Nothing more needed to be said in the hall outside the cafeteria. That was enough. The kids all laughed, so it had to be true. Larry was exposed for what he was. The girls laughed, clutching their books to their new chests. The boys laughed also, dangling their books strategically at their hips. It explained everything. The hallway was busy with kids talking in groups before the bell rang for the next class. Larry never knew what kids had to talk about, but he did now. They were talking about him.
He started being a Momma’s Boy on the first day of kindergarten. He cried rivers after his momma dropped him off because he didn’t understand what was going on. His teacher, Miss Shafer, told him to go to the water fountain and get a drink of water. She later died of alcoholism, so that was her answer to everything: get a drink. She didn’t understand that on the first day of kindergarten, a kid has never seen a water fountain. Therefore, Larry didn’t go. She dragged him down the hall to the water fountain and said, get a drink. He didn’t know how to get a drink from the water fountain and, besides, he was trying to tell her, he didn’t want a drink. Nonetheless, she held the faucet open and pushed his mouth into the water. She pushed it too far and he smashed his teeth on the faucet, blood blending in with Miss Shafer’s water down the porcelain drain.
Miss Shafer ended up calling Momma that day. She came and sat with Larry at his desk until school was out. Momma signed up to be lunch monitor and, from then on, came to school every day. Every day from that first day of kindergarten until middle school she had lunch with him in the cafeteria.
It’s better for a boy to be eaten alive by lions than to be swallowed up and consumed by the will of his mother. A Momma’s Boy devotes his life to his mother, and she to him. He never leaves home. He remains attached to her apron strings. He lives life vicariously, watching it shyly at a reserve while munching on her cookies still warm from the oven. A Momma’s Boy has no friends aside from her and nothing to do aside from making her happy. He gets good grades in school because that is what makes her proud, but he has no interests. He would not even think of getting into trouble. He walks on his own, but he is not yet born.
Being the Momma of a Momma’s Boy ain’t no picnic either. A Momma of a Momma’s Boy possesses, but cannot love her child. She needs her boy more than he needs her and she must keep him around to feed her narcissistic maw. She cannot allow her child to take chances or make mistakes. She can enforce no rules because rules may drive him away. She can only discipline by throwing fits. The Momma of a Momma’s Boy does not have a child; she has a living doll that she dresses, scolds, places on a shelf, and expects to stay.
With the help of his classmates, Larry could see it all more clearly than his Momma could. He decided to take action, if only to protect her. Just as sometimes parents have to practice tough love for the good of their children, sometimes children have to practice it for their parents. He had to take steps because he alone saw what they were becoming.
In the middle school hallway that day Larry decided that there would be no more consorting during lunchtime. Even if it meant he’d ride in a crowded bus, he would not allow her to take him to school. He would not snuggle, even in the safety of the home. Snuggling would only serve to make him weak. He would break minor rules whenever he could. Above all, Larry would never, never call her Momma. He knew that calling her Mommy was just as dangerous and calling her Mom only teased her. He could never say Mother without it sounding like smother in his head. Better to call her as little as possible. When he couldn’t avoid it, Larry gave her a title that told her unmistakably to keep her distance: Mother of Mine.
Momma was not to give in without a fight. The toughest fight came the day before Christmas that year in middle school. They were a family that opened presents Christmas morning, but Momma let Larry and his little sister open one present of her choice on Christmas Eve. It was always the same present: a pair of red and green pajamas.
Momma carefully engineered every Christmas for maximum sentimentality. Larry and his sister were supposed to get dressed up in a new pair of red and green pajamas on Christmas Eve so they’d look Christmasy the next morning when she took pictures of them opening their presents. Larry was not going to wear her red and green pajamas this time. He was not even going to open the box.
“You have to open the box,” said Momma, “it’s Christmas.”
“No, I want another box.”
She took the conflict to the next level. “If you don’t open this gift, I’m going to tell Santa that you’re a naughty boy. He won’t bring you any presents.”
However, Larry no longer believed in Santa. He was in middle school, after all.
“No,” I said.
It was then he ceased being a Momma’s Boy. She marked the occasion by slapping him in the face.
He called her a child abuser and ran into his room.
The red marks on his cheek were not faded before she came blubbering in the room holding a picture of him and his sister from last Christmas in that year’s red and green pajamas.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hit you. I was just looking at this picture from last year. You were a good boy then and you loved your Momma.”
Larry might have softened if she had just come in crying and saying she was sorry. He might have just put on her silly pajamas and be done with it. He might’ve humored her for the night for the sake of Christmas morning, but she had to go and open her big mouth and say the hated word: Momma. With that one word she tipped her hand and he knew what this was all about. She wanted him to cave, to be friendless, and to be hers forever.
Larry made like he had fallen asleep. She sobbed for a while and went away.
It was a long night hearing the hushed movement of the parents downstairs getting ready for morning. Grandma and Grandpa, a couple aunts, and an uncle arrived to spend the night. Larry knew Momma was not going to risk a scene by telling Santa not to leave any presents when they had come just to see them opened. She was also feeling bad about the slap and two could play at the guilt game. Furthermore, if Momma gave him any trouble, he could always mention a little something about the slap to her mother-in-law. Larry was sure that this was going to be a great Christmas and fell asleep certain he was going to rake it in.
At first light, his little sister pounded at the door. She had already awoken the adults who were assembling in the Living Room. She summoned Larry to make their entrance. Their father was setting up the floodlights for the movie camera and the relatives were staking out positions on the sofa and chairs. On cue, Larry and his sister were to enter the living room to be filmed and gaped at while they squealed with delight, ran to the tree, and tore into the gifts. The adults would all laugh at their greed. By the time the coffee was brewed and Momma was serving danish, they’d kneel bewildered amid the litter of wrappings and new stuff. Then the over-stimulated testiness that passes for Christmas Day would arrive. The kids struggled to master the new toys, Momma yelled at them to pick up the mess and the relatives grumbled about how the true meaning of Christmas was lost to children these days.
Larry knew that was what was in store for them the moment his sister pounded on the door. When he woke up, what to his wondering eyes did appear but the evil red and green pajamas stretched on his bed with a note that read:
“Please put these on for me before you come down, Son. Love, Momma”
No, he shouted through the door to his sister, “Tell our mother I’m not putting on the pajamas.”
“He’s not putting them on, Momma.”
“Then I’ll call Santa right now and tell him to take all the presents back.”
His sister wailed, “We won’t have any presents for Christmas!”
“Listen to what you are doing to your sister,” said Momma. “You’re breaking my heart.”
He caved, “All right, I’ll put them on.”
His sister’s tears stopped as quickly as Miss Shafer’s faucet. She was so filled with excitement that she never turned around as they went downstairs and waited for their cue.
His sister flung the door open and ran to the tree as scripted. She left him standing in the doorway with a morning erection poking out of Momma’s precious, precious pajamas.
The aunts gasped and the uncle laughed.
His grandfather said, “I think your boy’s getting too old for Christmas pajamas, Martha.”