"You were eight before your mother was finally convinced I wasn't going to eat you," my dad used to tell me.
It must not have helped when -- what must be one of my earliest memories -- my dad took me along to get a pizza one night when I was 2 1/2 or so and we were living in San Francisco. He sat me on the passenger seat next to him and at some point had to slam on the brakes. Predictably, I went flying into the big, wide dashboard of the big, wide Lincoln he was driving at the time. I came home with a fat lip but otherwise intact. My mother must have had a meltdown.
"She's a tigress, that woman... anyone messes with you, they'll lose an arm," he said. Evidently, he was speaking from experience.
But I noticed that her maternal instincts were apparently waning around the age of 14, when I nearly lost an arm trying to eat some morsel off her plate. She'd always encouraged me to when I was smaller, trying to get me to try new foods and spices. It worked too well, as my continual battle not to go up a waist-size will attest.
And now that I'm an adult, her tiger-mom protectiveness sometimes is AWOL, as in one time a few years ago when she, Adrián and I were navigating crowded aisles at Costco. She was pushing the cart, I was steering with my hand on the front, and at one point we had to head through the narrows near the meat section. As carts bumped and scraped against each other, suddenly we heard a yelp of pain as a man got his hand caught between his cart and ours. "Oh... oh, I'm so sorry," stammered my mother. "It was HIM." She pointed at me. My jaw hit the floor. Then I started to guffaw. "Joanne, that was very maternal," said Adrián.
Tigress? Υeah, not so much.
And when we announced we were expecting, it seemed most of the time that her apprehension outweighed her excitement at being a first-time grandma. Understandable to a point -- she is 80 and had long ago gotten used to the idea that I was the end of the line. That's been changing in the past few months, and happily, she's been ecstatic since Clara and Olivia were born. But that's put her in direct conflict with my aunt.
She doesn't understand why the Dowager Countess doesn't share her joy. In fact, she's been insisting that she share her joy, as always upset and perplexed when someone doesn't conform with her rosy view of the world and how it should be.
Worse, she hasn't heard from my aunt's daughter, my sour cousin who lives in Santa Fe. The only comment I've heard from her (relayed through my mom) was "India? That's like Walmart for babies!" My mother showered her with gifts when her daughter was born and is deeply offended that she hasn't even received a phone call. No surprise to me; she and I have barely spoken in 20 years.
Last Sunday, Mothers Day here in the States, after weeks of handwringing and trying to cajol a positive, enthusiastic reaction out of her sister and spawn, my mom finally made a pronouncement: "My grandchildren are not second class. If I can't talk to you about them, then I really don't have much to say to you."
According to her, my aunt is now starting to come around.
We took her out for dim sum to celebrate her finally finding her missing claws (not that I put it like that to her). And I left her plate alone, just in case.