For as long as I can remember I’ve been playing my mother’s messages for anyone willing to listen. It’s become one of my shticks. Ya know, a fool-proof party trick that I then build on with a fairly decent characacher I’ve developed over the years. This one two punch is basically 100% guaranteed to deliver laughs in the most awkward of social scenarios.
The root of the humor comes from the fact that my outspoken German mother has dramatic opinions and isn’t scared to express them as such. A movie that bored her might result in a “You know, that director should really be shot.” Or, when a woman attending one of her openings inquired about a vegan food option she responded with “Well, you could eat the doormat.” Replay these sentiments in your head with a German accent and BAM – you should be laughing. Laughing not only because these bawdy opinions are things we’ve all thought somewhere deep inside, but because this is the woman that RAISED me. This perfect German stereotype was the person that gave me my sex talk and taught me how to put in a tampon.The material is priceless. Like in the years following 9-11 she would habitually yell “FASCIST POLICE STATE” while walking our dogs in the middle class San Fernando Valley suburb we lived in. Or, when asked to participate in a bake sale by my elementary school teachers she didn’t hesitate to remind them that “In some countries the government actually pays for education. A bake-sale is a pathetic idea so call me when you have a bill to put before congress”.
I hope that in reading these quotes you can see that while they are without a doubt hilarious, she’s also right on the money. These are precisely the truths that we all bottle up in lieu of social norms and acceptability. They are the ‘but I was thinking it’s’ that get passed over in favor of more palatable sentiments. And ya know what? I couldn’t be more thankful that I had a mother that never felt the need to play that game. Even as a six year old standing by her side in mock embarrassment, I knew she was right. And although I gave my teachers that apologetic glance, I walked away knowing that she kicked ass for not having to jump through every hoop the teachers of Kester elementary set up for her. For being her own woman, and showing me in everything that she did, that this meant more than pleasing every person you meet.
Of late the messages are more tame but just as hilarious. They generally involve an inquiry into her “Granddog” Eleanor and an off-handed comment about Amy Goodman needing some hair dye and deep red lipstick. (So true, I know) But, as I watch myself pull out the schtick, in bars, and office gatherings, with new friends, and friends I haven’t seen in a long time, I’ve started to notice that my mom appears just as silence begins to stir at my table. Right in the moment where conversation turns into small-talk, ta-da Mama Kleinman flies in to save the day. While this sounds reasonable enough, I know that it’s precisely those awkward pauses that my mom never felt the need to cave for. It’s the fact that Margit would let the difference in opinion sit there and not apologize for her perspective. She knew that there is nothing at all wrong with dead air or discomfort, and that it takes those moments to learn or simply see something new.
As I started to reflect more, I also began to feel guilty for making her, the strongest woman I know, my quick fix for moments of weakness. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve turned out every bit as opinionated, and stubborn, and foul mouthed as one might expect. But now that I’m an adult I realize the strength it requires to truly stand steadfast in your convictions, to pass up a quick fix or incredible shtick. That being true to yourself requires turning away from social expectation without embarrassment or apology. I can’t say that Mama Kleinman no longer makes appearances at Bay Area gatherings. She’s way too hilarious to let go of completely. But now I’m hearing her more in the things I don’t say, the moments I let be. And somewhere in my quiet calm, I know I’m making Mama proud.