The absolute hands down coolest thing about my mom is that she never, I mean never, took any shit from men. I was born with her smile, her voice, her eyes and her brain, but I didn’t inherit any of that take-no-bullshit-from-dudes power. Or if I did, it was latent well into my twenties. I used to be famous for taking it on the chin from guys.
While I was growing up my mom worked as a waitress–in more than one restaurant–and she managed to spin what she made into gold. I knew we were probably poor, but I always felt rich.
That’s the way my mom was. Aloof. Elegant. Intimidating. Think Jackie O.
She was always above whatever squalor we had temporarily dropped into.
This one time, during a lunch shift on St. Patrick’s Day, she was forced to wear a T-shirt that blared: “Kiss me I’m Irish.” My mom wore a vest over it (Annie Hall style) to minimize the declaration. No matter. Some guy, brazen with drink, grabbed her and planted a kiss. I squirm just thinking about it.
She was repulsed. Then he left a tip as if that would make up for it. My mom followed him out of the restaurant, threw the five dollar bill at his feet and told him that he was disgusting. That she was supporting two kids.
“But your shirt says ‘Kiss Me,'” he hollered.
“They make us wear these! Why do you think I’m wearing a vest over it?”
I hope this guy remembers my mother upbraiding him on the sidewalk under the noontime sun.
I hope the shame sunk in and stayed.
The amazing part about my mom’s strength is that she doesn’t try to have it. It just is. This one time, I was telling her about a friend of mine, desperate to leave a bad relationship.
“She’s waiting,” I explained. “She’s summoning the strength.”
“What strength?” said my mom, matter-of-fact. “Just leave.”
When my mom read my story about the#FirstTimeIWasCatcalled, she told me that wasn’t actually the first time. The first time I was younger, three or four, I was walking down the street with her. My baby brother in a stroller. A car filled with men slowed, screamed lewd remarks out the window, whistled. She told me that I asked her why.
“Why are they yelling at us, Mommy?”
“Because they’re idiots,” she responded.
My mom always had it down: Just leave. They’re idiots. What more do we need to know?
Check out the #FirstTimeIWasCatcalled hashtag on Twitter and Facebook. Share your story. I was honored to be asked to share mine in this video about the movement. You can watch my full interview below, unedited and raw. I talk about my mom about a minute in.