off. "There were thousands of them," my mother told me, "running and screaming towards us, and I scooped all three of you up and I ran."

Now, I don't know what you think-- but I don't think that's the dream of some Jewish mother worry-wart stereotype; that's the dream of someone who's scared to take a piss lest Jaws sinks his teeth into her ass.

"We don't need to tell your mother that I bonked my head on the ski-slope today," Mrs. Apron said to me on the way home from the Poconos last night. "All we need to tell her is that you did really well and are making fabulous progress."

"No shit," I said, "it'll be like the news from Russia-- selective omission. We'll just conveniently forget to tell her, also, about the guy we saw lying in a snowdrift waiting for EMS who was shouting about his broken arm, and we don't need to tell her about parents who send their five-year-olds down black diamond slopes, and we don't need to tell her that we ski around people who are probably inebriated by one o'clock in the afternoon either."

"Ah, news by selective omission-- it's really better that way," my wife said confidently.

"Fuckin' aye."

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