Writers birthday surprise:Foot in Mouth disease

That Foot and Mouth thing sweeping Europe sounds like a real nightmare. Still, nothing compares to its dreaded cousin, Foot in Mouth disease. I should know. I suffered a bout of it earlier this month and it took days to recover.

Foot in Mouth disease: The Physician's Desktop Reference defines it as an annoying syndrome that causes you to blurt things you don't mean to say. Scientists think it has to do with some rare alpha-phetoprotein, but they're not making any definite proclamations yet.

Foot in Mouth hit suddenly — on my birthday of all days.

It had been a perfectly nice day. Calls from family and friends. Gifts. Lunch with my favorite co-workers. But the end of the workday came and I felt burned out. My mom had made me a birthday dinner, and as much I love my parents' company, the last thing I wanted to do was join the column of commuters inching from San Francisco, where I live, to the Peninsula, where I grew up. Frankly, I just wanted to go home, crawl into bed and read Sylvia Plath.

But I knew my mom had gone to the trouble of making me a special dinner and I didn't want to let her down. As soon as I walked in, however, I was gripped by a mix of exhaustion and resentment that unleashed a Foot in Mouth rant that would surely surprise those who know me as an even-tempered yoga girl. I felt like a brat as I looked at the beautifully set table and the cake my mom had baked and placed on a platter adorned with fresh freesias.

But once I started spouting about a particularly minor mother-daughter frustration, I felt propelled to keep spouting. Foot in Mouth had taken hold like a rabid cow, and it wasn't letting go.

As I rambled, my dad looked mildly bemused and my mom looked hurt in a way that made me feel I'd have some extra repenting to do come Yom Kippur. I could tell the timing of my rant was off, but Lord help me, I wasn't going to back down. Foot in Mouth, meet Stubborn Leslie. I felt doomed.

I had no choice but to march into my childhood bedroom, plop down on the floor and start bawling, which made for quite a scene. Here I was, after all, marking my further progression into adulthood by experiencing the kind of baffling emotions that used to hit me during puberty back in the '70s. Only then, my room had lime green shag carpet and Shawn Cassidy posters on the walls.

It was weirdly regressive. I could hear my parents sitting down to dinner without me and I really wanted to join them, but something kept me tethered to the floor. It was like one of those "I'll run away from home and then they'll be sorry" moments. Only they had nothing to be sorry about. I did.

One biblical commentary compares speech to an arrow, noting that once an arrow has been shot you can't make it turn around. Because words can be so potent, Judaism has countless prohibitions against harmful speech. Most revolve around gossip and slander, or lashon hara.

Granted, I didn't gossip about anyone the night of my birthday. I didn't even say anything terrible. I just expressed my feelings as honestly as I could. Only my timing could have been better; I didn't think before I opened my mouth and that had consequences.

After a good half-hour on the floor, I joined my parents at dinner just as they polished off the last course. I sheepishly apologized for my behavior and my mom pointed out that perhaps my outburst had something to do with personal-life stress, job-related stress, and other assorted hyphenated stresses. I nodded, wiped the running mascara from under my eyes and opened my birthday present — a shiny new set of garden tools accompanied by a poem my mom had written about the fertile soul.

By the time I left, all appeared to be fine.

Still, I felt guilty for days. In fact, I cried a few more times before calling my mom to apologize and deconstruct the incident for the fourth time. At this point, I could see she was beginning to worry more about my strident perfectionism than the appearance of Stubborn Leslie a few days earlier. Her forgiveness, which she first expressed the night of my birthday, was swift and absolute. I was having trouble forgiving myself. It pained me to know I had hurt someone I love at the exact moment she went out of her way to be kind and generous to me.

I told the story to a friend, who said it sounded like I'd had a pretty rotten birthday. "Actually, it wasn't so bad," I responded. I learned some important lessons — about thinking before I talk and allowing myself to be human, among other things. And in the end, those lessons are probably even more valuable than my new shovel and spade.

Leslie Katz

Leslie Katz is a former J. staff writer.