“This would never happen in Europe.”
This is a common refrain from my mother, enough so that it’s a joke among my brothers and me, and we are all fully aware of how obnoxious it is for her to say, especially considering she has had her passport less than 10 years. My parents travel a lot, and if one day they called me and informed me they’d just bought an apartment in Paris and said, “See you next winter, maybe, au revoir…” I wouldn’t be surprised at all. Still, This would never happen in Europe is obnoxious, and we tease my mother about it (okay, maybe we make fun of her behind her back because we are the CHILDREN after all), and encourage anyone to use the phrase whenever a particularly something especially shitty is observed, i.e., when I tried to sit down on the B train the other day and a twelve year-old girl looked straight at me as I went for the seat and then put her leg up on it, blocking me. Or when Kent stepped on a hot dog and nearly fell while moving out of the way for a family of tourists who felt it necessary to walk along 54th street holding hands. Or when the café around the corner RAN OUT of the cinnamon pastries and I had to buy BAGELS as consolation on Saturday morning. This would NEVER happen in Europe, I seethed.
I have been to Europe twice, by the way. Two whole times.
We’ve started talking about Christmas gifts, and I had the idea to get my mother-in-law a Neighborhoodie that says CINCY MOM, as that it how she constantly identifies herself. As in, Hey Kids, it’s Mom…Cincy Mom…when she leaves a message for us, or “Love & Prayers! Betty/MOM/Cincy Mom!” when she signs off on an email. Or just “Cincy Mom!” when she signs holiday and birthday cards. A CINCY MOM Neighborhoodie seems like the perfect gift, and after settling on one as a gift for her, I suggested we get one for my mom too. We could have it say, THIS WOULD NEVER HAPPEN IN EUROPE, I suggested. Kent is very, very tempted. But afraid to be so bold. I am pretty sure my brother M. will think it is a fantastic idea, though.
The thing about my mom is that no matter how demanding she is, no matter how perfect she seems, no matter how tense she makes me, she is the first person I want to call when I encounter any problem, no matter the sort. We’re looking at apartments, hoping to buy something in the next six months, and I am completely unable to move forward on any decision without running it by my mother. Who lives 3000 miles away and has not seen ANY of the properties in question. The other day I noticed some strange [gross, I know this is gross, sorry] lumps in/on my neck, and my first impulse was to call my mom, who again LIVES 3000 MILES AWAY and has not seen any of the lumps in question. But she has that Mom Quality, that ability to take whatever messy, broken pile of nonsense I give her and hand me back a tidy little bundle of logic and order.
I have that not-very-interesting-in-its-common-theme thing of wanting desperately to be like her and at the same time resenting her for being who she is. I very rarely see myself in her (no, that’s backwards, isn’t it…I would see her in me, wouldn’t I?) but the times I do, it’s when I catch myself making my own, 'This would never happen in Europe' comments. My mother is a very understanding and open person, but she is damn hard to impress, and I catch myself being equally hard on people (and self, which is An Issue if ever there were one), and I’m not so sure it’s the best way to live. It makes for an exhausting existence, always wanting things to be Better.
What’s funny to me is that whenever I’m home in California my parents inevitably host a party of some sort, and friends of theirs will inevitably come up to me and say, Oh, you MUST be Kathleen’s daughter, you look JUST like her, I could have picked you out of a crowd ANYWHERE. And it’s funny to me because my mom and I may have similar mannerisms and expressions and issues with control and problems withholding judgment, but I don’t think we look that much alike. But just a few weekends ago, my sister-in-law (to be) was in town with her parents, and Kent and I met them for brunch. V.’s parents were outside the restaurant when we walked up, and her mother stopped me and said, You MUST be Molly, I would recognize you anywhere, you look JUST like you mother.
After brunch I was talking to Kent and laughing about that, because it happens frequently. But I don’t think I do look that much like my mom, do you? No, he said, I see your dad in you too, you ACT like your mom but I don’t think you look like her.
Then we visited our friends and their new baby, and took some pictures. And then I happened to flip through an album of mine, and found a picture of my mom. Uh, babe? I asked Kent. Maybe when people tell me I look just like my mom, this is what they mean:
The first picture is my mom, just after she turned 31, holding my brother J. The second one is me, at nearly 30 ½, holding my friend S’s baby boy.
Then I saw another picture of her, this time at Disneyland, probably when she is about 20. The second picture is me, at Disneyland, age 23.
The thing is, side by side, I don’t think we look alike. She has a tiny, bony body and tiny, bony head and wee little features. I am fleshy and have full cheeks and a longer face and dark hair (hers is beautiful and red red red), and my smile is my dad’s for sure. I have a different mouth, and no cheekbones, and my eyes are closer set, I think. We do have the same legs, though. Sadly, as there is a family tendency towards cankles, but Thou Shall Not Focus On The Negative.
But in the same way that every now and then I will look at my own handwriting and see hers, or clear my throat and make such a specific, precise Mom Sound, in some pictures, she and I are clearly mother and daughter. I like it.
What is terrifying; however, are pictures of Kent with his father and grandfather. Cincy Mom can have those two; I am running away with my husband to Europe.