Last summer we were playing a game; it was my brother’s idea. He said,
“If I was a country, what country would I be? For instance, Ingrid would be Cuba.”
(And all this time I thought no one had noticed.) England and France were the most highly desirable nations by my siblings, for reasons unknown to me. Then my mom spoke.
“No. If Ingrid was a country she would be Greece.”
Immediately hot, blinded by insult, I replied,
“What the shit, Mom? What are you trying to say? That I’m bad with money??”
My mom is the picture of an enigma. She can make a comment that makes me half-crazy, and then I realize that maybe it is I who is the fool for taking a riddler so seriously. Once, she accused me half-heartedly of being a gold-digger. Now this blew me away, and I had to remind her that,
“Mom, I have never even had a boyfriend with a car, let alone a bank account. I am the WORST gold-digger of all time, a failure.”
She laughed in a way as to suggest that she knew otherwise. I was left shaking my head and further aging the vertical wrinkle that runs between my eyebrows, the wrinkle of confusion from anti-logic.
She does make up for her mystery by being a really good sport. She may be the only person who would ever laugh at an unfunny joke of mine, in which I roll my eyes and say, “The Treaty of Versailles made me do it.” She thought that one was great. And when I told her I was getting divorced she shook her own head and said, “Heidi Klum? Johnny Depp? And now you? What is going on in the world?!”
She never makes demands or has any expectations for me to fulfill. This is obviously a two-way street because she never pushed me to “be” something. In fact, there was an incident when I was 18 where, at a dinner-party, a Columbian intellectual friend of my Uncle’s was angrily telling me I HAD to go to college; not being able to defend myself against this South American, my mom glided silently in front of me, with her big hair, and told him very intensely that, “Ingrid… can DO whatever she wants. If she doesn’t WANT to go to college then that is HER choice.” I never saw my mom step up and defend me, or anyone else really, so it threw me off; and also, I mean, when the hell has any white middle-class mother of four encouraged one of her children to “do whatever they wanted?”
The flip-side of such a riddle is that now, at 36, I watch my friends and their careers age and mature, whereas I am still scraping around looking for part-time gigs, ones that will pay all the bills and leave me with enough money to buy expensive cheese I never tried before. I suppose the truth is that I would have liked to, by this point in my life, be able to look at the $20 wines, not still the $10 bottles.
Today I filled out a job application, the first one in 12 years. I have been working part-time from home for a long time now and it has been great, but it doesn’t add up without a second income in my house; so when my friend asked if I was interested in becoming a simulated patient at a nearby medical college, I said yes.
My mom, and even my brother, think this will be great for me; a perfect fit. My brother agreed with me that it was somewhere in-between selling my blood and poor acting, but he believed it was more respectable than being a nude model (that just sounds cold.) But this, this could maybe get me out of the house and back into the world, out of the stay-at-home-work, stay-at-home-mom trap I’ve been in.
Once I’m coasting and feeling a little more secure, once I’m a few months into a new gig and a few more months making it as a single mother, maybe then I’ll hear the riddles differently. Maybe I’ll hear an ancient compliment from my mom when she compares me to Greece; and thank her for expecting absolutely nothing from me, for giving me the grand gift of total freedom of thought.
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