Why Worry?

The guilty pleasures of having an Italian mother.

Illustration by John DykesI went to visit my mother yesterday. She’s Italian and 85 years young. Reflect on that for a moment. Perfect. Now let’s continue.

Her beauty—even at this late stage of life—overwhelms me. We embrace, we kiss, and then it all begins.

She gives me the once-over with disconcerting eyes. Despite the onset of macular degeneration, she sees me ever so clearly. The ensuing conversation goes like this:

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“You look so skinny. Don’t you eat? It’s not attractive to be sooo thin. Do you have one of those eating disorders? You need to eat MORE!”

My retort is the same as always:

“I’m fine. I do eat—don’t worry.”

“Did you say, ‘Don’t worry’?” she shouts back. “Well, that’s all I do is worry.”

“When are you going to stop worrying?” I pose.

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Then comes the guilt. “I’ll stop worrying when I’m dead—that’s when,” she says. “And mark my words: You’ll miss me telling you that you’re so skinny.”

I throw up my hands and concede the loss. And while you might entertain the notion that the conversation is over, it’s not.

“How much do you weigh?” she probes. “Now, tell me the truth.”

I keep my composure and calmly respond with a number. Her disbelief is apparent as she grabs me by the arm and leads me into the bathroom, where she keeps her sacred scale. She points to it and I step on, realizing there’s no escape.

It reads a pound less than I predicted. Immediately, my mother’s hand goes to her mouth, and she bites her fingers in an effort to quell the “agita” and a sudden spike in blood pressure. Why was she so upset over a single pound?

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“What about the 5 pounds of clothing you’re wearing?” she asks. “That totals 6 pounds in my book.”

“Remember,” she continues, “I’m smarter than all four of you put together.” (The other three are my brothers.)

I contend that I’m not wearing 5 pounds of clothing—and that only people living in the Arctic need that much. She doesn’t find that humorous—so I figure it’s better to relent and tell her (convincingly) that I’m starving.

We proceed to the kitchen—of course, her favorite room in the house. She has a pot of her gravy (not sauce; if you’re a true Italian, I don’t have to explain) simmering on the stove. The aroma fills the room, and I have a taste from the same wooden spoon she’s used for two decades. We sit down at the kitchen table—eating, talking, laughing.

Worrying runs in my family. Sadly, the gene is passed from generation to generation. We’re made from the same mold, my mother and I. Often, it’s her wisdom that emerges from my own lips as I go about raising my children.

Time passes all too quickly in my mom’s kitchen, and it’s time to part. A barrage of hugs and kisses ensues, neither of us wanting to pull away. As I head to my car, the litany of instructions commences: Call me when you get home; drive carefully because there are nuts on the road; lock your doors; be sure to wear your seatbelt; etc. As I leave, I glance over my shoulder and see that she’s still watching closely.

It seems the worrying never ends—and I hope it doesn’t for a very long time.

Joanne Cannon is a local freelance writer and a mother of two teenage sons.

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