My mother and I have really similar communication styles, so we've always been capable of Fights of Heightened Emotion. We even agreed once, after a fight in my teens, that sometimes we're too similar and saying the same thing. And we still do this. We try to say the same thing, or very similar things, or we say them in the same way, and then we misunderstand each other in the same way, and then we get defensive in the same way.
I watch reality shows with her and find myself exclaiming in the same way, using her lingo or body language. And the longer we're in the same house, the more we pick up each others' mannerisms. There's a lot of "I was just about to say that!" It's a weird mix of nature and nurture.
My mother had my brother at the age of 18, and me three years later. So I'm not particularly critical of my parents--they were ridiculously young, and didn't have much money. My mother wasn't raised in a low-income household though, so it's interesting to look back at all the homemade things she made. These had to have come just from her own imagination, and they were so fun we didn't feel deprived.
My first nursery school paint smock was homemade. And though she got me a real Wonder Woman one the next year, she bought WW iron-ons to make me matching book bags. My brother loved the Fantastic Four and I can still see, in my mind, the hand made birthday invitations she made featuring The Thing. (She had to draw all those little rocks.)
We have a pic of my brother and I as very creditable Batman and Robin at Halloween. Another year I had a favorite book about three princesses, and though no one knew the book, I excitedly wore the costume she made me (a white empire waist dress). We moved to a different city with our dad when I was in grade 4, but my mother asked me what I wanted to be for Halloween (a gypsy) and made me all the needed pieces and mailed them to me.
Long Distance Mothering
Though we lived in different cities as of grade 4, she never stopped making efforts to still Mother From Afar. The after-school chats happened with my step-mother, but when Swiss Girl was going through big boyfriend drama, we would get on the phone with my mother and get her wisdomly advice. When my friends dumped me in grade 9 and it took me the whole summer to process, my mother was the penultimate stop on The Recovery Train.
My mother taught me friendship etiquette. She taught me not to make fun of overweight people, or gay people, or other ethnicities whose homes and clothes might smell different. She taught me feminism. She taught me how to read people, and connect with them, and pull info from them.
In my early teens I idolized my mother. There were no Day-to-Day-Annoyance flies in the ointment so she had enormous influence over my taste and opinions. For years I felt slightly guilty when I bought brown-beige toned clothes cause she'd convinced me I looked best in jewel tones. It became a tradition to get a haircut before visiting her, cause if I arrived with shaggy hair (my hair grows fast) she'd haul me to the hair salon toute suite.
My jazz ballet costume she had to sew.
She wasn't a Taste Dictator (she's confirmed that since childhood no one could tell me how to dress.) She would just express her opinions in a forthright manner, and then leave me space to be myself.
Though my mother mostly likes thriller/mystery novels, action movies, and Bruce Springsteen type rock, while I'm the classic I-like-every-genre! Gemini, I still formed a lot of my taste by picking through her album collection (Stevie Nicks's Bella Donna, Prince's 1999, Kate & Anna McGarrigle's Love Over and Over) and by watching the movies she told me to watch (7 Brides for 7 Brothers, A Room With a View, The Thin Man.)
When I was picking out images to put on my collage earlier this year, I sometimes had to stop and ask myself: Am I picking this out authentically for me (a lorgnette), or because it reminds me of my mother (animal prints)? There's some weird ways in which I can't tell where one of us stops and one of us starts.
As I got older I naturally had to separate out from her. Never as rebellion--I rebelled against peers, not parents--but by slowly noticing that some of the things that excited me (Shakespeare!) were not her bag. Which was weird to me. I thought we liked everything the same! I had to start keeping the Shakespeare and Oscar and Bernard lurv to myself. The Kate Bush and Tori Amos that hurt her ears. I bought the taupe clothes I loved (and received compliments on them!) I didn't have to like every movie she liked (Dirty Dancing.) I joined the church my dad & steppy were going to.
