71: Turning Into My Mother

71: Turning Into My Mother

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: For Mom, with Love

Turning Into My Mother

Of all the haunting moments of motherhood, few rank with hearing your own words come out of your daughter’s mouth.

~Victoria Secunda

Okay, now it’s official — I am turning into my mother! On a recent airplane trip, not only did I put all the liquids in my carry-on into the required quart-sized Ziploc, I decided to carry my other toiletries in two other plastic bags. In my defense, I was moving my purse contents hurriedly into a laptop case, which had no dividers for small items. Even as I did it, I could remember recoiling in horror when my mother used to reach into her purse and pull things out of the plastic bags she carried regularly (in public!), so much so that I bought her a set of attractive cosmetic bags she could use instead. Sigh.

My relationship with my mother has never been black and white. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got separation issues. Being close is a double-edged sword, I think, for girls and their mothers. All the years I was growing up, Mom was prominent in our small town, civically and socially. Townspeople were always calling me by her name and telling me I looked just like her, which I found unnerving.

As an adolescent, I could not understand why my friends tolerated, and even invited, her presence when I would rather crawl under a rock than be seen in public with her. She even dragged me to a meeting of a new teen group. Okay, so the kids there ended up becoming a wonderful group of friends. Don’t you just hate it when your mother’s right? Still, after finding my way through some rocky middle school years and through high school, I eagerly broke away from her sphere. After college, I moved hundreds of miles away to be clear of her influence.

Flash forward twenty years. Mom moved down here to my town and started going to the church of my newfound faith in my neighborhood. She started studying at our local college with the same undergraduate major I once had. I had an instant resurgence of the push-pull emotions of my childhood, of feeling eclipsed by her once again. My bristling defensiveness was magnified by the fact that I had my own child by then. And we had very different ideas about parenting — hers, typical of her generation, involved playpens and schedules and discipline. Mine, well… not.

My son, Sammy, knows that the single most effective way to push my buttons is to compare me with his Nana. Like when I was flipping the remote one day as we sat before the TV and I tried to stop on the Meerkat Manor show on Animal Planet, which my mom watches for hours at a time. He teased me mercilessly.

Like Mom’s, my hair has thinned so that I now sunburn on my scalp. But I refuse (so far) to wear a hat every time I go out, partly because of my own personal sense of style, partly because Mom wears one. Shall I admit that sometimes now, when people are still saying I look like her, I can actually see the resemblance?

Recently, I have been caught phoning her about something special on TV I think she’d enjoy, though I roll my eyes when she does this to me. I still have a visceral spasm of distancing once in a while — like when I had to use a cane before and after knee surgery last year, and hurried to give it up so I would not seem like Mom. She used one regularly before graduating to a walker. Mother and daughter matching props — that was just too much, and hey, I’m twenty-eight years younger than she is!

All the defenses against turning into my mother that I have spent an adolescent and adult lifetime building are crumbling with age — hers or mine, I cannot say. What I do know is that I am grateful that I inherited her strength and resilience, even if it comes with the rest of it. And who knows? Perhaps one day I, too, will be a tough old broad.

~Karen Kullgren

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