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Open Features: Fake Sugar

...Ugh. Mom and Dad’s annual Fourth of July boating party is coming up. Boating’s great, but it requires a bathing suit. And mom uses this festivity as her annual opportunity to put my full figure and lack of procreation in front of the jury....

Shannon Appleby tells a deliciously funny tale of daughter-mom friction. Settle down now. Enjoy a good long read.

Ugh. Mom and Dad’s annual Fourth of July boating party is coming up. Boating’s great, but it requires a bathing suit. And mom uses this festivity as her annual opportunity to put my full figure and lack of procreation in front of the jury. But she would never ask me to do something for nothing. She’s the family extortionist.

“Oh, hello, Sweets. Um, I was just calling to see how your vehicle is running.”

“My vehicle?” (head spinning wondering where she could possibly be going with this line of questioning.)

“Would you like a new car?”

“What do you want mom?” I yelled.

“Your father is going over the vehicle situation, and …”

“But my Honda is only three years old.”

“Oh, Sweets, you can’t go around with that top-heavy old thing with babies in the back. You look like an off-road want-a-be with an identity crisis. Just a sporty station wagon would do. Do you like white? Your father likes white. Or black … oooh … what about red? You would look so cute behind the wheel of a red luxury station wagon”

“Mom. It’s eight o’clock in the morning. It’s Saturday. I haven’t had coffee yet. I don’t need a new car. What do you really want?”

“Angie Smith’s got one. She says she’d never drive her kids in anything else.”

“Who’s Angie Smith?”

“You know Angie, Sweets! My sorority sister’s daughter… Angie!”

“Yelling her name at me isn’t going to make me remember her, and you were NEVER in a sorority. It was an occult-based scholarship dorm at the community college.”

“She’s got the super cute twins …”


“With freckles and curly hair …”

“I don’t need a new car”

“Well, here’s the deal. Why don’t Dad and I get together and get you a new Mercedes sports wagon?”

“I don’t want any more of your deals” I squeaked with my morning voice. Mercedes or no Mercedes, I was exhausted and I’d heard it all before. I turned the speaker on and put the phone on the night stand. I rubbed my eyes and got out of bed wondering why the luxury-model, kiddy carrying, gift zeal was coming up now.

I washed my face with a warm cloth and as expected mom was still talking when I walked back into the bedroom. There’s something so satisfying about not listening to her, knowing she is talking to herself. It’s the tiny victories.

When I finally put the phone back to my ear she was saying “your dad’s searched Consumer Reports’ roll-over ratings and gas mileage figures and it’s definitely the best one. The other thing I thought of was a minivan.”

I stopped listening, the phrase minivan shrieking in my ears.

“Would you like to drive a minivan?” I asked with all the sarcasm I could muster.

“No, no.” she said aggressively. “I’ve got everything I need. I’ve already had children. Now Sweets,” she said suddenly changing her tone to cheerful, “you are coming to our boating party, aren’t you?”

“Um. Actually, I …” I thought frantically. What pretend excuse would sound real? Ah! I know! Use the husband angle. “… I think Sammy might have a company picnic we need to go to that day.”

“That's okay. You can drive up to the lake after the picnic.

“I don’t know, mom, um . . . “ I could never stop her with the first shot, she’s a lot like a mother grizzly, it just works her up.

“Now you listen Sugar. We have been holding this boating party since you and Sunny were running around in diapers! Of course you’re going to come. And you and Sammy can use your new Mercedes wagon.


Holy Hell! It’s July already. I cannot believe I am once again driving to my parents lake house for their over priced forth of July barbeque. It’s like self inflicted torture. I’m willingly in the passenger seat as my husband drives me to Guantanamo Bay. Having stayed at home most of the morning trying to injure myself for an excuse, hoping for a bikini-ready-body miracle, I eventually give in to reality, and set off to the lake with my husband and sister. When we got to the lake house and knocked on the sun crusted door, sis and I were already past a dozen on the road Jell-O shots. Sammy was suffering from road-rage after taking the wrong turn around the lake by virtue of being the only sober one in the car, and not knowing where we were going.

Sunny and I watched swimmingly as mom’s glass of wine, then arm, then figure appeared through the screen door of our childhood. She greeted us in the same oppressive, sea-green terry cloth robe she’s had since the 70’s.

“There you are! We’d just given up on you! We were about to set out without you.”

There it was; hello and guilt, mom’s patented all in one welcoming movement.

“Sorry. We got lost.” I muttered, trying not to laugh.

“Lost? I’m sorry, how many years have you been coming here?”

Thirty seconds for her to make a sarcastic remark, a new record. Mom led us up the stairs to the main floor tattling, “Hey everyone, they actually got lost!”

“Come on, get your suitcases in your rooms” … she looked us up and down. “What will you be wearing on the boats?”

“Um, what we’re wearing.”

“Don’t be stupid” she said smiling. “You must, wear bathing suits to go boating. Now run up and change.”

What can I say to that? Cleavage, especially yours, mom, is really starting to get to me. But I can’t keep arguing with her. Maybe she’s right? Maybe happiness can come from a boobs-wide-open life approach.

