Friday, January 25, 2013

Shooting Mama Greek('s)

originally published on 365 Attempts [at life]
I am crouched in the corner of Mama Greek’s basement, the only place in the house  I can get a Wifi connection.  Tony’s filming a short film tomorrow, and since it’s about a Greek family, and has almost no budget, we’re filming it here. To say Mama Greek is not thrilled about this is an understatement.  When Tony first told her, she had a week-long meltdown.  But when we had our first rehearsal, and one of the actors arrived before we did, by the time we got here, Mama Greek was swooning over her, asking about her kids, shoving food down her throat.
“I meet so many good people because my son!” MG gushed, as if the “you kick me out my house? Why, Tony? Why? You try to kill your mother?” episode had never happened.
We set up the actors for the first scene, and sequestered MG in her sewing room, where she called all her Greek friends and wished them Happy New Year.  We told her there was going to be a knock on the front door, but that it was part of the movie, so not to worry.  The actor went outside, and knocked. 
“HELLO?”  Mama Greek shouted.  “Tony!  Who is it?”
Last time we had Mama Greek’s house to ourselves was 6 years ago, when she and Papa Greek went to Florida.  It was the best.  We ordered pizza, hung out in the basement, watched movies, and reveled in the feeling of not having someone hovering over us, pointing out for the 5th time in as many minutes that there are potatoes, there’s chicken, there’s salad, do we want more, why not? 

This time, in order to have her house to ourselves, we’ve had to ship Mama Greek off.  To our house.  Where she is alone, without supervision. The last time that happened, Tony and I were on our honeymoon.  Our washer and dryer hadn’t been set up yet, so Mama and Papa Greek came by and brought our laundry to their place to wash.  I returned to find that all my underwear had been bleached.  Underwear that was not white to begin with.  I wish I were making this up, but I’m not.  I’d show you proof, but I’m only willing to embarrass myself so much on this blog.
During the second rehearsal, I went into the kitchen to get a pen, and MG offered me some corn on the cob.
“I make for you, because you not eat spanakopita,” she explained.
“I’m good for now,” I said.  
20 minutes later, I returned to get something else, and she held out the corn again.
“I make for you because you not eat spanakopita.”
She turned to the father of our kid actor.
“I make for her because she not eat spanakopita.” 
Fortunately he’s Greek, so he understands.
Later, as we were packing to leave, MG called out that she wanted to talk to me. She never says anything like that, so, slightly panicked, I rushed to the kitchen.
“I pack the corn for you to take home,” she said, gravely, “because you not eat spanakopita.”
Two days ago, when I called, MG answered the phone in a weak voice. 
“What’s wrong?” I asked. 
“My blood pressure high,” she said.  “Don’t tell to Tony.  I go lie down now.  Maybe get better.  I don’t want to leave my house,” she added. 
Let me take this moment to clarify that, although we’ve been setting up for a few days, MG only has to vacate her home for one, possibly two nights.  Still, of course I told Tony  immediately. I called MG back later that afternoon to see if she was doing any better.
“A bit,” she said, “but still high.  Don’t tell to Tony.”
That evening, Tony told me that Mama Greek was utterly miserable.
“She’s calling all her friends, telling them how horrible this is, and saying how she misses her husband.  She’s basically threatening to die.”
I looked at him, shocked.  “What do you mean?”
“She told me her blood pressure is high.”
“Then why did she tell me not to tell you?”
“She knew that if she told you not to tell me, you’d tell me,” Tony explained.  “And that I would worry, and that I’d feel bad, and maybe she wouldn’t have to leave.  She’s smart.”

Smart?  She’s a regular Jack Donaghy.
I better watch my back, and eat my corn.


Tuesday, January 1, 2013


I almost called in sick for Greek Christmas this year.  I know how Grinchy that sounds, but hear me out.  Greek Christmas involves six children under the age of 7, six parents about Tony’s and my age, two grandparents, and Mama Greek.  There is a lot of yelling – the good kind, but still.  In the photos every year, I’m sitting on an armchair in the corner, amidst a battlefield of used wrapping paper, holding a glass of wine, and looking afraid.  

Also, last year, Mama Greek pointed to the most recent baby and said, “Next year, I want one.”

