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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, 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 confidence 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 invitation 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.
To get a bead on Colin Darcy and me, you had to start with Hugh,
and I don’t mean his father who goes by that name. I refer to that other Brit with the last name of Grant, with whom I’d fallen in love at thirteen, having seen his film Four Weddings and a Funeral once for every year of my life.
I had driven my parents into submission, insisting the actor had to be invited to my bat mitzvah or my life would be over. After much breath holding and threats of boycotting my own affair, they finally agreed. Soon after, an RSVP arrived claiming Hugh Grant was “regrettably busy shooting a film in London” on the particular weekend in question and lamentably had to decline the invitation. At the bottom of the neatly handwritten note was a postscript in which the actor expressed his certainty that I would be “particularly dazzling” on the occasion.
From the beaming face of my dad, the irrepressible teddy bear and supersuccessful CPA Morty Mandelbaum, I slowly deduced that Hugh had received some help with his response.
Shoot fifteen years into the future to April 15 of last year—fourteen months ago. I was with my two best friends on the steps of the Metropolitan Museum. (“Best friends” doesn’t cover it. They’re the sisters I never had.)
Abs (short for Abby—but also due to the fact that since her teens she’d been almost ludicrously possessed of this impressive little six- pack) was a Toobin of the Broadway Toobins. Her father and uncle produced last year’s best musical and, when we were sixteen, got us into the opening of Rent when you couldn’t touch tickets for less than the cost of her mother’s facelift. We’d been inseparable since age three. We’d met Kat in third grade and almost immediately became a trio of BFFs. Kat, the magnificently practical Katrina Fitzsimmons, daughter to the Park Avenue disaster of Jeffrey and Tabby Fitzsimmons, had developed her shoot-
from-the-lip style organically. It had been her particular “blessing” to spend her childhood and teen years in alternating side-by-side tenth-floor penthouses in an arrangement deemed altogether progressive by her globe-trotting, peripatetic parents who shared a rich mutual loathing for each other that was always generously in evidence whenever Kat and her friends were around.
We were brown-bagging it as we often did on Wednesdays when I looked up and bam, there he was, seriously hot. He was smiling at me with this kind of unworldly confidence that wasn’t shot through with the transparent come-on you detected in guys about to make their move.
“Good afternoon, ladies,” he said, greeting us with a voice bright and bold like a David Hockney canvas. “I don’t mean to disturb your lunch but I wondered how three works of art managed to escape the
OK, it was a line, but, trust me, coming from that face and with that accent, he sold it. He had Hugh’s to-die-for British pedigree that had always made me weak in the pit of my stomach. We had barely exchanged names when the fact-finding Katrina asked Colin what it was he did for a living. He smiled, and his gaze locked on mine in a way that sent little lightning bolts through me.
“I’m an investigative reporter for NBC. What I do is try to uncover the truth, if that doesn’t sound too grandiose,” he said with a laugh.
And then leaning in, his incredibly blue eyes on mine, he said the most remarkable thing.
“Really, you have to forgive me ’cause I absolutely never do this, but I have the strangest feeling that you are going to be part of my life. Isn’t that wild?”
I knew Katrina, not one to give people the benefit of the doubt, had bought it as a line he must have used before. Abby was smitten. But all I wondered was whether there was any possible response that wouldn’t make me sound as if I’d dumped my brains in the East River and replaced them with Jell-O. It was a mad and outrageous thing to say and I was
rendered mute. His eyes were on me exclusively. He didn’t even look at Katrina, who was tall, with short, ginger hair and a Cameron Diaz figure, or at Abby, who was Natalie Portman–like beautiful and possessed of a pair of awesome breasts, which she’d had since she was twelve.
Seven and a half hours later we were on a first date. He took me to Babbo in the Village where, contrary to my normal dating procedure of pick and nibble, Colin encouraged me to actually eat the parmigiana I’d ordered. He said he hated women who always talked about their weight when, far as he was concerned, a good meal was part of the joy of being alive. Not partaking was, he said, and I was struck by the words he used, denying the person you were with the pleasure of your pleasure.
I immediately inhaled the meatball he offered me and nearly
It blew me away that he seemed so interested in my love of art, enchanted that I’d envisioned fairies dancing on lily pads on Monet’s Giverny paintings when visiting the Met with my family at ten or how, at twelve, I’d been drawn to the passionate drippings of Jackson Pollock in a visit to MoMA. He seemed to understand that kind of love at first sight. For an Oxford man who’d come to the States and graduated from Columbia’s School of Journalism, Colin was amazingly open to the dreams of someone other than himself. Men don’t come at you like that, confident enough to let you talk, not having to fill up the conversation with noise about what they’ve accomplished to prove they are worthy of a hookup.
It was later that night, after his lips gently brushed across mine outside my Village walk-up, that I remembered words my bubbe had once shared with me. I’d been in the ninth grade and she’d surprised me by coming to the high school to pick me up. We strolled the park, having one of our woman-to-woman chats she’d started after my bat mitzvah.
“How did you know Zayde was the right man for you?” I’d asked her between licks of the chocolate-chocolate-chip ice cream cones we both
She paused, smiled this glowing smile, and said, “Your heart tells your head, sweetheart, and your head, if it’s smart, it follows.”
As I watched Colin disappear into the growing mist that night fourteen months ago, I realized that was exactly what was happening— my head was following my heart.
Never once since that magical, perfect evening did I think it even remotely possible that the roles would get reversed.r