Be careful what you wish for.
These six little seeds of warning were long ago generously planted and watered in my unconscious by the inimitable Melanie Mandelbaum, a fifty-eight-year-old executive buyer for Bergdorf's, affectionately known to my father and to me, her daughter, as the buzzkiller of Long Island.
My friend Katrina once described my mother as Oprah in a size 4, only white . . . and Jewish. She pretty much nailed her. The woman is a nonstopping, ever-talking, advice-giving force of nature who has always insisted on having a hand in everything.
According to Dr. Seymour Unterman, Madison Avenue proctologist to the rich and irregular, her chronic state of constipation is a result of a life lived over the speed limit. As with my friends' mothers, I had discovered that, along with all of the considerable good it has certainly accomplished, this "need for speed" is apparently one of the side effects of the women's lib movement.
These women of my mother's generation had worked to have it all, do it all, accomplish it all, which, we daughters have come to discover, means moms who played at paying attention while distracted with more pressing concerns like jobs, arranging childless evenings in the city, and noting who was getting appointed to what prestigious committee. They were the ones who went back to their careers as soon as they'd pushed out their babies, running like lab rats on cocaine—mothers who spilled the contents of takeout onto paper plates and offered it up as a home-cooked meal.
These guilt-riddled women were forced to navigate their nonstop, strive-for-everything, yes, damn it, I can have it all because Gloria Steinem told me so lives by tossing back wee fistfuls of Xanax and almost single-handedly turning therapy in America into a boom profession as a consequence of not, in fact, having actually gotten it all.
This was my mother.
As a kid I remember her bathroom being equipped with a Rolodex, a three-line phone, and a large bottle of Maalox. To my mother, you couldn't waste time simply doing your business; you had to actually do business. She'd swoop in for dinner or pop into my room at homework time only to disappear seconds later on a phone call or to race off to a meeting in the city, leaving my dad to see to the more mundane childhood endeavors, such as building a dud-free volcano for the fifth-grade science fair or composing a haiku about baby spiders.
Would she ever simply sit and watch me do whatever it was daughters do, maybe even kvell, as Bubbe would say? Fuggedabouddit. Not even with an act of Congress, four Ambien, and a liter of scotch.
On the day of my bat mitzvah, she was constantly up and busy—checking on the food, retouching her makeup, conferring with the rabbi about some VIP who'd just arrived and would be requiring recognition. He and my dad, the superhumanly patient Morty Mandelbaum, had to all but hold her down during my actual solo.
Don't get me wrong. She always loved me. I knew this because she'd say those exact words after inevitably doing things her way. Like the time she'd signed me up for the Mommy and Me classes, only sending me with our nanny so, you know, it was really Nanny and Me, which, of course, my mom spun proudly by pointing out that she loved me and, unlike the other girls, I was picking up some Spanish.
And this senior Bergdorf buyer who'd failed to receive the bump to management she felt she'd long deserved, whose wildly successful money-raising, temple sisterhood events had for years been the envy of religious institutions all over Long Island, this Energizer bunny with the newly tightened ass, could always be counted on to drop her awesome little minimantra—Be Careful What You Wish For—at the most inopportune moments.
Like the time you'd fallen during the tap-dance recital, splitting your costume before God and the collective families of the Little Princess Dance Academy of West Hempstead.
"You wanted this, remember?" she'd lovingly observed, tearing off what was left of your tights. "Be careful what you wish for, Madison, and you'll never be embarrassed or disappointed."
Or when you were eleven, trying to become the "teacher's pet" by actually taking care of the teacher's pet, a six-foot python you had volunteered to house during winter vacation that was last seen slinking down your parents' toilet bowl from where it presumably ended up swimming with the fishes somewhere out in Long Island Sound.
"You wanted to be the teacher's pet? Welcome to the doghouse. Don't I always say . . ."
And there it was, good old Be Careful What You Wish For. Like hot sun on a child's ice-cream cone.
But then the world changed in ways my mother was unprepared for.
Like when we got a lesson in sex education from the president and his intern that suddenly made politics really interesting. Or when Britney kissed Madonna live on television. Or the horror of watching the twin towers fall, Bubbe rushing to wrap me in her protective embrace while my mother sat, arms around herself, staring at the screen, alone. From IMs to iPods to iMacs—which my mother refused to learn to navigate—to her shock and awe when her champion Hillary lost to Barack, the world for her was becoming increasingly incomprehensible.
And then came my sin of managing to graduate Wellesley magna cum laude without her having to pull any strings, receiving a master's in art history that she was fond of pointing out was of dubious worth in today's information-driven economy, a marketplace that required targeting a specialty, not generalizing and thinking it would get you somewhere.
Indeed, through the years of my life, her warnings of the perils of dreaming too big or reaching too far have been as constant as a daughter's desire to please. But somehow, with two best friends working on my con¬fidence file, with breasts too small and baby fat on my hips that refused diets and the gym, I have come to the conclusion that being careful about what you wish for makes about as much sense as enrolling your daughter in Girl Scouts to get a deal on the cookies. (Have you met my mother?)
And now at the lived a little but just you wait age of twenty-eight, I am taking this moment to officially declare my candidacy for independence and here announce that I have forever deleted the glass-half-empty sentiment of Be Careful What You Wish For from my hard drive.
I am here to shout to the world, amid church bells and the sound of a thousand shofars, that wishes do come true.
My proof? Simply that in one week from tonight I, Madison Leah Mandelbaum, am set to marry the awesomely sweet, astoundingly smart, phenomenally hot Colin Wordsworth Darcy, he of the dazzling dark eyes and perfectly Episcopalian chiseled chin, the son of Diana Steinberg Darcy of Fifth Avenue-opposite-the-Met (a totally secular Jew but a Jew nevertheless, rendering Colin kosher in the eyes of the Talmud and JDate) and Sir Hugh Aubrey Darcy of London (heralded British barrister, not of the tribe, whose distant cousinhood to the Queen nevertheless has conferred on him what Bubbe likes to call a certain royal yichus).
Now, one week before the event, alone in my Village apartment, working diligently on my vows, trading e-mails with my mother who was maddeningly tweaking the seating chart for the umpteenth time, those six little words of hers have been noodling my brain, trying to get an in¬vitation to the big event.
Be Careful What You Wish For.
Get lost, I order, banishing them from my enchanted world.
Never for a second entertaining the possibility that in less than twenty-four hours ...they would be back to stay.