I was sure it would be the white elephant in the room.  Word gets around in Tony’s family (when we got engaged, on the top of Mount Royal, our phone was ringing by the time we walked in our front door.)  Most of the people who'd be at Greekmas know we’re trying, and those who don't must suspect.  Sitting silently and awkwardly through kid talk and then getting the “So, how’s work?” question isn’t how I want to spend Christmas, or any day of the year, really.

But if I’m the Grinch, my husband is a Who.  By Christmas morning, he gets me into the spirit of the season.  And I don’t want to spend the day without him.

“I’ll go,” I tell him, over our traditional Christmas breakfast of Lucky Charms.

“Then there’s something you need to know,” Tony says, quietly.  

Yup: another of the cousins is newly pregnant.  (I know.  It’s like the plague.)  She and her husband won’t be there today, but there will be talk about it.  Tony asks if I still want to go. I imagine spending the day feeling sorry for myself at the dog park, versus feeling sorry for myself with him, and cheesecake. 

“Okay,” I say.

I am nothing if not rational.


Before we leave, we Skype with some of the cousins in Greece.  I’m not sure if you’ve ever heard a Greek person on a long distance phone call, but you’d swear they were trying to make it so that the actual phone part is unnecessary. (Nonna Maria also has this issue, so I guess it’s not just a Greek thing.)  Lest you believe this is an affliction of the elderly, you only need sit in on a Skype call between my husband and his cousins.   Perhaps it’s passed down through the generations, like a good spanakopita recipe.  I have to stand outside of the range of the camera in order to avoid ear ringing.
“Tell them thank you for the gifts!” I say, meaning that Tony should translate this for the cousins.

“THANK YOU FOR THE GIFTS!” Tony shouts, in English, at 10 times the volume.  


For the first time in our seven Christmases together, Tony doesn’t shave this year.  His hair is a little long too, and when we go to pick up Mama Greek, from her reaction you’d swear he’d showed up with blood leaking from an open wound on his forehead.

“Why you not tell my son to shave?”  MG demands, in her “quiet” voice, which most of her neighbours can hear perfectly.

“He doesn’t do everything I tell him to do,” I tell her.  

She frowns at me, then heads to the bathroom, takes 3 combs from the cabinet, and places them on the coffee table.  

She points them out to Tony, when he returns from the basement. 

“For your hair," she adds, in case there's any confusion.

Tony stares at the combs for a minute, then takes a picture of them. I try to hide my laughter by shrinking behind my knees on the couch, but it’s no good.

“YOU LIKE HIS HAIR LIKE THAT?” Mama Greek accuses me, waving her fist threateningly.  “WHY?  WHY?”


We get into the car, and I try to avoid the usual “you-sit-in-front-no-you-sit-in-front” song and dance by taking the driver’s seat.   But Mama Greek is already drawn for battle. When Tony announces that he will sit in front, MG blows her top.

“WHY?”  Mama Greek gasps.  “You should sit in the front!”  

 Tony stares at her. “That’s what I said.”

En route, she frets constantly.  Do I need to borrow her sunglasses?  Are we sure we don’t want a candy? Watch out for that car, half a kilometer ahead!  But when we arrive, everything changes.  She enters the house first, to the Pavlovian shriek of 6 children, all of them primed for chocolate and cash.  Tony and I go to follow her, and she shuts the door in our faces.


The evening goes pretty well.  There’s a lot of laughter, and a lot of dessert. I have to make some quick escapes, namely when excited discussion erupts about the pregnant cousin, or when Mama Greek tries to force-cuddle the kids one by one as they run by.  But instead of feeling like an emotional basket case who can’t handle the truth, I give myself these moments, to sit by the fire and write festive text messages to friends, or wander around the quiet second floor, some of which is still decorated in perfect, shimmering 1970s glory. 

There is also a lot of talk about barfing, ear infections, and sleepless nights, and a lot of shrieking, crying, and refusal to eat turkey.  

“I’m ready to sell my son on eBay,” one friend texts me.

I realize that the thought of going home to a quiet house to stay up late, eat popcorn, watch Christmas movies and the sleep until we feel inclined to do otherwise probably sounds like paradise right now to most people with kids.  

And so, that is exactly what we do.