Did you ever look at a close relative and ask yourself that hideous question “Am I like that?” No other question is so hard to answer, I think.
My mother was born 100 years ago today, and was a child of her time, as are we all. That time was one of clear-cut roles and expectations for women, and it crumbled around her during her life. She was, I think, stymied by the changes but willing to challenge her own perceptions. In a grudging sort of way. She stubbornly argued she was NOT stubborn. She was finicky and explosive and opinionated. She believed that anything worth doing was worth doing her way.
She ironed everything but rugs. And I’m not sure about the rugs. She believed in propriety and process, hard work and common sense. She inevitably bungled a punch line. She endured her own mother, although at great cost, believing it to be the moral way. Immersed in an immigrant Catholicism, she preferred Protestant humanness to Catholic etherealness. She wanted to sing “He walks with me,” not “Panis Angelicus.”
If I could fit her into a blog post, she wouldn’t be my mother.
So I salute my mom today and ask the answerless question: Am I like that?
Can you look at a pansy and not be smitten by the pretty face before you? There is no “just” about it; it is mesmerizing in its velvety contour and coquettish symmetry. And what about that radiant depth of purple and magenta? Westminster never saw the like.
Unbidden, a Mom memory pops up as I contemplate prettiness: my mother told me I was not a pretty baby. Really now. Aren’t mothers supposed to deal in superlatives? As in My baby is theprettiest/cutest/smartest? She said I was a sweet baby. Sweet? Sweet never set anyone on a path to fame and fortune! Who wants to be sweet?
I had long been aware that my mother was disappointed in my looks. She SO wanted a Ginger Rogers, but she got me. I had no idea — until advanced adulthood — that she hadn’t even thought I was a pretty baby.
Life has introduced me to many other women who tell similar stories: their mothers were disappointed in them and made it known. What’s up with that? Why the heaping tablespoon of daily criticism?
I have read that in some traditions mothers call their daughters horrible things in order to keep the devil away. Mom’s mom never had a kind word to say to or about her — was she protecting Mom from the devil? Do I wear the amulet of generations of harsh words? If so, its power will protect my female descendants into perpetuity.
A mother’s approval is not a jinx. The pansies and I say so.