Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Too Many Cousins Cringe

My husband’s parents were born in Ireland, and came to America in their late teens. My mother-in-law left seven siblings in County Galway and my father-in-law left behind ten brothers and sisters in County Carlow. These aunts and uncles went on to have sixty-five children—a very large number of first cousins to keep track of.

Marty traveled to his parents’ homeland only a handful of times during his childhood, and then one more time, with me, in August 2000. So, many of the many cousins, (with names like Sean, Matty, Liam, Declan, Michael, Micheal (not a spelling error here- pronounced Mee-hall) Enda, Fiona, Aiofe (Ee-fa), Martin (lots of Martins- pronounced Maaaarten!), Siobhan (Chi-vonne), Padraig (Padrick), and a slew of Marys, Patricks, Johns, and Toms are unfamiliar familiar-looking people.

We met most on the Ryan side in a pub called Blanchfield’s (“Blanch’s”- pictured above) in the tiny village of St. Mullins in County Carlow. Word had spread in the very green rolling hills that the American cousin, named Martin (Maaarten), and his wife were visiting. Like the raising of an Amish barn, near-clones of Marty started to appear and fill this lively place one night for a meet and greet. Pints of Guinness were passed over my head, and happily thrust into my hands. At many times during the surreal evening, I held two glasses at once, and had to figure out the most tactful way to manage my gifts. The tone was light and happy, loud with fast-talking brogues, interested eyes, and vigorous head nods. Marty and I felt like royal ambassadors— overwhelmed by the good-natured excitement extended to us, and touched that so many people had made the effort to come by to welcome us.

Back in New Jersey, about one year later, one of his Irish cousins on his mother’s side, Celia, was visiting America with her husband and children. We drove to a restaurant near my in-laws home to extend our welcome and hospitality to the kin. The venue was entirely less scenic than Blanchfield’s pub. We struggled through the congestion of rush hour traffic to arrive at a charmless chain restaurant. It stunk of old french-fry oil and the lettuce looked wilted on the massive salad bar. Welcome! Welcome to New Jersey.

Marty sat across from his cousin Celia and politely inquired about her mother.

“How is your mother?” he asked. He knew that Celia was the daughter of one of his mother’s sisters.

“She’s dead.” Celia answered matter-of-factly, as she smeared butter on a pasty dinner roll.

It was a colossal cringe moment. I saw my husband’s face turn redder than if he had spent a day at the equator without sunscreen. His mouth attempted to speak, but it just opened and closed, as he held his breath involuntarily. I saw my mother-in-law look as pained as if she was experiencing equator sunburn. Her head wobbled with a grave cringe; her hands flew up to her mouth. The cringe hung in the silence after Celia’s succinct response. I felt the hairs stand up on my own neck. I heard the sound of my brother-in-law’s chair move away from the table. Mike was headed for the restroom.

“Oh, Maaarten, you must just have me confused. My mother was Kathleen, and she died several years ago.”

Marty expressed sympathy with an even deeper blush. He took a bite of his Buffalo Blue Chicken Sandwich. My mother-in-law likely pulled rosary beads from her purse and rubbed them for strength under the table. The conversation moved on to lighter things: the cousins' daytrip to New York City and their sightseeing agenda for the remainder of their American holiday.

I excused myself to the ladies room. Mike had still not returned to the table. I found him, outside the bathrooms, leaning up against a payphone, gasping for air. Seeing me caused resurging laughter tears to rocket from his eyes. He could hardly speak—hysteria had fully enveloped him.

“Ohhh…you’re mean.” I whispered, pressing my lips together to prevent a contagious reaction.

“How’s mom?....She’s dead!” he repeated, holding his hand to his stomach, gulping in hiccup air.

Marty was behind us now—he too had broken away from the table, in a state of pure mortification.

“You suck,” he told his hyperventilating older brother, before ducking into the men’s room (to splash water on his face?)

The poor guy just has too many cousins.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Short Profiling Cringe

There has been a barrage of news reports, newspaper and magazine articles, political stump speeches, protests, and infuriated ACLU attorneys sparring in the last decade over profiling. Racial. Religious. I am certain there are thousands of blogs out there that discuss, at length and ad nauseam, all sides of the issue. I can see both sides. America should not become a police state, a country that assumes you are suspicious and subjects you to harassment because of the way you look or the way you worship.

But, I must come clean. When I am standing barefoot on airport security lines for visits to Nana in Florida, trying to control boys who are playing limbo under the queue ropes, watching and collecting our stuff as it gets x-rayed, and lugging carseats on and off the belt, I do wish they would pay more attention to passengers named Faisal Shahzad. I want an officer to say, “Ma’am, come here, you can skip this line. Jump on this beeping cart. We will strap your kids in and feed them candy until the plane departs. Then we will dose them with Benadryl. We have made a determination based on stereotyping that you are no threat.”

