Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mother-Daughter relationships - paying forward the embarrassment

My mother can flip her eyelids back.  I’m not bragging when I state this, it’s just an unfortunate fact.  Of course, I’m sure she rarely does it now since she doesn’t have the audience she once had for her tricks.  Namely, my friends in grade and high school.

Generally, moms want what is best for their children so it blindsides children when their mom goes out of her way to embarrass her kids.  It’s a talent mom’s seem to develop around the time their first child reaches middle school.  It happens whether the gratuitous words of ‘adoptive’, ‘step’, ‘foster’, ‘grand’, etc. precedes ‘mom.’  Whoever the woman was who raised you, surely took the class titled ‘How to embarrass my child’.  If you ask my children, they’ll suggest I took that class more than once.

Here’s the thing, I am only trying to outdo what my mom did to me.  She performed headstands on the grass while my friends and I practiced cheerleading, checked the mail barefoot in the snow in winter (that was before I understood the term ‘hot flash’) walking down our long, cold, driveway.  Then there the endless bake sales we’d have at my Catholic grade school (back when you could bring home-made food to school) where I discovered not every mom ‘sampled’ their pan of bars before sending them to school with their child.  Oh, if I could have just fit under by desk!

Nothing fazed mom.  When I’d plead my case of horror/embarrassment/humiliation over her impact on my social status, she’d just smile and say something witty.  She found humor in everything and pasted our fridge with Erma Bombeck newspaper clippings.  Mom didn’t care what she looked like but she did care about what was going on in our lives.  As a teenager, I’d have called her a busybody, always asking what my friends and I were doing.  Now, in retrospect, I’d have to call it caring.  The way she’d sit at the kitchen table at night when my older brother and I would get in late from high school events, hypnotizing us with her great homemade chocolate chip cookies and extracting information about our night from us as we devoured the cookies, not realizing we were smoothly being interrogated.

I was sure my mom had plenty of flaws, apparently my friends didn’t.  They thought she was funny.  Even my boyfriends liked her.  I was positive they were just being polite.  I wanted my mom to be invisible.

That is, until I needed someone.  The few times in my life where I honestly felt like my world was crumbling, who do you think I called?  My mom. Even if I knew she had no fix for my problem, just knowing she’d always be there for me, to share in my pain, which is a lot harder to do than sharing the joy, was comforting.

The day I turned eighteen, I moved out and was sure I’d walked away from any impact my parents had made on me.  Then I became a mom a few years later.  I was positive I hadn’t inherited anything from my mom, yet I found myself uttering the same phrases to my kids, the same threats, reassurances, and rules I was raised with, and the same tendency to embarrass my kids that I swore I’d never do!

I may not flip my eyelids and I have never been able to hold a headstand.  Instead, I tend to break out some embarrassing dance moves.  And I love to dress up in character.  Knowing my actions mortify my children, I just can’t seem to help myself. 

The cycle has continued.  My daughters, who had their own odd tendencies as children, are the same ones who were (and still are) horrified by my antics, swearing up and down that they will never embarrass their children.  Hah!  My oldest, Jamie, who is soon to deliver her first child, used to cram her feet into cabbage patch shoes when she was a toddler, and as a pre-teen, decided to tape one of her eyes shut and call herself ‘eye-patch Patty’.  Then there’s the day she shaved her forearms. Don’t ask me why.  When my daughter Heidi was in grade school, she’d cut and pin material together, dressing in bizarre ways, even by my standards.  And then there was her wig fetish and the Elvis sideburns she made and wore.

I can see my vindication on the horizon and I’m hoping my mom (who started it all) will be by my side.  I envision my mom and me at Jamie’s house when her kids are teens and she is walking around the house with her feet crammed in cabbage patch shoes and tape over one eye while their friends look on.  And, if things go right, a similar scene will play out at Heidi’s home as my mom and I help her create outlandish outfits to wear in front of her mortified children and their friends. Then I will know that I’ve done my job right as a mom and passed the torch of humor and humiliation!

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