It was the first Mother’s Day after Chrisie and I got married. Somehow my mom managed to get both my brother, I, and our wives over to my parents’ house for dinner. I use the word “managed” because even then our schedules never seemed to line up where all six of us could get together at the same time. The meal was enjoyable enough, but after dinner, things got weird (well, since this is my family, things got more weird).
The dinner conversation was far-ranging. We covered many topics, though we did often arrive back at being newlyweds (my brother had been married for almost two years at the time). Dessert came and went, but we all stayed at the table. We talked for at least an hour until the conversation began to naturally trail off. Our voices slowly dies down like a bag of microwave popcorn that is almost finished cooking. We still talked to each other, but the words had longer and longer pauses between them. We reached the end of our time around the table by mutual, though unspoken, assent and all pushed ourselves back from the table. Well, we all pushed ourselves back except for Mom.
“I have something I’d like to say,” she informed us.
The sounds of scuffling chairs suddenly fell silent. My brother, our wives, and I looked at each other, uncertain of what to do. I was halfway between sitting and standing. My dad gave my mom a look that said, I have no idea what you are doing, but I’m pretty sure this is not the right time.
The moment dragged on while Mom just serenely observed us. Eventually, I awkward;y sat back down and we all readjusted our chairs back to the table. Mom stood and walked over to stand behind Dad. His eyes silently tracked her and his expression now seemed to say, I still have no idea what you are doing, but now I’m certain this is no the right time.
From behind Dad (who now had to twist in place just to see her), Mom stood straight and clasped her hands together at waist height, just as I was taught to do in my high school speech class. She stared off for a moment and I turned to look out the window because I figured there was something interesting to look at out there. There wasn’t.
Mom silently surveyed us and then began her speech. I uses the word “speech” because that’s exactly what it was. It wasn’t part of the conversation and it had the air of a prepared statement.
“On this Mother’s Day,” she began, “I wanted to take a moment to talk to you about you.” I surreptitiously glanced around for cue cards while she continued, “I want both my boys to know that you were planned for and wanted.” She then spent a few minutes extolling the virtues of my older brother while we (mostly) politely listened. Then she got to me.
“Leighton, you were also planned for and wanted. Of course, we really wanted a girl.” What, what? “In fact, you were supposed to be a girl and we thought you were a girl right up until you were born and we found out we had another baby boy instead.” Um, okay. She spent a little time talking about me while I tried to work out planned for and wanted a girl when they got me.
She wrapped up her speech and we all just looked awkwardly at her. None of us were sure what to do. Finally, Dad broke the silence when he said, “Why did you wait until we were all getting up to make your speech?” His question made me happy for two reasons. One, I had the same thought. Two, I wasn’t the only one who thought of it as a speech.
“It seemed a good time,” she replied.
Dad just looked at her with an expression that said, no, it wasn’t.
As if it was perfectly normal, Mom starting clearing the table. We all quickly jumped up, just in case another round was in store.
“What just happened?” Chrisie, my wife of less than a year asked.
“I have no idea,” I answered. Then I foolishly directed a question at my mother, “Hey, Mom?”
“How could I be planned for and wanted if you really wanted and planned for a girl?”
“Just because we wanted and planned for a girl, doesn’t mean we didn’t plan for you.”
“Was that supposed to make me feel better?” I asked Chrisie. She laughed, because this was funny to anyone other than, you know, me.
I learned two things that day. First, I learned that my mother was always going to be prone to eccentricities. Second, I finally learned why my mother repeatedly told me what my name would have been had I been a girl when I was growing up.
Years later, I’m still not sure that I’m better off knowing.