Grape Leaves and Conversation

My mother’s friend Janice had her baby. Tiny Matthew was born that spring, just a year after my friend B’s daughter was born and given up for adoption.

I craved seeing the tiny little boy with blond hair that looked nothing like his Lebanese mother. I wanted to hold him and play with him and explore why this baby was lucky enough to know his biological mother and B’s little girl wasn’t. Janice wasn’t married to the father, same as B. The father wasn’t really interested in the responsibility of a child, the same as B. Janice even had to go move back in with her own father to save money to pay for little Matthew’s daycare. B too would have had to live with her parents.

At the end of the day, the differences were as great as they were inconsequential. Janice was a successful woman with a career and all of her schooling behind her. She didn’t have to rely on welfare or even the kindness of her father to make ends meet; she could do it regardless. Her father offered a safety net that she needed as a single mother in the mid 1980s. There just weren’t too many of them around and she needed all of the help she could get.

My mother and I went out to Janice’s tiny townhouse she shared with her father a month or two after Matthew was born. She made a Lebanese feast for us: homemade hummus, tabbouleh, stuffed grape leaves. Food that I had never experienced in my own small corner of the suburban universe. I played with the baby while all three of us chatted about their jobs, being a single working mother, being a later in life mother (Janice was 35), and how she had options available to her that my mother, just ten years older than her, had not even thought about.

I loved that evening. I loved the stimulating conversation, the trust my mother and Janice put in me to understand their conversation on an adult level, the food that pushed my palate to a new level, the sweet baby that interrupted everything in the most pleasant of ways. Things weren’t perfect for Janice, not by a longshot, but she was making the best of a situation that could have gone a completely different way.

I felt proud that my mother wanted to share her friend with me. In contrast to my feelings about my father and his inattention, it was powerful to think that my mother was willing to give me the gift of not only her own experience, but that of her friends.

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