Monday, January 11, 2010

Better You Than Me


I heard you the first time

If you’ve ever been in a crowded waiting room full of fat, unhappy women, and by fat and unhappy I mean nine-months pregnant, you know how vicious it can get.  There’s never been a more miserable, or competitive group in history. Pregnant women compare belly size, varicose veins, weight gain, intestinal gas and due dates.
One of the pivotal moments of my life occurred 22 years ago, toward the end of my first pregnancy. There I was in a crowded room in Tarzana, California, surrounded by fellow beached whales. I had spent nearly nine months throwing up and suffering heartburn. Enough already. The end was near. I had maybe two weeks to go.  As I sat there, wallowing in self-pity, waiting for them to call my name, a young woman stopped in front of me. She carried her newborn in a comfy little carrier. The baby was nice and pink and cooked to perfection. The woman had every reason to kvell.

At first, she said nothing to me; she just stared at my bulging belly with disdain. And then, out it came:  “Better you than me,” she huffed in a New York accent. 
I looked at her, puzzled. I was 29. I still cared what people thought. I had a few questions for her, but politely kept them to myself.  Like: Why so hostile, bitch?  Hadn’t she just given birth?  Didn’t she want to pat me on the head and say, “It’ll be okay, girlfriend,” or at least show a smidgen of support?  Ha!  She wanted to lord her victory over me. She wanted to gloat. She wanted me to suffer like she had.

Before I could think of a comeback, her Brooklyn-bred mother echoed her daughter’s sentiment. Only it came out even more New York and nastier. “Better her than you,” she said, nasally, to her daughter.

“I heard you the first time,” I said.

Apparently, these two had a point to convey to the short, big-bellied Jewish gal:  You want that thing out, get ready for prolonged, indescribable torture. And, of course, they were right.  Baby boy took his sweet time, got stuck behind my pelvic bone and came out, some 17 hours after my first twinge, with a pointy head.   Good thing it rounded out in time for his Bar Mitvah.  His yarmulke fit like a dream.  But no one could predict that when he was 10 minutes old.

"Oh, look, he has a conehead," my mother said.  "Is he supposed to?" My father forced a smile.  "Of course, Gloria.  All babies have pointy heads."  "I forgot about that," she said.  "It's been awhile."  This from the woman who gave birth to me in the backseat of my father's Oldsmobile, in the parking lot of County General. 

Ah, but I digress.  The fact that the mother-daughter tag team took pleasure in my impending agony was yet another life lesson, one I've been milking for 22 years.  I've relived it, reenacted it, taken it to Broadway.  The New York accents, the inherent hostility, have fermented with age, like a fine Bordeaux. 

So the next time you want to feel superior over someone else -- and what could be more fun than that? -- remember that "better you than me" works for just about any occasion.  I offer it to you now, free of charge, unless you're inclined to reimburse me, or send a gift card my way.  It's entirely up to you, depending how well you live with the guilt.  Use it when you're down.  Use it when you're up.  Say it with feeling.  Say it with pride.  Say it today:

BETTER YOU THAN ME!

There, don't you feel good about yourself?

p.s. Happy Birthday, Mr. Pointy Head.

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