Ugh. I’m fatter than fat and back in my teenage bedroom trying to stuff self into swimsuit to pacify mom’s ideals. I look into the full-length mirror, suck in my stomach, and feel like I’m supposed to suddenly snap into self-discipline reality like a naked, chiseled Olympian. It’s really too bad making love pretty much has to be done with no clothes on. It would really be a great alternative to exercise if I could make love while in my pajama pants and favorite rain poncho. I cannot face thought of going boating like this. The only thing which makes it tolerable is the knowledge that my fat pants will be rested and ready for their rotation as soon I get back. I could NOT face skinny pants this morning since I am breaking out in my T-zone and desired only to lay in bed with a sleeping pill, self-medicated hangover! It’s unfair that holidays give us extra time to force spending time with family, when what I will really need is time to recover from the holiday itself.

Descending the stairs in blue bikini I am suddenly greeted by weird Uncle Mack.

“Sugar! Happy Fourth.” He’s clad in argyle golf shorts and a pink polo top.

“Come on, lets get you started on a drink. How’s it going in the marital sack, anyway? We’ve heard the grandchildren aren’t coming along fast enough.”

Gin came squirting out my nose. I couldn’t believe he said that. Why can’t family members understand that my lack or inability to produce more family members is none of their business? I don’t run up to them demanding “How’s the Viagra working out? Still having hot passionate sex with Aunt Sylvie?” I’d like to meet the self serving asshole that determined my generation is the one with the propriety problem. Everyone knows that having kids isn’t the necessary life fulfilling prophecy it used to be, but when I am asked the annoying question I would like to say, “Actually, regardless of what my Catholic whore of a mother told you, we’re not trying to have kids. Having seen yours we realized how ugly they can turn out to be.” But instead I always grit my teeth, smile, and give the appropriate “not yet, thanks for asking” response.

My tongue having started more family feuds than it has extinguished, I decided for now not to engage Uncle Mack. I snuck down a shot of tequila and left the room. But I heard my uncle shout after me, “So you still haven’t got a bun in your oven?”

“Sugar! You can’t ignore the calling forever!” Aunt Sylvie chimed in, “Your biological clock’s has to be tick-tocking away.”

“Yes. How does a woman married for five years still manage not to have any kids” roared Grandpa Benson. “By the time your grandma was your age she’d already had three kids and a part-time job. Gosh, they don’t make ‘em like that anymore.”

Grandpa Benson, father to my mother, used to be wonderful ‘til he chose deafness over hearing aids which rendered him constantly shouting like a drunk dad at a little league game. Fortunately my knight in shinning armor rescued me.

“Daddy!” I shouted.

“We’re glad to see you. Your mother had you dead on the side of the highway being dragged off by wild dogs. She’s been through her files looking for yours and Sunny’s dental records for the police investigation. The three of you need to say hello to everyone down at the pier so we can get going on the lake. Oh, by the way,” he said trying to suppress a smirk, “how’s the luxury kiddy wagon?”

I punched him in the soft part of his arm and shrugged. Standing next to my father it was easy to see that I would have felt guilty if I hadn’t turned up, but perhaps I should have stuffed my underbelly … the conception talk is going to get really old. My mom has been hinting for weeks, phoning everyday saying, “Remember Angie Smith, Sugar? We see her walking lakeshore drive with her twins in tow” or, “Oh, did I mention our neighbors might bring their grandkids with them to our party? They’re trying to get them to move out of Chicago permanently. They’re looking at houses right here on the Point. Evidently their suburban Chicago neighborhood has turned to complete crap. They have had a terrible time with the friendly families moving to the country. Money is not what it used to be in the city, you know.”

And on and on she went, “Do you remember me telling you about Angie Smith, sweetie? My sorority sister’s daughter? She’s got two newborn twins. Her husband’s rented a lake house for her for the summer. They say Angie’s never been so happy.”

I am surprised she didn’t just ask if “Sammy and I would put on a love making demonstration at the party so they could give me some conception pointers. You’re not getting any younger you know.”

“Come see the twins,” Sylvie demanded clapping her hands together like a jittering squirrel.

Now, I imagine, holding a newborn of your own has its own sensation of fragility, but when it’s forced upon you by a clumsy, busty aunt while carrying a jigger’s worth of grey goose in your glass, watched by the actual mother, well – that’s fragile.

The minivan mamma, lake-house rented by the rich, ever-absent husband was sitting with her twins in her lap. From my mother’s loving descriptions I had expected to see a perfectly made-up version of Good Housekeeping’s motherhood edition. But instead, I was met by a meek creature in a rocking horse stitched maternity jumper. Guess I shouldn’t have been too surprised. It’s not the first instance of my mom’s friends-through-rose-colored-glasses syndrome. You know the phenomena, where your mom sees only good and beautiful in others while she gives you a crash course in tough love and a lifetime subscription to Mother Knows Best magazine.

Mrs. Smith’s eyes were cloudy as if she was looking at herself from the outside. Perhaps her worth was sitting on her lap instead of in her heart. It struck me as pretty ridiculous to sit alone in a corner holding on-to your twins for dear life at a party where every old lady would sell their husband for a chance to coo over a baby in their arms. Why not give yourself the mommy break?

