Monday, May 19, 2008

Family dinners. And occasions. And so forth.

I now have several families. One of them was at my house over the weekend for a Mother's Day dinner. Mother's Day, in my girlfriend's family, is a cause for celebration on a par with Christmas and Easter and all the other occasions that require a massive dinner and dozens of guests. In my immediate family, Mother's Day and Father's Day and all similar occasions are sort of passing footnotes. If my Dad is in town for Father's Day, I will likely pick him up a small present and write an obnoxious card, and same goes for Mom. If they are not in town, which is more often the case, I may send my Dad an email if I think of it, or call Mom if I think of that. (She doesn't check her email often, which means she gets a phone call.) This is either because I am a bad son, or because our family prefers to limit our displays of celebratory family interaction to a few, more important, times during the year. I like to think it's the latter. But my own family is just one of my many families now, and the one at my house yesterday is one who enjoys the celebration of all things Hallmark.

Which is fine, it means we can all get together and enjoy a giant meal with the kids and the grandparents and the great-grandparents and the uncles and so forth. And my own involvement in the preparations is, usually, limited to perhaps peeling a few potatoes and lifting the pots that are too heavy for everyone else. However, we got our house in the fall, and have since hosted all of my girlfriend's family gatherings. And this was the very first one when landscaping became an issue. Landscaping! Like, although the weather is going to be rainy and lousy during our Mother's Day celebration, people may look outside through the window. And if they do, then we want them to think that our lawn is nicely manicured. And that our tulips are flourishing, and the hedge is freshly trimmed and symmetrical, and the gardens are properly edged, and the giant ceramic frog that presides over our snowpeas is facing the proper, South-west direction. Otherwise, what would our family think of us? They would think, first of all, that I am a lazy slob who doesn't care about yardwork or the appearance of my house!

And they would be right. I was conscripted into yard duty the day before our big dinner event. I had hoped, perhaps foolishly, that I could go the entire summer without mowing my lawn. Just like I had hoped, certainly foolishly, that I could go the entire winter without shoveling snow. And the creepiest thing happened to me while I began that most odious of chores, lawn-mowing. I started! I got a CD player from inside, brought it out into the backyard, and cranked some Tom Pettyas I finished the mowing and went around with an edger. I clipped the hedges, stepped back and surveyed them from a distance, then returned to even them out. I began picking weeds out from between the cracks in the patio stones. Then the skies opened up and it poured rain. And I ran inside. And when the rain stopped, my motivation had gone and my apathy toward yardwork had returned. So that was all that had been done by the time guests arrived, which was more than I would have anticipated anyway.

And in the end, no one really looked at the backyard, as I had surmised. A small amount of time was spent in the backyard on the patio by a small discussion group that had broken off from the main pack. But I don't think the weeds in the cracks had any bearing on our politically-motivated discussion of U.S. foregin policy, Middle Eastern diplomacy, and the financial basis of American race relations. Although at one point, the conversation did turn to the use of vinegar on common patio weeds. Perhaps I hadn't cleaned up enough. But I remember the old days. When my Mom or Dad was coming for dinner, or even (as my Dad sometimes did) to stay over for a few nights. Cleaning up, then, meant putting away the open liquor bottles on the tables, cleaning out any bras and panties that might have collected in and around the couch, disposing of any lewd materials that may have been left lying around, and changing the sheets. Or, at least, flipping them over. That's about it. It never occured to me that perhaps they would have appreciated some effort to be tidy. This, even though my house was always spotless when I was a child. I guess I really am a bad son.

Oh, and Doc, Woody, and Randall were right. My girlfriend DID expect me to do something for her for Mother's Day. And I didn't. My contention that she was not MY mother meant nothing. It was up to me to get a present for her, and then hand it off to the kids so they could give it to her...all that stuff. And I failed. Her youngest mailed her a hand-written letter from school, which was awfully cute, and she loved that. And her oldest called her. And I thought - good for you, kids! You both did what was important on Mother's Day. Acknowledged your Mom. But it turns out I was supposed to play a major role in this as well. I still don't get this. How come on Mother's Day we have to acknowledge all the mothers we know? I don't give chocolates and flowers to every couple I know on Valentine's Day. Come on! I just hope I haven't lost my apathy toward yardwork by the time St. Jean-Baptiste Day rolls around.

P.S. - my girlfriend just called me upstairs to show me that the loud old ladies on The View are having the exact same discussion, about Hamas and Israel, and American foreign policy, that my family had last night. And Joy Behar was speaking my part. Ugh. At least it wasn't that skinny blonde neo-con chick.


  1. Welcome to the club Eric. I've been married almost 4 yrs and have discovered it's much easier on me if I just go along with what my wife wants most of the time. As well, I've discovered it's much easier if I ask her what she wants for her birthday, etc. I made the mistake once of not getting her anything after she said she didn't want anything. What a mistake that was. It's much eaier if you buy what she wants, than buying for her what you think she'd like. I agree she may not be your mother, but women don't think like us men .

  2. Agreed, it's much easier to ask her what she wants. However, when in doubt... gift certificates for her favourite clothing store never fail. This way they get a present AND they get to go shopping. What more could they ask for?

    Breakfast in bed works for Mother's Day, as it does for Father's Day. This year I did nothing, however we did spend most of that weekend tearing up our tiny backyard and replacing it with patio slabs. So, in essence, my wife did get something for Mother's Day -- a nice backyard, and a patio set which we had to buy once it was completed. ;)