Becoming your mother is often unavoidable. But is it always a bad thing?
Something terrible happened this year right before my 38th birthday: I became my mother.
I was just standing in my kitchen cutting up a cantaloupe. Isn’t this something women face in their 50’s? Or after they have their own kids? I swore this day would never come. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been fighting to have a very different life than my mom’s. But now I see that I’ve failed miserably.
At the age of 7, I sat on the living room floor in front of the TV mesmerized by the Miss America pageant. As the crowned queen walked down the runway waving, her gown sparkled, her glossy red lips and white teeth sparkled. As she soaked up the spotlight, the whole world watched enviously.
Suddenly, I noticed my mother in her navy blue house robe hunched over dusting in a dark corner. She had just finished making dinner and then soaked her tired feet, which ached from standing all day teaching third grade. Right then, I denounced domesticity and set out in search of glamour and glitz.
When I shared my plan with mom, by telling her that I too would be Miss America, she approved. She dreamed of someone buying her a house with a swimming pool in San Marino, the suburb right next to ours, the Beverly Hills of our part of town, which was really a world away.
Now, I’ll admit that there’s a lot about my life that already resembles hers. Although I modeled for a decade, I never achieved the supermodel status I was going for. So I have to work for a paycheck, and many nights I ice my swollen fingers, tired from too much typing. I do have a swimming pool, but I share it with the other 80 units in my townhome complex. I, too, live in the suburbs, and I’m not talking San Marino. Then there’s the fact that I’m a wife now. After five years of dating Bear, I married him. But how could I resist? He’s the kindest, most honest, and furriest person I’ve ever met. Yeah, furriest. Why do you think we call him Bear? He’s a simple guy with a huge heart, just like my dad.
Now, listen, I may be a wife, but I am not a domestic triumph, OK? Bear does most of the cooking, I handle the “re-heating.” He’s banned me from doing the grocery shopping because, on more than one occasion, I went in for bread and butter and came out having spent over a hundred dollars on “essentials” such as garlic-infused olive oil and imported ham from Spain. The only chore I have is cutting up a cantaloupe for his lunch. Well, aside from washing the dishes and putting them away—and even with a dishwasher, I still find it tortuous. But cutting the cantaloupe is a task that I’ve come to enjoy. And therein lies the tipping point.
My mom thoroughly enjoyed motherhood and it showed. Every fall we’d go to the fabric store to pick out the pattern and material for my Halloween costume. Nothing topped first grade when she sewed me a dress just like my favorite doll, Strawberry Shortcake. It even had a white pinafore with those three green diamonds at the bottom and that poufy hat covered with strawberries. It fit me perfectly. Before trick-or-treating, we always carved jack-o-laterns together in the backyard. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I found out she couldn’t stand carving pumpkins with their slimy seeds over the place, but she never let it show, determined to give me the childhood that she never got. And that’s just Halloween. Imagine birthdays and Christmas.
Still, even as her daughter, and even as a kid, I felt a sense of loss for her, like her time would have been better spent doing something more significant, for someone more important than me. But that’s not how Mom felt. She recently told me that the best time in her life was when my brother and I were small and she was busy mother-henning.
So there I stood in the kitchen cutting up a cantaloupe for Bear. And it occurred to me that chores are just chores. They have to be done, so you do them, and some you might even like. The thought alone is bad enough, right? But then it got worse, much worse.
Then I wrote him a love note, just like the ones Mom used to write me and put in my lunches. “Dear Bear, I love you! I hope you’re having a great day and I can’t wait to see you tonight. Love, Me.” And I actually felt excited and pleased with my life right there in that suburban townhome.
Suddenly I could see myself mothering my own child as creatively and compassionately as I was mothered. I don’t know if I will, I’m not sure I want to, but whether I can or not is no longer a valid question. The real question, even scarier and more exciting is: Can I keep my heart wide open—as wide open as my mom’s?
Stephanie Abraham is a writer based in a suburb of Los Angeles and a new mom to a five-month old puppy. She was part of the collective that started make/shift and she blogs at Feminist in the Suburbs. Find her at stephanieabraham.com and on Twitter.