Wordplay with a worried mom

July 19, 2009

There are some issues unique to the mother-daughter relationship - OK, a lot of issues. Years later, readers still mention this column and tell me, "OMG, you're me," and, "That's my mom." It feels good to know we're all in this together! And though I'd like to say I've gotten better at talking to my mom, you know what they say: The more things change . . . the more moms worry.

- Francesca
Did you hear about the 10-year-old who writes self-help books? His name is Alec Greven, and he penned, or crayoned, How to Talk to Moms. Presumably, the intended audience is other 10-year-olds, but I think this book could have broader appeal.

Namely, me.

I wasn't attracted to it in some condescending, look-how-cute way, either. I need this book. I need help figuring out How to Talk to Mom.

But here's the problem. I need the 24-year-old-just-moved-out version.

As you know, my mom and I are very close. When it comes to the big issues, feelings, emotions, etc., I can always speak frankly with Mom. It's the small stuff I'm sweating.

For instance, last night, I went to see my cousin in Long Island City. No big deal. So I mentioned this mundane outing matter-of-factly to my mother over the phone. But, as a matter of fact, she didn't find it so mundane.

"How are you getting there? The subway? At night? ALONE?"

I thought I said, "I am going to see Paul's new apartment," but in mom-speak that translates to: "I am going to meet certain death in the New York City subway tunnels that are soon to be my tomb."

Talk about lost in translation.

So how should I have said this to avoid throwing Mom into an unrecoverable tailspin of fear and worry?

Recently, I met a nice guy while out at a bar with friends. He's a young lawyer and it turns out he grew up near me and we have a lot in common. I gave him my number and, lo and behold, he actually called me to go out. I share this good news with Mom, but, again, in plain English. Her response?

"Dinner with a stranger? Did you verify what he told you? He could be anyone. You have no way of knowing."

See, my story in Momese translated to "I met a guy named Ted Bundy, and I think he really likes me!"

To appease her, I had to google the guy, find his last five addresses, proof of his alleged alma mater, and one official Notice of Appearance in court to prove he was a practicing (she immediately assumed he was laid-off) lawyer. And she still wanted me to spring for the $19.95 criminal background check.

I didn't.

God help me the night I actually went on the date.

I understand playing it safe, so my mother and I discussed some strategies on how to protect myself just in case. Meet him at the restaurant instead of my apartment, make sure I get in the cab to go home alone, tell my roommate where I'm going and plan when she should call me and expect me back. I thought I had said all the right things in my pre-date Talk With Mom. But I made one critical error - this time not with what I said, but what I did NOT say.

I did not say, "I'll call you when I'm home."

Big mistake.

Like, huge.

You see, New York dinners start kind of late, so I was still out at 11 p.m. when she texted the first time. And the bar we went to afterward was loud, so I didn't hear my phone ring at 11:37 p.m. or again around midnight. And we happened to have a conversation about how people who constantly check their BlackBerries are so annoying, so I kept it in my purse while the four other text messages chimed in. And, at the very end of the date, the guy actually seemed to want to kiss me, so when I finally did hear my ringer go off, I quickly silenced it and leaned in.

Kiss of death.

In the cab, I saw I had five new text messages, three missed calls, and two new voicemails. I winced when I listened to the first voicemail and heard my mom's barely controlled voice saying, "Hi, honey. Just making sure you're OK. Please call me when you get home."

But this time, I could translate.


I felt terrible. Sure, my mom was overreacting a little (I found out when I did call her that she had even emailed my roommate). But the fact remained that for a couple hours there, she was really scared for me, and all because of a simple breakdown of communication.

So how does the newly-moved-out twentysomething talk to Mom?

Alec Greven can't grow up fast enough.