Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Dinner with the Family: Barolo, Opera, Pasta and Arranged Marriage

Three nights ago, a routine Saturday family dinner party around my brother's table: Opera floating from the speakers, Barolo flowing freely, the children eating fat tubes of ziti off their fingers, and my dad holding forth on which individuals in our acquaintance pool "could benefit from being sent back to the Old Country for arranged marriage."

My sister-in-law, flailing baby on her hip, five heaping plates of food balanced on her right arm (in a move that could secure her employment in almost any restaurant in the world) agreed with Dad, and dared me with her eyes to jump in with some feminist objection.

None here. I was laughing along with everyone else at the sheer joy of discussing such an un-p.c. concept.

Let's be clear: Dad was not talking about fixing up teenagers before they got up to their own ideas regarding romance.

He meant consenting adults.

The kind who have extreme difficulty navigating the dating waters, the type who fall apart emotionally after every date that ends without a marriage proposal, the ones who tell their troubles to virtual strangers at the gym, sobbing and spluttering snot on the elliptical trainer, because they cannot hold in the grief.

The kind who want nothing more in this life than the security of married coupledom, but who seem unable to get there without a little help. The individuals who have spent decades weeping in therapy. Who need to get off the couch and just get on with it. The ones who have exhausted the potential fix ups in their own circles.

The kind who turn forty without ever having sex.

I thought such folks were the stuff of urban legend, but my relatives swiftly set me straight on that point.

What are these souls, the ones the Victorians called spinsters, supposed to do in the age of Internet dating? Because if these women are getting their hearts broken by Match dates, Tinder will shred whatever remains of their dignity to smithereens.

Would it be so bad to bring back the elderly village matchmakers? At least they wouldn't prey on women's hopes for ungodly sums of money, like some personal dating services.

The tradition certainly persisted in post WWII Italy, Greece and Armenia—the countries to which Dad suggested shipping these acquaintances for advice from elderly aunts and uncles.

The matchmaking tradition is also alive and well in some Jewish communities, as well as in India (where I know social class has a lot to do with whether the woman can, or is old enough, to consent).

Probably lots of other places too, but I can only speak to the hill towns of the Southern Mediterranean.

Dad started listing people we knew who had successful arranged marriages. "It's great for some people!" (Someone steered the topic elsewhere before Dad started listing all the "love"matches in our circle that ended in divorce.)

My mother kept pace as Dad warmed to his topic. She pointed out which examples are now dead.

I certainly recall, as late as the 1970s, talk of cousins of various degrees of removal flying home to Italy to find Holy Matrimony. That practice has all but vanished, as the potential old country wife pool have found careers and (rightly) balked at ironing and cooking all day.

I'd be lying if I said it didn't rankle me (a little) that my male second and third cousins set off in search of wives, like conquering knights, bearing new riches from the new world, while the women apparently require shipping and handling. But really, what's the harm, if all parties consent?

We ate our dinner before it became clear whether Dad would offer to broker any trans-Atlantic matchmaking.

The subject was dismissed as he held up a bite of food and asked, "Can this be Thanksgiving? I think these meatballs have turkey in them."

My sister-in-law confirmed the presence of the suspect fowl.

Dad shot a glance at my still splinted dominant hand, and added, sotto voce, "Since Mari can't cook."

Nobody in earshot objected. My brother poured more wine. We clinked glasses and said, "Happy Thanksgiving."

A few chairs down, R. sat and wondered how a thirteenth generation Connecticut Yankee managed to drop into this tableau, with its retro solutions to timeless problems. That and whether my dad was serious about the Thanksgiving remark.

It's never been our holiday.

Though I have come to own it since the Grape arrived.

While Dad despises turkey, a meat about which I'm ambivalent, he loves what I've done with the rest of the meal, if I may be so bold as to say so myself. But since I'm a cripple this fall, I'm not whipping up artichokes and oysters and squash with south Asian undertones and three kinds of stuffing and various pies.

This Thanksgiving I can bow my head, and be grateful that neither my sister nor I were mentioned as a candidates for arranged marriage in the Old Country.

Monday, November 17, 2014

All the Grape Wants for Christmas is a Little Sister

This is the second year in a row the Grape (age five) wants to ask Santa for a little sister.

It's always a little sister.

Even last year, I think he intuited that a younger brother could constitute some kind of direct and unwelcome competition.

Last year I told him Santa doesn't traffic in human children.

He seemed okay with that answer.

This year he's not buying it, and he's so insistent, he's making me cry.

"But why?" he wants to know.

I've explained more than once that Mamma's belly is broken. He accepted that response until last week. More than once, I've heard him explain his status as an only child to his friends in these terms.

But I knew he'd eventually do more math.

"But you had me," the Grape said Friday, on the way home from swimming lessons.

"I did, but I had lots of very big problems. The doctors—many doctors—and Mamma agreed that Mamma's belly shouldn't make any more babies."

The pregnancy and its aftermath were so bad, that I knew, from about month five, that I would never go through that again.

I never pictured myself as an only child kind of mother, but if a second meant another ordeal like the first, I was going to be grateful for my one healthy kid and call my family complete.

For years, I was content with my decision, not least because it was based on the advice of multiple doctors.

The Grape folded his arms over his chest. "Get another opinion. That's what you did with your hand."

He paused to think. "And that's when your hand started getting better. Look. You can even drive now."

I turned and gaped at him, smugly strapped in his car seat, clutching a juice box, brimming with confidence.

He yowled at me to watch the road.

He's not wrong. I've got a new hand doctor, who issued a smaller, tighter fitting brace, along with a shot of cortisone. My hand does feel a whole lot better.

A surgery exists today, a procedure that did not exist five or six years ago, that could fix my major medical issue with pregnancy—the one that triggered everything else that went wrong.

Unsurprisingly, one of the handful of doctors doing the procedure is here in Boston.

I'm not going to go into an analysis of my medical records—I know lots of writers do, in painstaking clinical detail. That's fine, but that level of sharing doesn't feel right for me.

My basic conundrum boils down to this: Even if I have the surgery, I am likely out of "time," which is a euphemism used by endocrinologists to mean "good eggs."

In this I'm no different from tens of thousands of women in their early forties.

I'm a terrible sleeper, but I don't lie awake at night wondering why I waited so long.

I waited so long because my mind was made up. No more hellish, dangerous pregnancies. Period.

What keeps me up is that suddenly the entire game changed.

For me, it probably changed too late.

Either way, the Grape isn't getting what he really wants from Santa.

Not this year.