Who Knew She Was This Nice?

How can a total stranger in New York City have more patience with my mother than I do?

I am amazed by how kind my mom is to total strangers -- She has a naive openess and enthusiasm that confuses and astounds me.

Then I'm sorry for all the times I make fun of her for it or treat her with disdain because she asks passersby on the street to take a picture of her and I together in front of the Midtown Tennis Center, where she takes me for a lesson because she so badly wants me to improve so I can enjoy playing like she does where she lives in Beaumont, Texas.

She's come to New York City to visit me while I'm finishing my graduate degree at New York University, and she loves playing tennis. The Midtown Tennis Center was the closest to her hotel.

Inside, she proudly shows the front-desk receptionist the Beaumont newspaper that has her picture on it -- this, to her, is a once- or twice- in a lifetime occurrence that she happily shares with total strangers in New York City. I'm embarrassed by my mom -- that she would inconvenience these people by showing them a newspaper from a backwater town in East Texas.

The receptionist surprises me by telling my mom that she looked up the picture online yesterday after my mom told her about it the first time. I'm surprisingly relieved -- and thankful that this lady, who I figured would be as put off and annoyed as I am about this situation, actually took the time to look up my mom's picture on the cover of The Beaumont Enterprise. A tiny bit of shame worms its way into my psyche. How can a total stranger in New York City have more patience with my mother than I do?

My disdain returns when I see the locker room: a single room, maybe 12-feet square, with a little restroom and a row of lockers against one wall. There's not even a full-length mirror. I'm cold, cranky and sleepy from waking up before 10 a.m. to meet my mom for breakfast at a little cafe she found the day before a block from her hotel in Chelsea. At the cafe, she knew every barista's name and asked them questions about themselves with the kind of sincere curiosity you get from children. She asked me to get a little piece of chocolate for us to share and told me to make sure the girl behind the counter added it to her bill. She told me she liked the way one of the baristas made the milk foam on her coffee. She takes pictures of them.

Inside the locker room at the tennis center, I change into shorts and a T-shirt. A bell rings, signaling the end of the last lesson. It's our turn.

We go to the roof of the building, where tennis courts are shielded from the cold October weather with the biggest inflatable tarp I've ever seen. We're under a bubble.

My mother has asked for the same coach as she had yesterday, when I was working in Midtown and she had to navigate New York on her own. She's taken a picture of the coach, too. Our lesson is a tandem one, so the coach will work with both of us for an hour and a half. I go first.

He bounces ball after ball to me over the net. I'm not good at tennis, but I've already decided that I'm not going to try to do well today. I pout at the tennis pro and hit the balls as hard as I can, sending them soaring, so I can take out my aggression. My mom watches me, trying to gently coach me.

"Not so hard."

I send another ball skyward, and it bounces off the big plastic bubble.

I am a brat.


My mom is usually so guarded around people, which keeps her, in my opinion, from having any friends. She wasn't always like that, but she's gotten progressively mistrusting as my sister and I navigated our teenage and college years (with good reason). Nevertheless, her life revolves around her family.

So when she came to New York by herself -- something she's never done before -- I assumed that she'd be overwhelmed and introverted. She suprised me by being incedibly open and interested in every person she met.


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