“Angie!” sang Sylvie, as if she was a retired opera star. “I’ve got someone dying to get a baby in her hands.”

Angie looked up at me, revealing a diamond necklace the size of a golf ball. I couldn’t help thinking how it clashed with the faded maternity jumper.

“Angie, this is George and Suzy’s daughter, Sugar,” said Sylvie, reaching down to grab a baby. “Sugar’s an estate lawyer trying to have a family, aren’t you, Sugar?”

“I am, indeed, an estate lawyer,” I said as if I were commentating a loosing football game.

“Well, I’ll leave you two young ladies alone” said Sylvie thrusting a baby into my martini-free arm. My mind began reeling for something to say, but all I could come up with was “Have you read any good books lately?” I was grasping for common conversational ground.

I couldn’t tell if Angie was rolling her eyes or thinking, but she said “The Mission of Motherhood: Touching Your Child’s Heart for Eternity.”

“Ah.” I said, now I was the one rolling my eyes. It was obvious this Angie Smith and I did not like each other. Fighting for a way to get off the mommy subject I said, “Will you be staying at your lake place the whole summer?”

“Yes,” she said eagerly. “You?”

“No, I spent enough time up in the lake country as a kid. I’ve turned into a bonifide city girl.” I awkwardly bounced the baby on my hip as Angie looked on nervously.

“I should really get something to eat,” she said, ripping her child from my arms and practically running towards the barbeque, leaving me on the screen porch with a martini glass full of olives.

I needed to get out of the house anyway, so I pulled Sunny down to the pier and we hopped on the pontoon boat with the bar. Hubby was already out waterskiing with the men which I would not have resented had my mom decided to call it quits with the baby harassment for one day, but the worst of it was still to come. Sylvie and Mom were so crazed that they decided to make the bar boat also the kiddy corral. Sunny and I were having a great time drinking and sunning our bare shoulders on the back of the boat, which left Sylvie and Mom desperate to infect with me with the maternal itch. The second I got up to walk over to the bar Mom blocked my path on the boat deck and said, “Angie, you and Sugar should hang out together when you are all back in Chicago.”

The two martinis I had ingested couldn’t even keep me from blushing. I felt the red, anxious rash climb up my neck into my cheeks. It was as if I was back in grade school, and my mom was making sure I could make at least one friend before morning recess.

“I’m sure I won’t be back in Chicago anytime soon,” she said. It’s not that I wanted a new friend or anything, but I wish I could have been the one who rejected her. As I looked down, I saw that she was wearing white socks under her Birkenstock sandals, and I smiled.

“Can I get another vodka martini?” I said turning away from my mom.

Sunshine and booze is a guaranteed hangover and Sunny and I had had our share of both. It was becoming increasingly difficult to be on the boat deck surrounded by competitive ex-mothers dying to be new grandmothers. The mommy conversation was cutthroat, with Angie Smith insisting she had no need for pain killers during labor. She bragged that “the birthing was easy. I had a completely natural childbirth … read through the whole thing.”

“Oh, isn’t that a funny story?” snapped another mother’s bruised ego. “But somehow I doubt that.”

“Believe whatever you want” stated Smith for the record, “I read a novel in-between contractions.”

My mom finally stepped in to referee the feud. I knew what she was thinking - How dare her guests not be perfect specimens of motherhood and virtue. She was trying to persuade someone here! “Now, now girls,” mom said looking around the pontoon boat nervously. “Let’s not argue around your children.”

Sunny and I smiled like we were again vindictive teenagers. Mom blushed and pulled her bangs out of her face. She was holding her tequila on ice and began walking toward me with a noticeable drunken stagger. I knew my mom couldn’t swim well. The big house on the lake was purely a status symbol. She wanted to be seen with the “lake” life, but never bothered to learn the essential activity that went along with it. As we puttered along, mom sidled up to me in the back corner of the boat. We began to rock heavily in the wake of a passing ski boat, the hot, Midwestern wind blew blond curls across my eyes. I smiled, and with my free hand I pushed. The timing of the waves was just right. She slipped over the boat’s side, tequila and all.


I woke up when we passed through the last toll booth in Illinois and entered Wisconsin. For the first 25 years of my life it was all about my lack of attractiveness and subsequent inability to snare opposite sex, but after I “finally got married” (mom’s words, not mine) it took her no time at all to put her grandma needs into overdrive. I got a conception quiz after the honeymoon, and I was tired. I needed the drinking to stop. I needed the “image is everything” family mantra to end. I needed the imperfection.

How many different ways did I need to hear that “I’ve got my whole life to be good at my job, and only a couple years left before my uterus dries-up to a bareness equal to the Sahara.” I had thought all of this as we were in a dead stop on the Chicago interstate. Mom phoned a half dozen times on the three hour drive northward, and I answered the first two, only to regret it each time.

My phone rang again as I stretched and looked out the window. I reached in my purse, but my hand instead found a Toblerone chocolate bar the size of small tree trunk. Wisconsin interstate passed under our new Mercedes sports wagon, and I decided I would eat the whole thing.


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