“My God, you’re just like your mother.”
I would be well-set for life, and still raking in nice dividends, if I had a buck for every time someone said that to me. And I’ve always taken that for the compliment it’s intended to be. My mom is one of the kindest, funniest, stubbornest, most frighteningly competent people you will ever meet. So, if I remind people of her so strongly that they exclaim whenever we’re in the same room, I can’t help but be flattered.
To be fair, she’s from a long line of them. My great-grandma moved west when she was eight months pregnant, and when she found that neither house nor job was as established as her deadbeat husband said, she carried my great-aunt Mary into a TENTH MONTH.
My grandma taught Red Cross first aid and swimming, and led inner-city Girl Scout troops for decades. When she came across a kid who’d been trapped with only his face visible in a sinkhole on the cliffs above Lake Michigan, she lay on the ground and gave him mouth-to-mouth until rescue crews arrived, saving his life. From them, my mom got her faith, her vision and drive to do what needs to be done, and her intolerance of bullshit.
So how am I like my mom? We tend to end up in charge of things. We’re both quick, intuitive learners, and we like teaching others what we know. That being said, we both tend to think it’s faster to just do something ourselves, so we’re terrible at delegating. We’re wizards at multitasking, and we’re crafty, so our hands are always busy. We’re unapologetic liberals. We love music, and we love singing, and we love to sing together, whether it’s to oldies on road trips, or duets in church on Christmas Eve. We’re both inclined to see the funny side of things, and we both get the giggles when we’re slappy-tired. We’re both very free and unashamed with our emotions, though I’m not quite as much a watering pot as she is. We both see typos everywhere, instantly and unignorably. We both see the best in everyone, but we’re incredibly unforgiving of ourselves. We’re both social chameleons, and we can adapt to fit into many (sometimes unlikely) groups and settings. We love to take care of other people, and blood ties are the least of our concern when it comes to family. We both snap into “terminator mode” when there’s a crisis, and woe betide anyone who gets in our paths.
And boy oh boy, do I look like her.
We never went through that awkward phase when teenage girls hate their moms. My mom was my best friend and accomplice well into adulthood. Distance and motherhood have undermined some of that closeness, but there’s a new honesty and respect that’s different than before.
I always imagined myself carrying on this amazing matriarchal tradition. When I found out I was having a second boy, I burst out into tears. The ultrasound tech quickly reassured me, “No no, he’s completely fine!” To which I replied, “I’m not worried. It’s just another goddamn boy.” I won’t be having any biological daughters; pregnancy is too rough on me, let alone sleep dep and potty training and all that again. And I’d be lying if I said that wasn’t still a disappointment. But the way I see it, boys are an endangered species, and I’ve been entrusted with two of the precious creatures to strong, smart, confident, non-asshole men.
But I see myself in my kids all the time. Sometimes, that’s awesome. I try so hard not to get irritated when I can’t get Connor’s attention out of a book long enough to answer a simple question, because I know it’s magical being that absorbed in a story. I love that Griffin watches Japanese monster movies with me, and wants to learn how to cook. They’re both born performers, and their imaginations are vast and complex, with galaxies of stories to occupy their every thought (and sometimes, like me, their sleeptalking).
And sometimes, that’s incredibly hard and heartbreaking. I wince when I catch myself yelling at them when insomnia strikes. Griffin can’t be anything but busybusybusy, and I wish we could both slow down and be still, and find joy in it. And if I could save Connor the pain of learning how to get organized, and not procrastinate, and not take every unkind comment like an arrow to the heart, I would.
Things grow differently in the shade than they do in unobstructed sun. And my mom casts a long shadow. As much like her as I am, I know I probably do too. Hopefully, I can be the kind of mom who gives her kids the shelter they need, and who gets out of the way when they’re ready to grow up.