May 25, 2011 at 11:45 AM ET
A homeless woman is attempting to break into the locked parking lot of baby gymnastics.
She wears a giant, red, tie-dyed T-shirt with several dancing bears. Her hair is stringy, with stripes of gray. She wears a brown men’s windbreaker with the logo of a long-ago sales conference of a pharmaceutical companyand stained gray sweatpants..
Mothers pull their children closer.
The woman tries again to get into the gate. Parents herding their toddlers into gymnastics try to be cool because this is the East Side of Los Angeles, hipster haven, and we try to be accepting and listen to Rage Against the Machine. Still… she’s kind of creeping people out., No one is quite sure what she’s doing there. No one, that is, except me.
That’s my mother.
I only wish she were actually homeless, because I could write a bestselling book about how, despite my mother living at a shelter, I made my way in an uptown world. No, this is a story as old as time, as inevitable as gravity or the second law of thermodynamics. This is a story about how my mom embarrasses me, and how, as sure as a photon moves at the speed of light, I will embarrass my own child.
My mom’s wardrobe has been dressing me in shame since I was conscious.
Back in her day, when she was single and hot, she would pick me up at Hebrew school in long fringed suede vests, low-cut Capezio leotards and leather satchels more pocked and puckered than James Coburn eating a Sour Patch Kid.
That era was followed by a decade of great and swirling flow, when every outfit was long and linen, the patterns loud, the caftans often sleeveless and vaguely tribal. Did I mention she has never shaved her armpits?
If the floor-length, flowered muumuu didn’t get your attention, the Dodge Dart surely would. There’s nothing like a rusted out Dart in drab green that only starts when mother and daughter push it, from behind, before jumping into the moving vehicle.
Every mother finds a way to embarrass her child. My mom’s look is a manifestation of who she is, someone who doesn’t conform and isn’t conventional. And of course, conforming and being conventional are of paramount importance to children, or at least to children of “free spirits,” or at least to me.
No doubt, in my efforts to defy nature and not shame my kid, I will over-correct in terms of wardrobe. There is a good chance this will lead to me shopping close to forever at Forever 21. Maybe he'll cringe when I order every sauce on the side. Perhaps he'll want to disappear like Hilary Clinton in an Orthodox Jewish newspaper when I get overly chatty with cab drivers and dry cleaners.
Because of my career in media, I can embarrass him more publicly than some moms. His friends can find clips of me on the radio crying, storming out, arguing, taking things way too personally, tuning out - and I'm just talking about this morning between 5-7 a.m. I'm sure it's going to be a hoot when my child's buddies discover YouTube clips of "Teresa Strasser's Thighs" (a montage from a deep cable talk show that featured me in mini-skirts on a very unforgiving couch). It's not hard to Wikipedia me and find out I let a sexual pervert into my apartment thinking he was a Strip-o-Gram guy. Long story. Look, I'm proud that I went from being a mechanic's daughter to having a mostly irrelevant career - but a career nonetheless - as an artist. Still, the first thing my kid may punch into Google after my name is "how to fake own death."
Parents cannot escape the laws of embarrassment. Say your mom wears ironed slacks and pearls and looks like a CEO. Her brand of embarrassing you may be snapping at cab drivers or warning people about your lactose intolerance. Maybe your mom is a chronic table mover. (“There’s a draft here, and we’re too close to the kitchen.”) Maybe your parents have inappropriate boundaries. (Joe Simpson discussing his daughter Jessica’s boobs, for example.)
None of this should be that bad, but because it’s your parent, it reflects on you in such an intrinsic way as to make you deeply, often physically, uncomfortable.
As I punch in the gate code for my mom, I wait for the usual feeling that someone has poured battery acid on my retinas to take hold. Nothing. A passing parent realizes she’s just a grandma and says, “Cool shirt. My daughter would love that.”
Of course, I think. Because she’s 3.
My mom, windbreaker and all, is here. In fact, she moved to my neighborhood to help with the baby in the early mornings, when I’m co-hosting a radio show. She’s in the trenches, making sweet potatoes, changing diapers. Suddenly, the negotiation between her outside and my inside has changed absolutely. Her love for my son has overwhelmed her quirks -- not just the crazy T-shirts, but everything else that’s crazy. It can’t hurt me anymore.
Teresa Strasser is an Emmy Award-winning writer and radio host in Los Angeles on KABC. Her memoir, "Exploiting My Baby: A Memoir of Pregnancy and Childbirth," was optioned by Sony Pictures and is available now. Dr. Phil says it "will make you laugh until you're sick, I swear." Check out her blog at ExploitingMyBaby.com for more information.