My mother buys me clothes for my birthday. I thank her and put them in the closet where they make a nice bed for the cat. It’s not that I’m ungrateful. It’s not that I don’t like new clothes. The problem is that my mother buys me clothes in extra large. I wear a size 8.
This wasn’t always the case. In the heady birthdays of my youth, my mother bought me adorable outfits that fit, and I wore them. Back then, I hovered between a size 7 and a size 9, and to go overboard meant a self-induced diet of rice cakes for however long it took to correct the problem. Then, I got my first job. Co-workers and I took hour-long lunches at Mark Pi’s. I met friends at the bar after work, and fell in love with a man who could make his own ice cream. Months passed and my mother came for a visit. The weight gain must have scarred her as she’s been buying me the extra large ever since.
Velour-jogging suits were all the rage the fall I turned thirty-six. My mother beamed as I fingered her gift and she asked me to try it on thinking the color would compliment my complexion. Chocolate, read the tag. Extra Large. When my husband saw me he said that if I stood really still I could pass for a soft tree trunk. He also said that my ass disappeared. Mom said it was cotton and would shrink in the dryer but the cat didn’t seem to mind. When I bagged it for Goodwill, there was so much hair on it I wondered if Sandy could molt.
My youngest brother also celebrates his birthday in November. A joyous surprise to my then forty-five-year-old parents, he was born only days before I turned eighteen and almost eclipsed the entire event. Scorpios. They have no sense of time. I forgave him that first infraction and over the years our bond grew to such a degree that I once told a friend, “Everyone should have a Tom.” No truer words were spoken. For as youth needs age for guidance and rules, age needs youth to remind them of the passions that gave birth to those rules in the first place.
Turning thirty-seven was depressing. Forty was coming and with it I anticipated stubborn gray hair, bifocals, and a pooch belly that wouldn’t go away without surgery. “Cindy,” my mother called, as I sat in their living room with my brother. “Go look at your gift! I ordered it from QVC.” QVC is an old person’s channel, I thought. I congratulated myself for not watching it.
The box sat alone on the dining room table. Tom sliced the outer tape and together we lifted the contents. It was a sweater ““ an enormous, blue Christmas sweater ““ with appliquÃ©d snowflakes covering both sleeves and encircling the snowman on the front. The snowman was made of fuzzy angora. He had button eyes and a three-dimensional carrot nose. Size was obvious. “Did you turn it on?” she called. Turn it on?? We brought it to the kitchen where my father paid bills and my mother made tea.
“There’s a switch,” she said. “Under the arm.” She clicked it.
Suddenly, the snowman’s eyes blinked. Snowflakes flashed around him in a running pattern and exited out the left-hand shoulder. They ran down the arm and back up again, then returned to the center to circle the snowman in the opposite direction. The pattern repeated on the right-hand side and when the cycle was complete, the lights flashed in unison. Oh, forty wasn’t coming. Forty wasn’t even in the rearview mirror.
“What do you think?” my mother said. My father raised an eyebrow. I searched for words. My brother shook with youthful indignation.
“Never!” he said. “Absolutely not! Mom, do you know what would happen if she tried to turn this on in an airport? You can’t just go digging around in your armpit and pull out a switch. They’d shoot her! Besides,” He grabbed the shoulder I was holding and raised it. “No sister of mine will be caught dead wearing this”¦this homing beacon!”
“What did you pay for that, Marion?” my father said, returning his attention to the checkbook.
“Well,” she said. “Maybe I’ll keep it for myself.”
We’ve come a long way since then and I’m proud of both of us. Today, my mother buys me clothes in a large and she always includes the receipt. I thank her and take the gift back to the store where I make an exchange for something in a medium.