The Chinese Lady: I don't think anyone is more excited for me than the Chinese lady at my shoe repair shop. I kept meaning to mention her - I pass the shoe shop at least once a day. She calls me in to tell me how beautiful I look, and in broken English asks me "how much" (weight I took off), "how long" (have I been doing it) and "how often" (I work out). The thing that makes me laugh is she always asks me to turn around- so I do a full spin for her. And she always says "You so beautiful now- before- you so fat- but now- wow!" and she traces an hour glass shape in the air. If anyone else said that, I might smack them, but I realize her English isn't perfect and by the smile on her face, I can see she is genuinely happy for me, so I get a kick out of it.I wrote that nearly 3 years ago. I've seen her hundreds of times since and she's still happy to see me...
Just tonight, I saw the Chinese Lady on my way home from the gym. And still, 3 years later, she has the same reaction when she sees me. The only thing that has changed are her questions. In broken English, she asks if I'm going to the gym (no, I just finished punk rope), and asks me if I'm "done" (losing weight), telling me "no more" (don't lose any more weight) and she still asks me to turn around so she can see my whole body. And every time I finish my spin, she puts her hands up to her cheeks like McCauley Caulkin in 'Home Alone' and says "Wow!". Then she compliments my skin, my face, trying to communicate how good it looks. And she always tells me I'm "beautiful" and always says "so healthy!".
I love the Chinese Lady because she's always so happy to see me that it can't help but make me smile. I try to answer her questions in as few words as possible since her English is limited. But she has no idea how much her enthusiasm means to me.
One day, I stopped in to say hi and her daughter happened to be in there. Her daughter was probably born here because she spoke English very well. When I came in, her mother said something to her daughter, and the daughter said to me "My Mom talks about you all the time. She says you look like Marilyn Monroe". We chatted a little - apparently the daughter knew I had lost weight because her mother told her. This woman was talking about me at home, how proud she was of me. Me. A total stranger. Just a customer.
I was so glad to have the chance to talk to the daughter, since I can't communicate very well with her mother. I told the daughter that her mom is great. I hope she knows that. I told her the truth: Her mother is more proud of my transformation than my own mother.
You may have noticed I never talk about my Mom. It's because I'm not close with her. I never have been. And I rarely see her or talk to her. I did see her - about a year ago, right after the 5 Boro Bike Tour (which I'm sure most of you realize was a significant event in my life). She didn't know I was doing the tour ahead of time because we don't communicate. I don't tell her anything about my life. But since I saw her, and was still beaming with pride and excitement over the event, I very proudly told her I had done it - Ten hours. On a bike. In the rain. In the cold. 50 miles. All the hills. I was determined and I did it!
I waited for the reaction. The "My god, Sheryl, really? That's amazing! I remember how lazy you were growing up - what a significant accomplishment! I'm so proud of you!"
You know what I got? This was her response:
"A guy that lives near me (upstate NY) bikes into Manhattan."
It took a second for it to sink in, to realize that was her response. And I could feel my face go expressionless. I was speechless. But why should I have expected anything from her? Why should I expect her to acknowledge what a huge event this was for me? Why should I expect her to be proud of me or happy for me? She wasn't supportive or nurturing when I was growing up, why should she care now?
It was at that moment that any guilty "I should really try to be nicer to my Mom and have a relationship with her" thoughts I may have had vanished. It was that moment I realized we would never be close. She would never be the parent I wanted or needed. She gave birth to me and that's it. I never felt a connection to her and I never will.
A lot of people know this story, but I'm sure most of you don't. I wrote this on myspace April 20, 2005:
For as long as I could remember I was really into being a girl and couldn't wait to grow up and be a 'beautiful woman'. Of course growing up is awkward, and at the very unattractive age of 9, some boy (another 9 year old) said to me "You're pretty.... PRETTY UGLY!" So I later work up the courage to go to my mom, and in a very vulnerable moment I ask her "Mom, am I pretty?" Her response: "Well, you're no Raquel Welch" Thanks Mom, you're the best.Seriously. My mother said that to me when I was nine. It baffled me at the time (who is Raquel Welch? I wondered) and it's hurt me since. I told her this story when I was in my 20's and she had no memory of it. But I remember it down to the bedspread on her bed (crushed red velvet) when I walked into her room and asked her that question.
Who says that to a child? A child obviously vulnerable and looking for approval. Why wouldn't you point out that internal beauty is more important than external beauty? And then why wouldn't you finish by telling that child that yes, she's beautiful and oh by the way, you love her? Why wouldn't you do that?
I considered writing about her on Mother's Day, since I was very aware of the day but didn't contact her. I wrestled with the idea but thought it might just look mean-spirited, so I didn't write about her. However, seeing the Chinese Lady tonight - seeing her face light up when she sees me, seeing how proud she is of me - just reminded me how different I wish my mother was. But wishing doesn't make it so. She'll never tell me I'm beautiful. She'll never be proud of me.
And in case you're wondering, I don't need to worry about her seeing these words. She doesn't read my blog. In fact, she was the first "unsubscription" notice I received years ago. How's that for a slap in the face? She didn't even care enough to keep in touch with me via my blog - to see my progress or how I changed over these 3.5 years. She doesn't care. She never will.
And you know what? I'm going to stop caring that she doesn't care. I don't need her or her approval.