(another chapter from The Brides of March: Memoir of a Same-Sex Marriage)
Anna Goes to Matisse
On Saturday morning I raced around picking up all over our main floor (Graeme once again strapped on my back, poor lad), hauling piles wholesale to the basement, and stuffing the cabinets in our mudroom, so that the Maid Brigade women wouldn’t have to spend their valuable time cleaning around our detritus. The upstairs rooms I’d vacuumed the day before and given a brief once over, since as the kid zone during the reception, they weren’t in dire need of spotlessness, though, my in-laws would be sleeping up there that night.
One of the many great things about my mother-in-law is that she doesn’t think cleanliness is next to godliness. She doesn’t think any less of a person if her home is bedlam. In fact, I think she rather likes it.
The older kids watched cartoons in innocence, happy in the knowledge that their beloved grandparents were arriving that afternoon, and unconscious of my frantic desire to get our house under control. I was recklessly recycling piles of paperwork (praying they didn’t include bills, checks, or tax info), when, with a flash of insight, I realized we’d failed to contact an entire branch of Jannine’s family who live locally, and should have been called pronto when we decided belatedly to celebrate our marriage.
I appeared in Jannine’s office doorway. “Auntie Maureen! We forgot Auntie Maureen!”
Jannine gasped and grabbed the phone. Maureen answered right away, and without hesitation offered up all kinds of help. She is what Sharon Osbourne might have been had she come to America and given Ozzie a pass: a lovely Englishwoman, flashy, but tasteful, well-preserved and fit, absolutely up to date with fashion, technology, and movies, yet still a lady. We are her girls.
Maureen told Jannine quite firmly that we needed to call her sons, Sean and Russ, and invite them as well; they’d absolutely want to come. If there was anything else she could do or bring, just give her a call. She rocks.
Jannine got back on the phone, obediently, to call those cousins. I got back to clearing debris, hoping to be ready by the time our own personal cleaning crew arrived.
Maid Brigade showed up an hour and a half after I was told they would. By then, I was pacing, the baby on my back, and the kids were perched nervously on the edge of their chairs, definitely aware that I was trying to get our house under control, and ready to take off at a moment’s notice, leaving the maids a clear deck to swab. The estimate for the job was breathtaking, but finding the time and energy to clean the house sufficiently to host we had no idea how many people, was beyond my capability.
Just shaving my legs was a lofty goal; we had a needy toddler in the house, he’d been separated from my breasts, he had no intention of being separated from the rest of me. Tidy I could manage with a body strapped to mine, genuinely clean was hard.
When the two women finally arrived, hauling vacuums and cleaning supplies up our steps, we sped out the door. It was half an hour to when Grandma and Grandpa would arrive on the train from Seattle.
I was secretly bummed out that I didn’t have something thrilling to wear the next day. I’d stopped needing to be Rita Hayworth in a red dress, and I never needed to be princess for a day, but I did need to believe this was a big deal. Just dragging something preexisting out of the closet was anti-climactic.
Fortunately, Jannine can be something of a mind reader (one of her many lovable qualities), so she suggested that, since we had a couple of minutes to spare, why not go by Matisse, my favorite intimidating upscale clothing store, and see if they might have something I couldn’t live without.
Jannine parked, and Anna hopped out with me, while the boys waited in the van.
It is ironic that I often mentally accuse my mother of low self-esteem disguised as thrift (choosing the three ninety-nine frosting kit by Clairol, instead of going for the five ninety-nine bottle of L’Oreal), when I have the same issue. It took me three separate turns through Target to buy my twenty-two dollar Cruella deVille shoes (black patent leather, pointed toe, silver buckle, kitten heel), until I finally told myself, “If I don’t wear sexy shoes now, when will I wear them?” to justify the purchase.
Anna doesn’t have this problem. She doesn’t measure her desire for an object against her innate value as a human being, and can enter boutiques like Matisse with none of the insecurity I carry around like Jacob Marley’s chains and strong boxes, sure that she has just as much right to be there as anyone else.
I was nervous about having a girl when we knew she was coming ten years ago. My family is littered with hurtful mother/daughter relationships, and I feared becoming one more Mommy Dearest branching out from the family tree. Clearly, I was no one to give her dating advice when it came to boys.
I had a strange sort of psychic experience while pregnant with her. I was lying in the bathtub, fretting about typical pregnancy problems: discomfort, emotional upheavals, getting big, and this strong female voice said, “Don’t fight me, I’m coming.” Swayed by hormones, I knew it was Anna speaking, that we’d be having a girl (which later ultrasounds confirmed), and that she would be smart and strong. More rationally, it was my internal voice saying, “Cool it, girl, just roll with this pregnancy thing, it’s all part of the process.”
I’m not entirely averse to the psychic explanation; I had an experience with Duncan as a toddler when, in desperate need of a shower, I left him in front of the television while I bathed quickly, only to have the words, “He has a knife,” flash through my brain. I jumped out of the shower, ran naked down the hallway of the apartment we were living in at the time, and into the kitchen, where I found him standing on a chair holding a sharp knife he’d just taken from the kitchen drawer. Anna just started that psychic connection early.
We walked into Matisse, a mother/daughter team, with a mission.
In Matisse, everything is expensively pretty and pretty expensive, and I wear an extra large, while in real life I wear a size six. The women who work there are kind, if exceedingly skinny, and when I came in one time to exchange a birthday gift, the saleslady held Graeme while I tried sweaters on, cheerfully dragging out toys for him to play with.
The saleslady behind the antique desk looked vaguely familiar, and we soon discovered our kids went to the same school, which put us on a more level playing field—we were Alameda moms (who generally fall into the “hyper-involved/SUV driving/middle-to-upper income/politically active/socially liberal/fighting middle age spread with a vengeance” category). She asked what I was looking for, told her I was going to a wedding reception—mine—and she was all over it. I told her that after seventeen years, it had finally happened. She said it was about time he got it together, and I corrected her with “She.” Her face lit up. “Ah,” she said, “Now, I know why it took so long! We’ve had a few women in this week getting outfits for your kind of wedding.” She started pulling out skirts and shirts, and within fifteen minutes, I was out of there with a white voluminous skirt that was exactly what I was looking for.
Jannine didn’t even look at the price tag, another of her lovable qualities. She just looked, smiled, nodded and told me to get in the van. It was time to get her parents.