Small Talk

Posted by mwallach on May 17, 2011 in Crazy Follows Me Everywhere, My Kids |

Dear That’s Life,

“You look good for having six kids,” she said.  It is not the first time someone has said that to me and the exhausted feeling I get every time I hear it does not get old. I know it is meant as a compliment, but because it seems to inform on what people expect me to look like as the mother of a large family, it bothers me. Perhaps it is because I heard it most recently on Mother’s Day that it bugged me, almost as bad as hearing it on my birthday. As I sat down at the nail salon and made small talk with the manicurist, it was one of the first things she said. I smiled – I had heard it before.

What is the mother of six kids supposed to look like? I did not realize there was a model or prototype of sorts into which I was supposed to fit. I imagine that some people may be impressed that the mother of six showers everyday, let alone goes to the gym, although neither should be impressive nor noteworthy. “If I had six kids, I’d also take up boxing,” someone once said to me, as if I was handling the responsibilities of managing a large family in a healthy way. Am I supposed to look overwhelmed and hunched over, singing “Lady Madonna” by the Beatles, wondering how I am going to get it all done? On the flip side, is the mother of two children supposed to look fresh, rested and all aglow every time she leaves her home? That is as preposterous as assuming I should look like death warmed over. Personally, I think I look tired and worn out but am not sure I would look any different if I had three children vs. my six. With most families averaging fewer children than mine, I understand how I must shatter the mold of what they expect a mom of six to look like, regardless of their baseless assumptions. That’s me: breaking down barriers and stereotypes, one day at a time. 

I had decided it would be fun to take my daughters with me for a little pampering. While it was Mother’s Day and they are not yet mothers, I wanted to bring them with me, a ‘girls’ day out.’ The girls rapidly chose their nail polish, my youngest one choosing two different colors, intending on alternating with each nail. Wearing her plastic tiara, carrying her feathered wand, heart shaped sunglasses on her face, she played the part of the pampered princess perfectly, sitting herself down at the counter. Mr. DeMille, she was ready for her close-up.

There are a limited number of topics one can cover when making small talk with someone you don’t know. The weather is always safe and recent headlines often make for good discourse, but beyond that is unchartered territory. On Mother’s Day, however, family is an acceptable topic of conversation, even with a pre-schooler. The nice woman painting her nails asked my daughter the names of her siblings. When she got to our youngest’s name, the manicurist struggled a little to repeat it, unable to pronounce the ‘th’ in the middle of her name, saying it instead as a hard ‘t.’ It was the equivalent of saying ‘Marta’ when her name was ‘Martha.’ My daughter, like many other children her age, is the product of some serious speech therapy. She, too, had trouble pronouncing ‘th’ in the middle of words and therefore knew how to help. “You have to stick your tongue out when you say it!” she exclaimed, loud enough for everyone to hear. “TH!” she said, making sure to exaggerate the placement of her tongue between her teeth so as to demonstrate for the woman who was at least 50 years her senior. Everyone began to laugh.

The woman with whom I was working also began to make polite chit-chat about my family. With three of my daughters in tow and knowing I had three more children, she asked me the breakdown of girls vs. boys who had  remained at home. We spoke intermittently about our children and she commented that I must have a good husband if he was home with the others. “They are his, too,” I explained, trying to figure out why a father being home with his children calls for a Congressional Medal of Honor. “What does he do?” she asked. “Is he in business?” I shook my head and explained he was a lawyer. She gasped and excitedly asked, as if having won the lottery, “Immigration??”

You just can’t make this stuff up. Happy Mother’s Day to me.


As seen in the South Shore Standard May ’11


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