I feel that I am at some liberty to write this because I was a victim of profiling in 1988. I, five-foot-one, Tracy Lynn Wetherill, spent time in the back of a police car due to profiling. I was short-profiled.

I inherited my Pop Pop’s powder blue Oldsmobile Delta 88 in high school. It was a powerful beast, comfortable for the senior population it was marketed to. Soft, wide seats covered in blue velour. Lots of compartments for maps, Kleenex boxes, rolls of toll quarters, and guidebooks for my grandparents’ meandering road trips through New England. Peppy power windows, seats, brakes, and steering. It was also afflicted with a problematic “crank sensor” (which I still don’t know what that is) that later caused the car to randomly shut down at highway speeds. I became adept at coasting on shoulders.

Two state troopers pulled me over on a dark spring night because they did not see a head driving the Delta 88 on Route 100 in Somers, New York. The seat was electrically shimmied to the closest position, but my short frame still required a slouch to command the V8 engine. The police lights whirled. I was scared as I looked in my rearview mirror. I wasn’t speeding. I wasn’t drinking. I was just driving along. Profiled. Short-profiled.

There was the problem that I had a junior provisional license, and shouldn’t have been driving past nine o’clock. That’s how I ended up in the back of a police car with two huge, burly, hat-wearing state troopers. They made me abandon the Olds and drove me (in silence) up Cherry Street to my yellow house on Valley Road. I asked them if I was going to be arrested, and I saw the driver pass an amused look to his partner.

“Do you think you are going to get arrested?” the driving trooper asked.
“I hope not.” I answered with dramatically enhanced innocence. I ended up with just a warning.

There certainly was a measure of cringe as I slipped in the back of the police car. Fortunately, this is my only experience in a police vehicle. The serious cringe came when my mother answered the door at 195 Valley Road and found me standing between two troopers.

“Was she speeding?!!!” she yelled, my mother as accuser.

She claims, now twenty-two years later, that she did not yell this. But I remember the cringe like it was yesterday.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Cringing On The Mothering of Boys

Happy belated Mother's Day.

People with tremendous impulse control wait for the gender of their child to be revealed at birth. They believe that knowing the sex during pregnancy results in no surprise for the parents-to-be.

Some common platitudes:

“You only have a few real surprises in life; enjoy the joy of the surprise!”
“Good health is all that matters.”

But we impatient folk still do experience surprise. It is just months earlier. Instead of hearing the doctor shout, “It’s a boy!”, when handing a goopy newborn over, we find out while a technician looks at a blurry, gray, ultrasound screen.

With our first son, my husband and I disagreed about finding out. Marty wanted to wait. See above platitudes. But since his belly wasn’t being stretched to the point of no return, my impatience prevailed. Marty presented a compromise: have the technician write down the gender on a slip of paper, and then we would ride to the beach and open it up there. If we had thought to bring background Bruce Springsteen music —it could have been a perfect Jersey shore vignette.

I stuck the folded paper in my pocket. Marty and I had driven separately to the office. In the parking lot, he put his hand out for it.

“No way. I know you will open it in the car.” He was right. I would have. I handed it over.

Marty’s patience paid a great dividend. I have a wonderful memory of opening that piece of paper (It’s a boy!) on the Spring Lake boardwalk, and immediately calling my brother, Scott, to report. The beach wind whooshed around my ears and I had to yell it more than once for him to hear me. Scott was elated, excited. My brother never had the chance to meet my son, so my persistence paid off too. Before Scott left this earth, he knew he was an uncle to a little boy named Christopher.

The second time around, we didn’t orchestrate a ceremonious oceanfront reveal. We found out in the bland doctors office. It’s a boy!, round two.

A cringe passed through me. A serious insecurity fizzle. This plurality made me THE MOTHER OF BOYS. I wasn’t sure if I could be any good at that. A theory formed in my mind as the technician zoomed in on her evidence: an excellent mother of boys should be a tall, strong, muscular, athletic woman—the kind of lady who can throw a kayak up on a roof rack, change a flat tire, drive stick shift, and whistle with two fingers in her mouth at sporting events. She is a woman who feels very comfortable in the bleachers screaming (at fishmonger pitch) things like “Good eye!” and “Now that’s getting a piece of it!” Even if my boys don’t turn out to be athletes, they might follow after their father and be interested in science. A proficient mother of boys should excel at creating science fair projects, shouldn’t she? I have a serious spatial relations deficiency; I struggle to make a paper airplane.

Even though I have not developed any rough and tumble qualities since boy #2, I don’t worry or cringe anymore, because these little males make me feel like a rock star. They are completely unaware of my miscasting.