Daughters of the Dirt / Sarah Higdon

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner Now?
by Kimber Pflaum

"Age ain't nothin' but a number."

It wasn't very long ago that my runnin' buddies and I joked about having sex with a "twenty- something." How fun would it be to teach a young dog some new tricks that the old dogs of our experience had been too self-absorbed to learn? Now that's a fantasy! But could any of us really do it, we wondered. Would it be too weird? Beyond the sex and novelty, what are the chances a relationship like that could actually grow and last? And if it did, would we really want it to?

Enter Derek, a 26-year-old who is neither intimidated by my 41 years, four teenage daughters or Biggie-size boxes of tampons. He sees me in ways that belie my bedraggled reflection in the mirror after working all day and then dealing with the peaks and valleys of the hormone jungle that is sometimes my home. He sees me not only as a mother, but as a complete woman — sexy and full of life. He insists that we are a good fit, and incredibly, so do I. Even the "Whatever!" teen daughters have given us the approving nod. There's only one itsy-bitsy hurdle left to jump… a seemingly simple task…

Telling my parents.

In my defense, I can viciously defend my children from any foe, and confidently hang-out alone on 6th Street on any given Saturday night, but when it comes to confronting the very people who've contributed so much to the woman I am, I immediately careen backward in time to the flush-cheeked, adrenaline-flooded little girl trying to hide broken cookie jar pieces with her glossy Mary Janes. To complicate things further, Mom and Dad have always had difficulty comprehending how their daughter could simultaneously engage in a regular dating life and preside over her household as a responsible adult. 

So when the day finally came to tell them I was dating a man 16 years my junior, I could feel the mountain of crunchy, sharp cookie jar pieces building underfoot.

My two younger brothers, my daughters and I were invited to Sunday dinner at my parents' Hill Country home outside Austin. Steeling for the big announcement, I reminded myself that Dad, 67 years young, is a liberal guy; surely he'll understand my need to entertain all possibilities for the right partner. My conservative, 62-year-old mother would be most likely to pierce my grown-up armor with a frontline assault of snappy judgments, eyes blinking SOS signals, dishpan hands assuming position on hips, and elbows flared for a fight. I had to be careful.

While the girls watched TV, my brothers sat at the dining room table mired in guy talk. More importantly, they were out of earshot from the food prep in the kitchen. I seized the opportunity, sucked-up my childish fear – bypassed Mom at the sink – and went straight for Dad.

"What are you fixing?" I asked.

"Chicken tits," Dad replied, tenderizing the bejeezus out of some chicken breasts with an intimidating iron mallet. Wet bits of flesh splattered on my arm.

"Yum," I said, reining in my nervous energy. "Hey, remember Cathy? The woman you worked with at Pioneer Title?"

Dad hesitated only a moment. "Oh, you mean Mother Kimmel." His days of partying with a select group of coworkers — who would remain forever on my mother's shit list — had long since passed, but his fond memories sparked a wicked smile.

"Yeah," I said. "And remember, Mother Kimmel had a son?"

Dad reflected on that. "Yeah, she did. What was his name?"

"Derek," I told him.

He repeated the name, then resumed the bludgeoning and dropped four breasts onto a hot skillet. Charred pepper filled the air.

"He used to ride his bike up to the office. What a cute kid."

I bravely forged ahead. "He's still cute. In fact, he's so cute, I'm going out with him on Friday."

Mom stopped chopping lettuce. Water in the potato pot roiled with steamy bubbles. Chicken tits sizzled and smoked. Time slowed to a death crawl.

"He can't be that old now, is he?" Dad's brow was knitted, his upper lip almost a snarl.

"Twenty-six," I said with a lilt. The fact that Derek had not yet hit is 26th birthday gave my nose a growth spurt, and I squirmed inside like the time I'd gotten Icy Hot on my clitoris. I picked up the tongs, nudged my dad aside and turned the chicken.

"We're just going to dinner," I added blandly.

Their gazes fixed on me, trying to interpret the words I'd left unsaid. Finally, my mother began breathing again, her eyes batting rapid dots and dashes to anyone within range. She'd added it up quickly: Derek = ten. Kimber = working nine-to-five and having babies. Her hands shot to her hips with magnetized speed. I had to head her off.

"He's a great guy," I said. "You'll like him."

The 'rents looked at each other, sending messages telepathically as they had done for all my 41 years. Then my mother surprised me.

"He's not like the last one, is he? He was a dork."

"No," I muttered with a chuckle of disbelief. "This one's special."

Dad took the tongs from my hand, added a few more strips to the skillet, and took over the breast-turning post.

"Where's he taking you, Chuck E. Cheese?"

I had no time to answer. Malicious mischief had wandered into the vicinity of my unprotected backside. I turned to find my thirty-something brothers looming smugly over me. My mother's Morse code had worked.

Christopher gave me a punishing smirk. "Better remember the baby wipes."

"When he gets carded, does he say, 'I'm THIS many'?" Jody said, blinking his fists open and shut, the childlike falsetto taking the sting out of the ridicule. But I knew my torture had just begun, and I remembered that, young or old, men's maturity levels aren't determined so much by age as by the personality that exists deep within their core.

Two weeks later, the girls and I returned to my parents' home for another dinner. Accompanying us was the new man in our lives. I delivered Derek for their scrutiny on a Saturday evening, hopeful that their unconditional love and acceptance of me would cross over and encompass him.

Derek greeted my mother with a warm hug. Not surprisingly, her reception was stiff, eyes fluttering in silent horror. My father got a handshake and a manly hug. Despite their intention to dislike the man I had grown to love, Mom quickly became smitten and Dad could not speak highly enough of my "long-haired musician." I wasn't surprised about that either. But I knew they wondered, as my old runnin' buddies and I did long ago, how long could it last? What happens when Kimber starts showing some real age and Derek gets sidetracked by a girl half her age – or younger?

Time is the great revealer. It's been almost seven years since Derek and I began dating, three-and-a-half since we married. No man has ever pleasured me better, and our romance has only gained momentum. Could there be a greater testament to our relationship than the fact that our commitment remains strong while our love still feels fresh?

I've made some mistakes as a parent. But of all my decisions, the one to marry a younger man has left the most indelibly positive impression on both our families, especially my girls. They've been witness to the conquering of age and cultural bias and to living a life beyond the ordinary. They've seen firsthand two people falling in love, choosing commitment and showing their devotion in numerous ways every day. I feel a deep sense of pride that their happy example is me, and I know that whatever lies in our future I'm fortunate to have felt this cherished and fulfilled in my lifetime.

I once asked Derek, "Where have you been all my life?" to which he replied with a smile, "Growing up." I guess during that time I was, too. 

But do we have to tell my parents?
Kimber Pflaum is a mama and writer in Austin, and a very happy partner in a May/December romance. Her work has been featured recently in Playgirl magazine.