Some time between the daily morning temperature-taking and my 48 hours of labor, I vowed to myself that I would not do the things my mother had done that had caused me to cringe, starting with, "I won't speak with a Russian accent." This wouldn't require much effort since I was born in Canada. That my mother pronounced "w's" as if they were "v's" was an issue when I was in high school and dating someone whose last name was Williamson. After he dumped me for a French girl, "wurst" was the word I most dreaded.
Riding on the bus with my parents made me uneasy as they would speak Yiddish to each other. When I confided this to a friend, she asked if they spoke Yiddish at home, "or just on the bus to make you miserable?" My parents, I'm sure, never suspected how strongly I reacted to everything they did. I wanted them to be like other parents in the northern New Jersey suburb where I spent most of my formative years. American-born, those mothers served roast beef, not brisket, shrimp and not gefilte fish. Other kids brought peanut butter sandwiches to school while my lunch announced itself to the entire cafeteria, smelling of sardines or salami. I wanted my mother not to wear cotton house dresses with snaps and my father to play golf, not Moishe Oysher cantorial chants on the record player. Our ethnicity humiliated me, separating me when conformity was all I aspired to.
The unbridled devotion demonstrated by my toddler son assured me that being an embarrassing mom was not genetic. Squealing with delight, he would run into my arms, always eager to reconnect with me. I had the luxury of being in the generation of moms who would accompanying our kids to baby gyms but also go to our own gyms to do the crunches and pilates required to fit into the jeans now identified as "Not Your Mother's Jeans." We found time to be involved with our kids despite having independent careers, interests and social lives. We talked about the importance of creating boundaries as well as closing doors and mouths. Parenting was something we took seriously. "You can't make them better," my husband said, "but you can make them worse."
When our son was in middle school and playing on the baseball team, I wasn't one of the parents who would call attention to a flub by yelling, "Good eye!" or "Good try!" He'd be more comfortable being praised privately. One afternoon the temperature had dropped substantially and I knew that the kids wouldn't be dressed for the cold, so I grabbed several jackets to pass out. As I approached the bleachers, Nick was shaking his head at me, making it clear that I was not to come any closer. Later he explained that he felt embarrassed. "Let's say you saw Matt's mom bringing jackets," I reasoned with him. "Would you be thinking, 'Poor Matt, look what she's doing' or 'Glad I'm Matt's friend. I'll get one of the jackets'." He seemed to understand, and I hoped this would preclude his feeling that my behavior reflected on him.
Not long after that, my husband and I were holding our son's hands as we walked to his first dance. Two blocks from the building, he pulled away. "Okay, you can go now."
I was shocked. "Why? What do we do that embarrasses you?"
"Nothing, it's just embarrassing to have parents."
And that was when I realized that being embarrassing is part of the job description.