It will be interesting to see which of you four kids has a baby first, my mother said on Thursday night over Korean food.
Click click click went my chopsticks, hunting frantically for a bean shoot or piece of broccoli or anything SERIOUSLY ANYTHING to pick up and put in my mouth and prevent me from having the conversation barely two hours after my mother's arrival.
Mmmm Hmmm yep I would put my money on Matt or Nate how's your dinner, I responded, deftly avoiding both the implied question and eye contact.
What is it about mothers? His, mine or otherwise, the sheer button-pushing power of them is awe-inspiring in the manner of Half Dome and the Barneys Warehouse Sale. This weekend it was my mother, my buttons, and I will be the first to cry uncle and take back all those mean things I said about my husband regressing into a teenage boy in the presence of his parents because this weekend I was reminded of the one and only thing worse than a teenage boy.
A teenage girl.
From age 13 through 15, I barely smiled. All family photos show me with my head tilted, hair over eyes, arms crossed and lips pursed. Right before the image was captured, I am sure I was saying, Hmph, like, I am smiling, what-EV-er...
I was a joy.
Teenage girls sulk. They actively sulk. They sigh and tsk and eye-roll and sigh again, and then they mouth their glossy little mouths off over things about which they are wholly unequipped to be mouthing off. Then they stomp off and lock themselves in their rooms and write notes to their BFF and fold said notes into intricate star shapes with a “pull me” tab on one corner. Teenage girls think their parents are like, soooo lame, and they don’t see what the big whoop is about borrowing money or clothes or jewelry from their mom without asking.
340 days a year, give or take a few, I am independent. I am chatty. I am active and interested and engaged and curious and DAMN I AM FUN. The days when my mother is in town I tuck into my own little emotional fetal position and regress like all seemingly-mature adults who claim to be FINE TOTALLY FINE with the relationship with their mothers. And instead of sitting on my ass like a wee little emperor (yes husband you are not totally absolved), I HMPH and sigh and Whatever and eye-roll and cannot make a decision and do much to foster the relationship between my husband and mother because together they tend to gang up against me and shrug and pour the wine and brush my attitude off their collective shoulders.
I wish I knew why why WHY she affects me this way. It might have something to do with the genes. No, make that the jeans. The Seven Jeans. The jeans which my mother pulled on Friday, the jeans which are exactly like the pair in my drawer only two or three sizes smaller, the jeans that look better on her than me, and the jeans which she pulled on and then said, Do you think my new cowboy boots will look better tucked in or under these pants?
It was the jeans and the Oh, we’re going to Argentina in a month, and Oh, we just bought season tickets to the symphony and the Oh, look these FAB dangly earrings I bought on Elizabeth Street. It was everything. Everything that makes me proud of my mother and that I love most about her and that makes me want to run screaming to the nearest bakery and stuff my face with donuts, screaming while I chew to drown out the Oh, I don’t really eat much bread anymore…
It’s the yoga and the rock climbing and the new Theory skirt and the fun gay best friend and the martinis and the perfect body and the stories of changing a tire alone, in the rain, 8 months pregnant, up hill both ways…
On Sunday morning she left early, at about 5 a.m. and I went back to bed after hugging her goodbye. I felt the knots in my back shudder and sigh with relief as they pulled their shoes off and poured a glass of wine. I eased into the curve of my husband and slept for four uninterrupted hours. I woke at 9:00 and demanded pastries, South Beach Diet be damned. I sat on my ass and did not take a shower until almost noon. Then I got sad, sadder saddest and could not pull myself out of it; I cried about never feeling good enough, I cried because I got my hair cut and I think it’s too short and I feel like a boy, I pouted and griped and whined about having nothing to eat/wear/read/do, until finally my husband stopped me on the street and said ENOUGH I CAN’T TAKE ANYMORE YOU WERE A PILL ALL DAY YESTERDAY AND A PILL LAST NIGHT AND IT’S MY WEEKEND TOO AND YOU NEED TO STOP WITH THIS ADOLESCENT CRAP RIGHT NOW.
