Mum, meet the parents

Sue Nelson

Sue Nelson

First published in Columnists
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I’VE just spent an evening being on my best behaviour. That, people who know me might say, makes a change. But when you’re meeting your son’s girlfriend’s parents for the first time glugging back too much booze, making non-pc jokes, slagging off politicians of whatever hue and making holier-than-though statements about religion just doesn’t cut it does it?

They’ve been going out for a year now and clearly the ‘rents getting together to say hi was on their agenda as a statement of how they feel about each other. The fact that both were dreading it in case their respective parents let the side down, as it were, was writ large in their thinking, but in their minds it was an ordeal to be endured. Rather like going to the dentist, or sitting an exam….

It was never going to be a case of meeting up in the pub over a couple of drinks though. She’s American and her folks live just outside Washington DC. She’s at college in the state of Pennsylvania, our son’s at university in Manchester and we live near York. Hardly the pre-requisite for a casual get together is it?

That said, we all spend some of each summer on Cape Cod in Massachusetts so crossing the miles wasn’t so much of an issue after all. But getting the invitation to join her folks for dinner was - remember Meet the Parents, that film where the hapless boyfriend nervously meets his girlfriend’s family for the first time? Well that was us. And we were the grown-ups!

Deciding what to wear is never easy when you’re a middle-aged lump like me, but this was serious stuff. Couldn’t have our American counterparts – who incidentally, do very important things on Capitol Hill, so no pressure there then – thinking we were frumpy Brits with no idea of how to dazzle. So prizing free the plastic from the cobwebs in my purse was clearly a must and several hours of trying on turned out to be an ordeal in itself.

Then we learned we were going to be eating that most traditional of Cape Cod meals, a lobster dinner. It’s also the messiest. In fact, most restaurants that serve it over here supply you with plastic bibs and endless amounts of hand wipes so you don’t splatter lobster juice over yourself when you’re busily cracking claws and prizing meat out of spindly lobster legs.

We were also being introduced to a couple of their friends, plus the girlfriend’s brother and his pal, so there was a whole crowd to impress. We’d had the hard word hissed at us before the event (no embarrassing stories, don’t drink too much, don’t mention this, don’t talk about that). United Nations diplomatic talks had nothing on this.

And to cap it all, we were late. We couldn’t find the house at first and found ourselves round in circles becoming increasingly fraught as the minutes ticked by. And it was slinging it down. So apparitions of drowned rats knocking on the door was hardly the best opening gambit.

But you know what? I reckon they were as nervous as we were. Once that initial awkwardness had gone and the stilted opening conversation had morphed into something more relaxed, we had a high old time. And no, I didn’t get drunk, no I didn’t splatter lobster juice all over me or my dining companions, no we didn’t commit any conversational faux pas (at least I don’t think so), politics and religion remained off limits and I didn’t come out with any embarrassing stories about my boy’s childhood antics.

The thank you note was duly delivered the next day and we’re now planning a second get together, this time at our place, with roast beef and Yorkshire pudding taking centre stage, by special request.

As for the offspring, we only found out from their friends that they thought each set of parents had done okay. So after years of your kids jumping through all those good behaviour hoops expected by parents everywhere, how odd it feels to now find the boot very firmly on the other foot. And if the anticipation of that meeting was bad enough I dread to think what it’ll be like when he gets married….

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