Summer Splash Supplement 2010

Nina Badzin


Robyn shakes her head as her mother-in-law explains why they're standing in front of a church on the morning of Robyn's fortieth birthday instead of enjoying the largest pancakes in Minnesota like they'd planned.

“We're joining what?” Robyn says.

“S.O.N. Stop Overeating Now.” Naomi opens the door of the church before Robyn can protest. “One meeting,” Naomi says. “If it's dreadful we won't come back.”

They're welcomed by three willowy women who point to a circle of plastic chairs. Naomi tells Robyn to keep an open mind.

“I didn't say a word.”

“You didn't have to.”

“It's my birthday,” Robyn says. “I can say anything I want.” She sits next to Naomi in the circle, wondering what it says about her life that she actually prefers one of Naomi's weight loss schemes to the alternative birthday outing she'd turned down—breakfast with friends whose attempts to avoid speaking of their children would feel as painful to Robyn as the times they spoke of nothing else.

Naomi picks her knitting tote off the floor, leaning into Robyn as if to keep from falling out of the flimsy chair. “We're the biggest people here,” Naomi says. By far, Robyn's about to say, but she's distracted by the yellow booties Naomi's removing from the tote. When most of the chairs are filled, a tall, on-the-verge-of-fainting-thin woman introduces herself as Meredith and asks everyone to announce which of the “Four Goals” they''re perfecting.

Eliminating Sugar a few people say, or Eliminating White Flour. The Ultimate Cleanse, the final woman says. Her collar bones are so pronounced that Robyn has to stifle the urge to walk across the circle and touch them.

“What is this?” Robyn wants to whisper, but she won't look at Naomi, who has taken the booties she'd once started for Robyn and Marc's original baby-to-be and recycled them into a project for the grandchild finally coming courtesy of her other daughter-in-law, Kim.

“Ladies,” Meredith says to Naomi and Robyn. “As new members we'd like you to share your personal goals before you embark on the mission of S.O.N. If you're comfortable, of course.”

Naomi rests the booties on her lap. “I'm here to help my daughter-in-law. She'd be happier if she weren't fat.”

Robyn stands up, knocking over her chair. She'll call a cab. She'll walk home. No, she'll make Marc pick her up and spend every minute of her birthday doing the exact thing she promised him he wouldn't have to do: help her understand in agonizing, excruciating detail how she's supposed to accept turning forty without being a mom.

“She had a gorgeous figure at her wedding,” Naomi says, knitting again. “And then—”

“So did you!” Robyn says, shouting at her mother-in-law—something she's done in public more times in the decade she's been married to Marc than she'd care to admit. “What's your excuse for gaining weight? What's been so terrible for you?”

Naomi makes a show of tossing the booties and needles into the open tote at her feet. “She thinks she's the only one with disappointments,” Naomi says. “She thinks the universe owes her something for her pain.”

“I don't think that,” Robyn says to their newest panel of judges. The members of S.O.N. stare back at her with a wide-eyed patience Robyn attributes more to their apparent starvation than a genuine interest in the fight she and her mother-in-law have started and stopped countless times since her first miscarriage five years earlier.

Robyn puts her chair back in place, grabs her purse, and then turns around.

“Always feeling sorry for herself,” Naomi says. “Always pushing everyone away. Always making it impossible to help her. Her own mother hardly speaks to her now—”

“Ladies,” Meredith says. She suggests that Robyn and Naomi return another time, perhaps when they're really ready to Commit To The Program.

“Fine,” Naomi says.

Robyn watches a wincing Naomi hoist herself up from the armless chair. Her knee is getting worse, Robyn thinks as she bends down for Naomi's knitting tote. Of course she'll be the one to drive Naomi back and forth to the inevitable surgery. She'll fill Naomi's refrigerator with food. She'll make the trips to the pharmacy for the meds and the gossip magazines. She'll help Naomi limp to the bathroom while Kim, the fertile one, will be too busy by then with her yellow-bootie-wearing child to do more than stop by for a quick visit. Robyn will complain, of course. She'll tell Marc that she's doing his job. But she'll do all the nursemaid chores anyway; she'll do all the things that Naomi did for her every time she lost a baby. Every time a pregnancy failed, Robyn's own mother used to insist Robyn say instead.

“Those people are crazy,” Naomi says, leaning into Robyn's arm as they walk towards the parking lot. “Anorexic. All of them.”

“I'm hungry,” Robyn says when they're back in the car.

“You still want to try the largest pancakes in Minnesota?”

“It is my birthday.”

Naomi drives out of the church's parking lot. “I should warn you, they're big, but not big enough for forty candles.”

“One will be fine,” Robyn says. She glances at her cell phone, wondering if her mother will call some time today. “I only need one.”

Nina Badzin lives in Minneapolis with her husband and three young children. She writes whenever she can. Her stories have appeared in Literary Mama, Scribblers on the Roof, and Talking Stick. Her work was also honored in Glimmer Train Stories. Find her on Twitter @NinaBadzin.

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