To which I hoisted my handbag further up on my shoulder and stomped off in the direction of Home, where I proceeded to mope for several more hours, finally disappearing for an hour and returning with pizza and apologies.
My mom just makes me crazy, crazy in a whole other way than my husband or my in-laws make me crazy. She makes me feel inadequate and responsible and like a child and like someone has stolen all my words. Not always, but on our worst days, she does. On our best days, she is fantastic. She is always fantastic, but on our worst days she is fantastic and I am the sullen child lagging behind. On Saturday she and I were in Park Slope, with the intention of walking all around the neighborhood and through the park and in and out of shops. But, it was raining all day and I was uncomfortable and miserable and she was uncomfortable and on a mini-vacation and I felt responsible and had no idea how to make the day better and eventually we trudged home, arrived soaked and sticky, changed out clothes and sat watching television for hours while I avoided eye contact on account of feeling so guilty for not being capable of providing a pleasant day for my mother.
Yesterday as I stood in the shower and watched the water on my far-from-flat belly I thought about all the things I love about my mother and all the things that challenge me about her and all the things that challenge me about my mother in law and all the things that perhaps I should be loving. Like that she will never be better dressed than me, or make me feel fat or sloppy or unkempt. That she will never want to gossip with me about my family or stay up late for just another drink. She will never tell stories about business trips and classmates in her MBA program and she will never make me feel totally and completely incapable of taking care of myself. My mother in law reaffirms my sense of identity by making it crystal clear what I do not want to be; my mother sucks my sense of self from me by showing me all I should be.
None of this is to say that I don’t adore my own mom. I do. I am fiercely protective of her and I brag about her and I’m proud of her. But, I can join in the snide ribbing that goes on between my brothers and me at her expense, and I can even bring my husband and several others into that particular circle of trust. My brother Matt likes to use the phrase, This would never happen in Europe, as an all-purpose punch line. It works because we have heard it come from my mother’s lips So. Many. Times. Nate tells about the time he came over and saw my mom matching my then-boyfriend shot for shot of tequila. We all roll our eyes at that. Kent finally can laugh at her eensy weensy yoga gear and all of the “stretching” he has to witness when we visit California.
She’s my mom, she knows me better than anyone, she knows I get pathologically TENSE when my parents visit and that I am painfully unable to JUST LET GO and have a good time. She knows that I worry about things being perfect to the point that I will ruin them. She knows she can’t pry too much with me or I will shut down. She knows I can be mean to my husband, both when he deserves it and when he has done nothing wrong. She knows I lack follow-through, that I have potential but little realization, that I want so badly to be Good.
She also knows that I have a two night minimum for parental visits. The first night I am so, so glad to see my parents (or mother, as she seems to have no trouble leaving my dad behind in California while she comes for her “New York Fixes”), and all is good. The second day Kent has relaxed enough that we can all have a beautiful time. By the third night I have run out of clever things to do or say and I start with the tics and the twitching and the anxiety and I regress to my 14-yr-old self out of desperation. I sulk and pout and my husband picks up the slack and I can’t really meet my mom’s eyes because I know I am behaving horribly but I can’t stop it. I dream of putting on sweats and watching HBO. I am a terrible hostess. Then, the visit ends and I say goodbye and lose 45 pounds of emotional burdens and relax. Probably I will miss my mom a little, but I will miss myself more, and look forward to reclaiming my identity, little by little, belly roll by belly roll, scuffed shoe by scuffed shoe.
My mom knows me well enough to know she can’t just ASK me when Kent and I plan on starting a family. She knows she needs to be casual and needs to give me the space to come to her, and to let me know it doesn’t matter when or if we have kids. Thursday night was her way of telling me that, and I tried my best to tell her back that if and when, I need her to be a part of it.
Then I walked home, talked on the phone until midnight, flipped through magazines, wrote notes to my BFFs and daydreamed about what it would be like when I grew up.