(photo credit: Courtesy)
'Your mom bought us what?" I asked as Boaz closed his cell phone. "Emmm... Nothing," he said.
"No, I heard you," I said. "You asked her what she bought for us."
"She bought us a cake," he said.
"A cake? Right." I raised an eyebrow and looked at him. We were walking up Dizengoff St. on a Thursday night, passing overflowing cafes and wide, clean window panes of boutiques displaying artfully arranged shoes and neat racks of clothes. Surely she hadn't bought us a pair of winter boots.
"Nu," I said. "So what did she buy us?"
"It's a surprise," he said.
When we arrived in Jerusalem that weekend, there was our surprise, sitting proudly on the kitchen counter for the whole family to see: condoms.
I was mortified.
"She works at Superpharm," Boaz said. "She gets a discount."
The stovetop was full of pots and Boaz lifted lid after lid, sniffing and sampling the contents.
"It's strange," he said. "She never cooked until I moved to Tel Aviv."
Boaz tucked his mother's "surprise" into his backpack. We retreated to the living room, where I settled in with a book and Boaz took to his laptop. Before long, his mom emerged from her bedroom, fresh from her Friday afternoon nap.
"Boaz, you're so thin," she said. "Do you eat in Tel Aviv?"
"Talia mevashelet kol hazman," he replied. "Talia cooks all the time." This is his refrain - he repeats this to her on the phone every time she calls.
"Talia? You cook? Be'emet?" (Really?)
As though I haven't told her a dozen times before, I rattled off the list once again. But this time, I added something new, "I take good care of him."
"I worry about him," she said.
"Well, you don't have to," I said. "I mevashelet all the time."
Boaz was silent, tapping away on his computer.
I didn't know what to do - I'd never before had a conflict with a mother other than my own. When I was living in Florida, X's Puerto Rican mom had welcomed me with open arms, offering her son a stern warning: "If you screw this one up, you're in big trouble." X's mom and I had been a united front - trading cooking tips, lunching together and going shopping. Sure, she offered occasional unsolicited observations and advice about my relationship with her son, but she had never offered commentary in the form of a box of condoms on the kitchen counter.
Because that's what Boaz's mother's "gift" seemed to me - a remark, or rather a question mark. I don't trust your judgment, it said. Are you sure you know what you're doing with this girl, this hussy, this American?
I couldn't help but wonder if Boaz's mom would be buying birth control and questioning my cooking skills if I were a born-and-raised-Israeli rather than an olah hadashah. Was she disappointed in him for bringing home a girl who speaks crummy Hebrew with a heavy American accent? Boaz's mom was so proud that her daughter had been an officer in the army - was it a disappointment that Boaz brought home a girl who hadn't served in the army at all? Or would she be like this with any girl? Is it good enough that I'm Jewish? Or would it be better if I were a real Israeli?
I sat on the couch, uncomfortable with all the questions swirling around me - hers and mine.
The next time Boaz went to Jerusalem for Shabbat, I stayed in Tel Aviv. Work, work, work, I said. Talia ovedet kol hazman.
Boaz called from Jerusalem.
"My mom says hi," he said. "And, oh, she got you something. A gift."
"What is it?" I asked, dreading that it might be another sex-life related item.
"You'll see. It's a surprise."
When he returned on Saturday night, he made me close my eyes and hold out my hands, like my mom did when I was a child. I felt something soft in my palms. I opened my eyes and there was a pair of slippers - cozy, chenille, a riot of blue, white and pink.
"She said you're too thin," Boaz said. "And that you should keep your feet warm or you'll get a cold."