Now that I’m in my early 40s, I find myself thinking (more than I care to admit) about how much I am like my mother. There was a time, and I swear it was last week, when I was young and headstrong and prided myself on being my mother’s polar opposite. “Ugh, I will never be like my mother!” I would say. I mean, GOD, she would overreact over the dumbest things! She was so overprotective, such a worrier! She would freak out if my brother and I didn’t do our chores by the time she got home from work, but really, what was the big deal? They’d get done eventually! Couldn’t she just get off my back?
Well, Mom, I’m here to tell you: I get it now, and let me be the first to apologize. You were right. About pretty much everything.
Now that Mother’s Day is upon us, I put together this tribute to you, Mom, to thank you, to celebrate all the many things you did right, and to admit (albeit reluctantly) where I have become just like you. You have my permission to feel self-righteous now.
Oy! The worrying! It used to drive me bonkers how much you worried about us…the constant waiting for the other shoe to drop, the incessant “call me when you get there,” the very uncool way you wouldn’t let me ride with my 16-year-old friends who had cars. Congratulations! I am just like you now. I am an incurable worrier. I worry about my daughter running too fast on the playground and tripping. I worry that she’ll get too close to the street when we’re walking on the sidewalk and a car will sideswipe her. I constantly worry about her feelings getting hurt. I’m worried that she’s eating too much sugar. I worry that sometimes when I stop in her bedroom to kiss her goodnight while she’s sleeping that she suddenly won’t be breathing. I worry about going on airplanes, to the point of obsession. The worry keeps me up nights. Sorry, Mom—I totally get it now.
The chore freak-out. When my brother and I were teenagers, Mom was working 60-hour weeks at a retail job, and we were expected to fend for ourselves for a few hours after school. We each had chores that HAD to be finished by the time she came home. They were simple things really: Do the dishes, empty the cat’s litter box, pick up the mess on the dining room table, that kind of thing. If it wasn’t done by the time she got home, she would be SO upset: “WHY DID YOU SAVE IT FOR ME? I JUST WORKED ALL DAY! I DON’T WANT TO LOOK AT THAT! GOD, I ASKED YOU TO DO ONE THING TODAY!” My brother and I would just roll our eyes, like “Are you hearing this crazy lady?” Well, here’s the thing: My daughter, who is only six, has a tiny chore list. We’re talking “feed the cat” and “put your shoes away” kind of stuff. And she never remembers to do them, and every day we have to remind her, “Check your chore list! No TV until you do your chores!” I mean, every day. So the other night, I came home from teaching class on a particularly rough night, and found her sitting in our bedroom watching TV, while her shoes and her backpack littered the hallway, and my husband, whom I’d asked to get dinner started, had not even started yet and had not said a word about this to her. And I freaked out. “WE ASK YOU TO DO ONE THING!” I yelled at her. “AND WHY ARE YOU WATCHING TV RIGHT NOW? GET UP AND PICK THESE THINGS UP!” I totally get it, Mom. Coming home to find those chores still undone is like a giant middle finger pointed right at me. Sorry about that.
She made me talk to grown-ups. This one used to make me crazy. I don’t know how old I was when this started, but I remember many times when, even though I was pretty young, I was expected to solve my own problems by asking grown-ups questions and having tough or mature conversations with them. I had to order my own food in restaurants, talk to teachers about troubles I was having, ask my friends’ moms for favors, and call the IRS to ask questions about my student loan application. I see so many college-aged kids who can’t do any of these things, and many of them actually have social anxiety about asking people questions or having challenging conversations face to face. I don’t. It was uncomfortable then—I would say, “Mooo-ooommmm! Can’t YOU just do it?” I’m so glad she didn’t, because now I can do it all, and I’m learning to have my daughter do those things too. I want her to grow up feeling empowered and confident around others, just like I did.
Social politics. When I was in 7th grade, my best friend decided, out of the clear blue, that she didn’t want to be my best friend anymore. She had taken up with a new best friend. I was told, via note, in no uncertain terms, that I was to steer clear of them and all the other people in our group whom I’d called friends up until then. I was devastated. For a full month, I had no friends at school. Without dwelling on the heartbreak this caused me then, and the long-term psychological impacts it has had on me even until this day (Girls are the WORST), I will say that not only did my mom say and do everything right the day I related this to her through my tears, but she also didn’t do the thing that, I swear to God, I will want to do if this happens to my own daughter: She did not march down there and kick those girls’ asses or call up their parents to complain. I admire you for that, Mom, because yesterday, my own daughter told me that she had the worst lunch ever because nobody wanted to talk to her the whole time, and I wanted to walk back in there and demand justice for my daughter from those two little punks who ignored her, because how dare they! And she’s only six, guys. I am in so much trouble if this is what it feels like, and I do not know how I will restrain myself. But I know I must, because my own mom did, and it was the best thing she could have done. That had to be SO hard for you, Mom – I can’t imagine.
Sacrifice. My parents divorced when I was 13, so basically at the worst time in my life, puberty-wise. That really sucked, for a number of reasons. It meant my mom had to work a ridiculous amount of time to make ends meet. It meant we didn’t see much of our dad except on weekends, mostly, so now we had responsibilities, we had chores, and we had to move out of our house and into an apartment (mortification for a 13-year-old). We went without a lot of things, including the newest, trendiest clothes and nice dinners and many other things that my friends had and I didn’t. And my mom, who now had to shoulder the burden usually held by two parents, rarely got time to herself to do anything fun or to buy herself anything, while she had teenagers who are sort of crappy to their moms anyway. She didn’t have a husband, as I have, who can pick up the slack while I do some bra shopping or get my nails done or go to yoga. And she couldn’t just get the heck out of the house because we were getting on her freaking nerves. You rock, Mom—go buy yourself something pretty.
There are a million other things my mom did right, and that I haven’t always appreciated but certainly do now. I will attempt to list a few here:
She made THE BEST grilled cheeses, potato salad, Reubens, and tunafish. Thanks for those recipes!
She loves my husband.
She’s an amazing, loving grandmother whom my daughter worships.
She has always looked young—I trait I thankfully inherited!
She has picked me up when I’ve fallen a bazillion times, and she’s still doing it.
She always made birthdays and holidays special, even when we were broke.
She always picks the perfect card and the perfect gift, and they always arrive on time, if not early. (How do you do that?)
She always believed in me, even when my ideas were ridiculous and crazy.
She has the patience of a saint. (Again, how do you do that? I have, like, zero patience. Seriously, it’s probably my worst quality.)
She gets me, and that’s a big deal.
So yeah, I am turning out to be like my mom, and thank goodness.
Thanks, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.