As you may know if you’ve been reading my blog for any amount of time by now, I’m not normal. I mean, not normal in the regular sense, but also in the sense that I don’t enjoy the things that most women enjoy: manicures, massages, and understanding how to wear clothes. I also suck at cooking.
As I was growing up, my nonability to know how to turn on a stove was an evergreen source of disappointment for my mom, who enjoys dressing up, wearing makeup, and doing all of the stuff women are supposed to know how to do so they don’t call their mom sobbing two weeks after living in an apartment on their own because they’re not sure how to boil water for eggs.
My mom was always proud of me for my academic accomplishments and the fact that I wrote my own sequel to Star Wars when I was 12, but she held out in her heart of hearts that one day, I would turn girly. She dressed me in dresses, but despite her best attempts, all of the ribbons would be dirty after twenty minutes, not because I was playing outside, but because I’d either picked up an ink pen, or gotten some glue on it, or ate something that dripped. She carefully put ribbons in my hair, all of which would be lost after a couple hours. For my fourth birthday, I got a doll, but my neighbor got a huge red interesting fire truck. I cried when he left with it. I was a terrible lady.
As I grew older, I strayed even further away from what was considered the realm of normal for ladies. I tried to wear ChapStick in 7th grade but had to give that up because it smelled too good and I’d tried to eat it.
These days, I’m a little better about convincing society that I am, in fact, female, but I don’t always succeed. For example, My mom is still always game for talking about the latest shoes she bought, how her new purse looks, and what she’ll be making for dinner. I want to talk about pogroms.
This year, I figured I would finally repay her for all the tzuris I inflicted during my youth by doing that thing daughters are supposed to do for their moms on Mother’s Day. I signed her up for a spa day/massage.
If you recall my previous post about getting a massage, you may remember that it included the sentence “Finally, after an hour, the torture was over.” So obviously this time around I was very excited to get a massage again. I hid the terror from my mom.
“Mom, guess what,” I said over Skype one day.
“You’re having a baby?!” she said.
“No, I said. Not at the present moment.”
No response on the other end. Then, a sad emoji.
“Even better,” I said.
“There’s nothing better than that,” she said.
“We’re going for a massage,” I said.
“!!!” she wrote.
“Yes, that’s right,” I said, feeling like a hero.
“How much did you pay,” she demanded.
“Doesn’t matter,”I said.
“Yes it does. I won’t be able to relax. Let me pay you for it. It’s expensive, isn’t it?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I said. “Aren’t you excited?”
“Kind of,” she said. Another pause. “Do I have to be naked?”
“Kind of,” I said.
A long pause. Then typing again.
“I’m worried,” she wrote.
“It’ll be fun !!! And relaxing !!!!” I said. Never trust someone who uses seven exclamation points.
The appointed day came, and we drove to the massage place. “Happy Mother’s Day,” I warbled enthusiastically. My mom had a look like she was going to the Hunger Games as a contestant. “It’ll be fine,” I said. “Just tell them which areas to focus on and relax.”
We came in, undressed, changed. Robed, we walked into The Butterfly Room, where other women were waiting for their massages. Some reading fashion magazines. Some were eating crackers and cheese. Some were quietly sipping fizzy water. All of them looked like they had been getting massages for years.
My mom fidgeted nervously with her gown and put her hands in her lap. I examined my toes. When was the last time I’d gotten a pedicure? Had it been a month ago? The big toe paint was chipping-had anyone noticed? It seemed like it was too dark to notice, but if they had, they were probably judging me. What does it say about a woman when she has a chipped toe pedicure? Does it say that she just got a new job and is taking a full courseload? Yes, that’s what it says. No, you idiot, it says she’s lazy and might have graduated from licking ChapStick but hasn’t gone too far.
As I was stuck in these thoughts, my mom’s mind was obviously on the torture ahead of her. On occasion, a shadow would dart past the lounge, come in, and take a woman to her massage.My mom’s head turned each time.
“Have some crackers,” I told my mom, as casually as I could to lighten the mood. We were having so much fun!
I tried to calm her down by engaging in our favorite pasttime: gossip. “Did you hear what A is doing?” I said quietly.
“No,” my mom said with a gleam in her eye, temporarily forgetting that she was about to be flayed.
The other women looked at us and quietly went back to their magazines.
“Well, she did x and y and Z said that she shouldn’t be doing it…can you believe that,” I said.
“No,” my mom said with glee and outrage in a tone that was more fitting for a colosseum-style execution than the Butterfly Room. “I bet A doesn’t feel great about that!”
Then she remembered where she was. “How long do we have to wait,” she whispered in Russian. All the distinctly non-Russian women looked at us like we were escapees from the looney bin.
“A couple more minutes,” I said. We were having such a great experience!
A male voice echoed down the hall, past the lounge. My mom stiffened. “You said there wouldn’t be male masseuses.” I lied, but hoped it was a true lie. “We won’t have a guy,” I said.
Two distinctly Russian women came in. “Vicki?” one called. The other called my mom’s name. “Are we going separately?” My mom said in Russian. “Don’t leave me alone with these monsters,” her tone said. “I thought we were going together?”
“No, maybe we can work something out, ” I said in Russian. I had neglected to request a together massage, because I didn’t know you could do such things.
The Russian women switched to Russian. “Are you Russian?” they asked us. “Yes,” I whispered with relief. Ah, their expressions said. These are our people. “We can get you a couples’ massage room,” one said. “Yes, yes, please,” I said, and my mom nodded. After a minute, we were escorted into parallel rooms, the door left open between them.
“Strip down and get under the blanket,” the women said, and left. This was all old hat to me. “I have to take my robe off?” my mom said. “yes, but they’ll be careful about it,” I said, lying down. There was some shuffling, and then silence.
After a minute in the darkness, my mom’s muffled voice said from under the blanket, said, “I feel weird. This is weird.”
“Shhh,” I said. “Enjoy the experience. Enjoy the quiet.”
“I’m worried,” she said, and then the women came in.
The massage was great, as a good massage is. Very relaxing. Lots of oil. Lots of pressure points. The whole time, though, I was thinking, hoping that my mom was enjoying the experience. I was hoping that when it was over, I would ask her how it was, and it would be a Hallmark card moment. “It’s everything I ever dreamed spending time with my daughter would be,” my mom would say, and then some sappy music from the 80s would filter through the speakers as we hugged and reaffirmed our bonding experience.
Instead, when it was over, we shuffled to the dressing room.
“I wonder how much those Russian women get paid,” she said.
“Probably a lot,” I said. “But probably more if they do it outside this place, because one of them just slipped me her business card and told me to call her if I ever wanted an in-home massage.”
We shared a laugh about sketchy Russian businesses.
“How was it,” I asked, hoping against hope, that she would have loved it.
“It was weird,” she said. “Really weird. I’m just not used to people doing things for me like that.”
“So you liked it,” I said hopefully, hoping I had made it a good Mother’s Day for her. Wilson Philips would start at any moment now. A woman’s voice would come in a voiceover, “Vicki, making sure her mother gets a Mother’s Day treat. The best daughter and gifter of female bonding experiences in the world.”
“It was weird,” she said. “But I’m spending my Mother’s Day with my daughter, and that’s the biggest gift. ” (I added that last part in my mind because Russian moms will never talk like they’re in a life-affirming sitcom.)
And that’s when I understood several things. First, I will never understand how to be a woman. Second, I now understand where my fear of massages comes from. And third, next Mother’s Day me and my mom are going somewhere where we can just talk about how sketchy Russian businesses are , how much they charge for an hour’s worth of services, and how we can’t believe A did X to Z yesterday.