My mother is eccentric but old-fashioned, kind-hearted but not warm, crunchy but Catholic.
I was the last of three rather difficult children, and we haven’t ever related particularly well.
Here we are about to attempt an embrace after my (very ’90s) wedding ceremony. Look how excited she is for me, right?!
(Let’s pause to look at that again and laugh, with just a tiny bitter edge.)
Enigmatic and dichotomous, she was a rebel in the strangest of ways. . . Her family’s secular humanism felt lacking and so she found the Catholic Church at fifteen. She adopted three older children as a single woman in her thirties (back in the ’70’s when they apparently allowed that kind of thing), and never married. She preferred classical music to the Beatles in the ’60s in college. She taught in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Chicago, New York, and Phoenix in her twenties, each time moving alone. There is a great deal I admire about her, but you wouldn’t exactly say that we have a close relationship. She has difficulty appreciating my musical taste; parenting; spirituality; tattoos (they actually make her physically ill, I believe: she’s said she has “a hard time looking at them”); and general lifestyle. She’s a teetotaler and I named my blog Drinking Wine in Yoga Pants, for example.
I spent many years “in therapy” — I prefer “seeing a counselor,” myself– and with disturbing regularity I would find myself halting mid-sentence to vocalize my horror that “I’m talking about my mother again, aren’t I?!”
My undergraduate major was psychology. I do believe that talking about our past helps us to process it and overcome the difficult times while learning to appreciate the good. I wonder if I had pursued clinical work how often I would smile to myself that my clients, too, kept exclaiming to themselves “are we talking about my parents again?!”
We don’t seem to be able to avoid becoming our parents, either. No matter how different she and I may be, I catch myself imitating my mother’s habits. They’re so deeply ingrained that I often don’t notice, until I get an “easy, Sally” from the peanut gallery as I start freaking out about how there’s still a drop of sauce left in this jar, you know; just use a rubber spatula!
I pull recyclables out of the trash and chastize the misguided toss-er. I wash out plastic bags and re-use them. Despite my youthful conviction that as an adult I would keep my apartment balmy as a Bahamian breeze, I pinch the heating pennies and tell my son to put on a dang hoodie. I present gifts in re-purposed, often entirely inappropriate wrapping that I’ve saved from previous holidays. My years of haughty pre-teen disgust at the idea of secondhand clothing have long passed. My refusal to learn to knit and sew properly (“you’re sexist, ma!”) haunts me as I wish for little as much as her seamstress and sweater-creating talents. . . but I make earrings, now, and would scarcely be caught dead without a pair: another subconscious acquisition of habit. Although she rarely wears makeup and cares little for fashion, she used to say she felt naked without them. Me, too.
“I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Making Peace With Mom Before It’s Too Late” was a helpful read for me and may be if you, too, feel like your mother just never understood you (even as we’re more like them than they suspect) and you don’t have that “best friends” kind of relationship with her. The author charges you with remembering that your mother was affected by her own parents’ failings. And that you are the one with the flexibility and capacity to forgive her her crazy ways rather than trying to change them at this point.
If I have to turn into my mother, I suppose that having my heart in the right place, caring deeply about the state of this world, possessing an independence of spirit, and finding utmost pleasure in music and giving to others aren’t awful traits to carry on. Thanks, Mom.