“I’m so CORN-fused!”
I cracked up at my own (stupid) joke, and caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror. Same toothy grin. Same thin lips. Same hazel eyes. Same face. Same bizarre, clean, ironic-appreciation-of-the-obvious sense of humor. Panic.
Nobody wants to turn into their mother. For most people it’s a fear of Not Your Daughter’s Jeans and the word “cougar”. Me, I have a special terror of the idea. The Cook County court granted me an emergency order of protection against my mom last summer. Now with no relationship with the family that raised me, I have another layer of mommy guilt when it comes to looking in the mirror and seeing my parents. Don’t become that woman. For the love of God, never be her. But it’s hard not to do when you are comprised of the same genetic material as the very person you’re trying not to become. Physically speaking, I am literally a carbon copy of mom in a platinum wig (and minus the fur boots). To hate her is to hate myself, and I can’t allow that.
We can’t totally escape our parents. I could run to Mexico, swear off the English language altogether and drastically change my body with surgery and clown make-up and I’d still crack-up at an old Ed Grimly clip just like her. Nothing will change the fact that I love my pizza just the way my mom does – with plenty of black olives – or that we both look particularly good in scoop neck red sweaters. For a long time, when I’d catch myself displaying one of these similarities, I’d be horrified. Sometime’s I’d cry. I would think I had failed as a mom to my own kids by breaking my promise to not be like her. Anything, I could be anything, but her. I’d hug my kids close and distract us with a craft or tell them for the thousandth (millionth?) time how proud I am of them and how much I love them. They roll their eyes and humor me.
I realized one day my mom’s not all bad. Nobody is. I have my mom’s face, most of her mannerisms and her sense of humor – but that doesn’t make me the same parent she was. We are like the people who raised us, we can’t escape that, but we can always make different choices. This helpful realization occurs to me as I’m mopping on my hands and knees with a hand towel, never trusting a mop to get all the tiny crumbs, just like my mom.
As a matter of fact, there are things I like about my mom and me. We have big, enthusiastic grins. We throw ourselves into hysterics at our own (stupid) jokes. We write.
I had to make the distinction between the negative actions and beliefs that characterize my mother and the incidental aspects of her that I can’t avoid in myself. I think a lot of people out there, even in hunky dory families, have to reconcile that who’s in the mirror looks a lot like someone else in the family who has made very different choices.
1. It’s okay that I like the same brand of perfume as my mom, but I don’t put so much focus on material things that I eclipse my kids’ feelings or wellbeing.
2. It’s okay I get frustrated when the kids run amuck and I say in a scary, familiar voice, “YOU. WILL. COOPERATE.” but I don’t hit, insult or humiliate them.
3. It’s okay that I have my own pain and struggles or just bad days, but I don’t take it out on my kids.
4. I may not be able to protect my kids from everything in life, but I will not stand by while I witness them being abused.
5. People are going to make me mad, but I just don’t hold grudges. Mainly because I’m too lazy to carry around the weight of being angry.
In fact, I’m not even angry with my parents. They’re just not healthy people to have in my life. I’m feeling better about myself lately because I realized it’s not the schnozz or cheekbones or the love of pasta salad with capers that makes me a good or a bad mom, it’s my choices to treat my kids with humanity and give them the gift of loving myself.
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