I saw how (and we discussed it) my mother liked to learn by direct experience, whereas I was willing to Let Others Be an Example. In my late teens she once called me an old soul. After the divorce she did the things she never got to do when 20--she partied! and drank! and danced! In my 20s I wrote novels, and annually watched the Star Wars trilogy, and had long spiritual debates with my dad.
I realized that my mother was a risk taker, and I was risk averse. I make "stove top" decisions, I let ideas simmer on back burners til they feel ready. Is that the Right Way? I don't know... it's just my way. I went back to school for my MA too late for the big teaching hiring window that opened in the 1990s. It's never my style to regret these big decisions; maybe I would have ended up teaching English Lit and hating it. As opposed to now where I don't have a teaching job, but boy did I enjoy getting my degrees in Political Science!
But the point is after my last job where I stayed too long in a rut, I decided to revise my Risk Level and move a little bit along the spectrum. My mother's Level of Acceptable Risk makes me uncomfortable, but that's not because there's something wrong with her. These are all neutral qualities, they are both strengths and weaknesses, and it's just what we do with the fallout that matters. Risk takers get big wins, and big losses; risk aversers have less emergencies, but get stuck in deadening ruts.
Brat Pack sandwich.
The risk difference might make me uncomfortable, and she picks up on that, but that doesn't mean I don't also admire it. I worry about her and it comes out looking like criticism, like I don't have faith in her.
Just like all those homemade birthday invitations and Halloween costumes, my mother is endlessly resourceful. She knows all the places to buy discounted tile, lighting and paint; good second hand appliances and tools; free carpets and sofas. My mother has vision, and taste, and brilliant ideas. But she's had some serious health problems that outstripped her ability to carry out all her dreams and plans. That's where my worry would come in. Not because she isn't imaginative and creative and capable of making big things happen; but because I knew her body wasn't going to cooperate.
So we get a bit of the-drama-pajama. I worry about her because of the projects--health gap, and it comes off like I think she's *failing*; and she's frustrated by the projects--health gap, and that emotion ramps up my worry.
And But So
Here's the interesting thing. I've been here two months--that's the longest we've lived together since I was a teenager. We're both struggling with depression and stress because of our own Life Challenges.
But we've only had 2-3 contre-temps and one blow up. The nastiest we've gotten? Co-accusations of being wusses, and one "fuck off" each.
I know about Other People's Mothers. I count myself very, very blessed.
Because most nights we've sat on the couch and made jokes and laughed hard. We've developed inside jokes. We've bonded over cats and dogs. We've gotten weepy together over reality shows. We've gotten into heavy deep conversations. Talked and talked. She thanks me for painting her room (4 f*cking coats it took!) and for fixing a burst pipe (see future blog post.) She records my TV shows. Despite her recovering-bionic-knee she takes the dogs out when my plantar fasciitis is bad. She comforts me when I'm homesick and tries to think up jokes when soldering is kicking my ass (see future blog post.)
My mother never told me I was getting fat, or that I was ugly, or useless, or boring. I was pretty, original, creative and intelligent. And one of the things I've most appreciated is that she was a fan of my writing from day one. Not in a generic "that's wonderful honey!" way, but with specific feedback. She made me feel like I had talent, that I could get better, that I could *make it.*
I don't know if I do as much for her. But my mother is indeed stylish, and pretty, with bright sparkly eyes and a gregarious and friendly manner to everyone she meets. She has library, and law degrees, she's very intelligent, and she's handy. She cries for the hard luck cases making their dreams come true on America's Got Talent. She has infinite compassion for our fellow creatures, from her beloved Brat Pack...
Checking their pee-mail.
to Felix the Slug (see future blog post.) For years she fostered and loved many battered dogs and brought them back to a place of trust so they could find new homes; or she kept and comforted them until they died.
For all our different approaches to life, both of us have towered over in our separate corners. We're on the same side of the war here. And though we argue over rations and cigarettes, I am, as ever, happy to share a foxhole together.
MUSIC FOR THE DAY If you opened my mother's soul, this is what you'd find...