The first in a series of four articles
One day I was sitting in the pediatrician’s office with my seven-year old daughter who was suffering from yet another earache. We’d been waiting a long time and she began to sob, and to distract her I lifted her onto my lap, grabbed the only reading material within reach, a dog-eared copy of Soap Opera Digest, and made a game out of having her pick out any “pretty ladies” she saw as I flipped through the pages.
When I came to the back section, filled with small ads for things like longer nails, wallet photos and slave bracelets, a phrase caught my eye: “Be a model or just look like one.”
It wasn’t the promise of being a model that interested me. I was, after all, a thirty-year old mother of four—plus, ever since I’d learned to walk, my parents had been telling me I was clumsy and I’d believed them.
My mother had never been interested in fashion, but I loved it and had always wanted to learn how to dress, use make-up and move across a room with the poise and confidence of Loretta Young, known for her whirling entrance at the beginning of her TV show.
I borrowed a pen from the receptionist and jotted down the number of the Barbizon School for Modeling on a coupon I found in my pocketbook.
When we got home, I made the patient comfortable on the den couch and went to join my mom on the front stoop where she was watching the younger kids play in yard. After we chatted for a few minutes I mentioned the modeling course I’d seen in the magazine in the doctor’s office. I was sure she’d shoot it down, confirming what I already knew, that it was a crazy idea, and that would be the end of it.
Instead she took several sips of coffee without saying anything and stared into her half empty cup and became very still and serious. “I’ve noticed you’ve been down in the dumps a lot since Heather was born,” she said.
Her observation signaled that she knew my marriage was in trouble, even if she didn’t know why.
I had not confided in her about Bob’s infatuation with our babysitter and how unbearable it had been to watch the two of them together at the beach the last two summers.
I told myself I was protecting her from finding out that my sadness was linked to the teenage daughter of her best friend, but that was only part of the reason I kept silent. If I had said it out loud I would have had to admit it to myself and deal with it head on instead of dance around it.
I wanted to reassure her that I was fine, although I wasn’t, but I just couldn’t come up with one of my usual excuses.
She filled the silence with, “It will be OK, Honey.”
My mother called me a number of pet names, but not “Honey.” The only other time I could recall her using it we were alone together in a windowless, closet-sized hospital room with bare walls and only two items of furniture, a bed and a straight-back chair. She sat beside the bed, patting my hand, and every time I screamed during the long hours of labor with my first child, she said, “It’s OK, Honey.”
She was trying to comfort me, but she wound up scaring me more than I already was because instead of being her no-nonsense, down-to-earth self, she was being mushy and that told me she was just as afraid as I was.
I took a long breath, touched her arm gently and said something vague, like, I was having a hard time handling everything, and she nodded in agreement.
I changed the subject back to my wild idea of going to an eight-week course at a modeling school and added with a sigh, “It might help to have something to look forward to.”
I stood up and took our empty cups to the kitchen and by the time I got there I wished I had kept my mouth shut. I was afraid she might take my remark as a plea for her to do something to make my life better, and she was already doing everything she could. As I walked her to her car, I assured her it had just been a hard day and all I needed was a little sleep.
The next day Mom came over with a money order made out to the school and said she would take care of the kids every other Saturday while I went to class. The money was from what she called her “slush fund,” a stash of a few hundred dollars my father didn’t know about. There had been times when I was growing up and needed money for something that she had dipped into it, but never before for something so expensive.
I was overwhelmed. Not only because it was such a generous gift, but also because if I’d asked to go to modeling school when I was a teenager, she would have called it frivolous, and yet now, when there was every reason against it, she was offering not only to pay for it but also to make it possible for me to go.