Spring Break, ahhh, the time saved up for families and college students to get a well-deserved break from their day-to-day routines of school and work. At this point in the year, it’s been at least three months since Christmas and New Year’s so it’s definitely time. The destinations have gotten quite extravagant over the years. Hearing about the trips that kids are relished with during this week-long break makes me kind of sick; zip-lining in Costa Rica, spilunking in Mexico, wake boarding in California, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Well, not all kids get to lounge in the luxurious clear blue waters of the Gulf or even the chlorine-infested waters of a Holiday Inn mini-pool. Instead, this year, I decided we were not going to use our credit card money for a Spring Break. This year, my daughter got lucky with two plays in Chicago followed up by some indigestion-producing cheese fries.
My 14-year-old daughter is a freshman, so as you might imagine, it’s the beginning of her breaking away from the dreaded parents. She and I are learning to develop a new type of relationship with each other. She’s more independent and I’m doing my best to allow this. Not being embarrassing is my biggest hurdle. I try not to break out into song every time Up Town Funk comes on or car-dance too close to the school, and definitely not when we are giving a friend a ride home. She is not a wild and crazy kid (like her mother was). She’s quite demure, soft-spoken and still averts her eyes if there is anything remotely sexual shown on TV. If I were my mother, I would have wished for a child like my own, not what she got in me, a wild, rebellious high schooler who did so many things under her nose she’d be embarrassed to hear about them today. My mother had three girls, three tries to get it right some might say. For me, I’m sure I end up scratching and clawing to keep my daughter as close as possible, especially since she is an only…my only.
It was on this night when we went to the play that I realized no matter how much I want us to develop a friendship of sorts, to be buddies, to have girl’s night out, there will always be certain instances in life that really highlight the mother-daughter relationship as the first and the primary, and that’s a good thing.
We made our way downtown in record time and took prime seats in the front row balcony of the Mercury Theater to watch The Addams Family musical.The theater was a mix of families and couples, both young and old. I was feeling quite comfortable that I had made the right choice and this play would appropriately entertain both my daughter and myself. I grew up on musicals at The Muny Opera in St. Louis and have been exposing her to theater and musicals since she was just a young girl. I love old 60’s and 70’s kitschy TV and who could miss with a theater version of The Addams Family?
Well, for almost the entire play we were laughing and yucking it up. I had succeeded as the perfect mother, with the perfect choice, creating the perfect night out for a mother-daughter duo…. until one of the character’s roles went from straight and conservative to crazy and kind of nutter-butter. I think I was still picking up my chin off the mezzanine level minutes after this actress ripped open her shirt to reveal her 50’s style Maidenform bra. My daughter and I exchanged looks that in one glance said- “WTF just happened?” Well, that’s what mine said, hers said “are you kidding me?” So much for the perfect mother-daughter night out. All I could think was, are my choices as a mother being tested?
Not wanting to end our evening on such an awkward note, I asked her if she’d like to have some of the best cheese-fries in the world. I was really hoping to continue our night kind of like I used to when I was single and living in the city, minus the tequila of course.
Those of us who have lived in Chicago for any period of time know that Weiner Circle on Clark is hands-down the best place for cheese fries. That yummy, ooey-gooey goodness that comes in the best shade of orange– really, orange, not yellow! When I first moved to Chicago in the early 90’s, it was the place to go after a drunken night out in Lincoln Park. And, it didn’t hurt that it was directly out the back door of my heat-included, studio apartment. Unfortunately, because I’m now old (embarrassing and uncool),
I had forgotten some of the, let’s say, ambiance that you’ll find at this late-night spot.
So, with hope for a better ending to this night and mouths watering, we made our way to this dive of a hot-dog stand. There was one youngish couple sitting quietly on stools eating their food and a man and woman behind the counter. Being the extrovert that I am and loving being back in my old stomping grounds, I had to chat with this couple letting them know I had lived just across street 20 years ago and frequented this place regularly. Somehow I think I was already apologizing for bringing my very innocent daughter into this establishment. As we stood at the counter, I glanced at the tip jar and read to myself, “Leave your f*$%ing tip here.” “Oh damn,” I thought. I had forgotten about the spicy language doled out here in the late night hours. But, it was only 10:30PM and all I could hope was they’d see how young my daughter was and go easy on us. I pleaded with my eyes, “Have mercy on me, she’s only 14. She’s just a baby.” It would not be the case. They read the scared look on my face like a dog senses fear in a human and decided just to mess with me even more.
We proceeded to order my favorite color of cheese fries and a char-dog and wait on a couple stools in the corner. A few more couples came in as did a group of 20-something men. Only one of the men ordered and the guy behind the counter yelled to one of them as he was leaving, “get out of here you F*cking Frodo.” We both genuinely laughed at this comment, finding that the description was right on about this customer. The F word can be funny if used appropriately and the alliteration helped in this case. I wasn’t offended by this, but sat tensed wondering when the storm would hit. Thinking once again tonight, What sort of test is this?
We both sort of hung out in the corner watching the other couples chat and order. A few cuss words were exchanged, but nothing horrific. Then, I heard the male voice from behind the counter call out,
“Hey, Sweet T*ts, what do you want on this?”
I hoped my daughter hadn’t heard and I scanned the other three women in the restaurant wondering who he might be addressing. Oh boy, I thought, that poor woman, whichever one she is. Oh my gosh, she now has to walk up to the counter and respond to that?
Not long after the first request, it came again, “Hey, Sweet T*ts, what do you want on this dog?”
I exchanged horrified glances with my daughter- no doubt she had heard it this time—they were the same WTF looks we shared at the theater.
One more time, louder and more insistent, “No Sweet T*ts, YOU, in the corner, what do you want on this char-dog?”
I almost fell off my stool, turned six shades of red and said, “OH, ME?”, laughing and sputtering my way the 10 feet (that felt like an entire runway) to the counter. I focused in on this young whippersnapper behind the counter like I had a mind-altering superpower and said, “puleeeeeaaaase, my 14-year-old is with me.” The woman helping out responded with, “Oh honey, every woman’s got Sweet T*ts.”
I gave up. I was putty in their hands. I sluggishly walked back to my stool in the corner feeling embarrassed, misrepresented and oh-so-stupid. Stupid for not remembering that bringing her here at this time of night was not a good move.
“Oh honey, I’m so sorry,” I said to her.
With all kinds of annoyance and defensiveness in her voice she said, “It’s not your fault mom.”
“Well, I didn’t have to bring you here,” I told her, apologetically. “Were you offended by that?” I asked her, knowing full-well by her tone that she was.
“Well of course I was offended,” she said with all kinds of certainty.
Wow. Although in the moment I felt bad, in retrospect I realized this is exactly the determination a mother of a 14-year-old girl needs to hear. It’s an indicator that she’s developing a healthy, strong sense of self that she will not allow anyone to disrespect.
It was in that moment, in that dive of a hot-dog stand when my child was embarrassed, that I realized, yes, I had been tested this entire evening. Tested on how I would respond when dealing with inappropriate situations I had not yet encountered with my teenage daughter. Oddly enough, she was being tested too, on how to deal with the real world treating her mother as something other than just her mother.