So, within the last six months or so, I’ve been on a voyage of self-discovery. I didn’t really realize it. I certainly didn’t intend for it to happen. It wasn’t planned or thought out. It was just one of those very organic times of personal growth that happen–those times when all of the sudden you look back and think, “Dude. I’ve so totally changed.”
My change this time around seems to center around my mother. I adore my mother. I really do. There’s no caveat in that statement whatsoever. Her arms are one of my favorite places to be, and I lovelovelove when she plays with my hair, or lightly rubs my back the way I like.
But like most mothers, she had some pretty fixed ideas about what and who her daughter should be. And, like most daughters, I listened and dutifully swallowed her teachings. Examples of those teachings would be:
- Your bra and panties don’t need to match. Ever. Because if they DO match they’re only matching because you’re planning on showing them to someone, and unless you’re MARRIED what in the hell are you doing showing someone your matching bra and panties?
- Blondes must, must, must wear pastels at all times. They look best on them.
- Men like women who are a little bit needy. Strength frightens them, and so does intelligence (now, before you get all up in my face about my mother’s beliefs, please remember that her father was a mysogenist par excellence and TOLD her all these things).
- Women who play the cello are horrifyingly unladylike. She based this belief entirely on the way that one has to sit with a cello between one’s knees.
- You will have to have a C-section.
- You are just like me.
So you know: Mom’s sort of old fashioned. She’s also cool and fun–she’s got a fabulous career, makes amazing amounts of money, has established a mutual adoration society with my father that has lasted nearly 40 years (even if she IS fiercely independent, rarely needy, and smart as a whip).
At first, I used these “words of wisdom” from my mother as a joke. But as I got older, I realized how much of her words came directly from what her parents told her–and as I’ve shared some about my grandfather, you can probably guess that smart, opinionated women were a thing best crushed out of existence in his world. It didn’t work. But he tried. Damn, but he tried. And I also realized that much of her words passed down to me were true in her world.
But that doesn’t make them true in mine.
It’s been a slow evolution, realization, understanding. When I moved half-way across the country to attend seminary, one of the very first things I did was buy me some matching bra and panty sets. Flirty ones. With lace. Red ones. Purple ones. Black ones. Lime green ones. It was my grand rebellion against my mother. And, eventually, I did in fact show them to M, so ultimately: she wasn’t wrong. But she wasn’t right either. Now, I only buy nude colored bras and panties. They always match. They’re not terribly exciting. And I’d show M my bra and panties whether they matched or not.
I don’t wear pastels anymore. Most of them just wash me out and make me look tired and pale. I look better in jewel tones, tones with some richness–Mom looks fantastic in pastels. She’s inherited some of my old ones. But I don’t. I felt horribly guilty about for some reason, but I don’t anymore.
I spent a lot of time in my college years trying Mom’s Method of Landing a Man. It landed me nothing but heartache and a decade-long on-again off-again long distance relationship with a guy that wasn’t any better for me than I was for him, although I refused to see it. Somewhere along the line, I thought, “Fuck it. I am who I am. Loud, bossy, opinionated, bold, independent and daring. If I have to hide these things about me in order to get a guy I’d never be happy with him anyway.” And then, three days into seminary, I met M and the rest is history. Loud, bossy, opinionated, bold, independent and daring history. He adores the very things my mother told me to cover up about myself. And for that, I’ll love him forever.
When I was in fifth grade, the elementary strings teacher came to our classroom to try and recruit kids for strings. I fell head-over-heels in love with the cello. I loved the look of it, the sound of it, the weight of it, I loved how Ms. Chastain looked as she played it–when she started she was cradling the cello, but somehow through the course of the music, it cradled her. I hurried home after school and announced that I wanted to play the cello. The announcement was met with deafening silence, and then, “Absolutely not. It’s not ladylike to sit with your legs spread apart like that. You can play the violin or the viola.” And that’s how I came to play violin for the next five years. And I was good at it. I could have been great (according to my teachers), but I just didn’t care. I didn’t enjoy the violin. It didn’t get into my blood like the cello did. And I wonder what my life would have been like if my mother had looked into my 10-year-old eyes and said, “Absolutely. Let’s go rent you a cello.” I have a sneaking suspicion I’d still be playing it, unlike my violin that has been left untouched for about 15 years now, gathering dust in our storage unit.
And when I was pregnant, she went out of her way to explain to me what a C-section would be like. All three of her babies were C’s, and I’m just like her, so mine would be, too. And she had horrible long labors. So I went through my entire pregnancy, pretty well convinced that I would have a C-section, preceded by a labor from hell. In fact, I have one moment of clarity in my 45 minutes of pushing wherein I asked the doctor, “Are you SURE I don’t need to have a C-section?” and she said, “Beege, I can see your baby’s head. No, you won’t need to have a C-section.” And as far as horrible long labors go–well, it was five hours from pitocin drip to baby in my arms. It wasn’t fun, but it was far from horrible and ‘long’ is certainly not an adjective I’d use to describe it.
And mostly the thing I’m learning? I’m not just like her. I’m a lot like her. I look like her, I sound like her. I act a lot like her. But I’m also a lot like my dad. And I’m a lot like my aunt. And I’m a lot like myself–there are things I do and say and think that nobody has any claim on. It doesn’t lessen the bond any. It’s just the way we are. And I’ve lived so far away from her for so long now that I’ve had time to figure out who I am without her input or (and I mean this in the most loving way possible) interference.
All of this makes me wonder what I’ll tell Linnea as truth and she’ll learn is in fact truthful only to me. And what I’ll tell Linnea that will stand her in goodstead as she makes her way in the world.
During her last visit, she and I were doing dishes one night when she said, “You know, you’re a lot braver than I am. You don’t back down from a fight. You don’t let people tell you who you are or what you should be like. I really admire that.” And the funny thing was? I learned it from her.