my mother, my self

You think you won'’t ever become your mom. Just wait.


I get it now. Why my mother was up sewing an Indian princess costume at midnight instead of falling asleep with the latest bestseller. Why she took off work to help chaperone 30 boisterous second-graders on a trip to the Bronx Zoo and claimed to have had fun even though two of the kids threw up in her lap. Why she scoured rummage sales on a Saturday afternoon in search of 25 matching pins on which to attach ribbons declaring “Rizzo for Fourth Grade President.” Why she schlepped out in the middle of the night in search of aspirin, Schweppes and saltine crackers when a flu bug abruptly woke me. I get it now, how my mother could hurt because I hurt, worry because I worried and be happy just because I was.

Luckily, it only took me 30 years.

But of course, I haven’t become my mother, because I take better care of myself. All my brisk walking, organic foods, watching my weight—yeah, I’m sure not my mother. She never owned a pair of jeans, let alone sneakers, hardly ever wore black (I’m hardly ever out of black). She swore aloud at lousy drivers in breathtaking color (I swear under my breath). She didn’t like foreign movies, loved Kojak, favored polyester over cotton and never read a child-rearing book or magazine.

My son wakes at 4 a.m. (after my daughter’s 1 a.m. waking) and calls for me. I drag myself, cold and groggy, to his doorway.

“Yes, honey?”

“Mom, you forgot to tell me what to think about so I’d have good dreams.”

I climb into bed beside him. We lie awake, staring at the ceiling in the dark, then I say, “Have I told you how terrific I think you are?” My mother’s words, out of my mouth.

“Yeah, like a thousand ninety fourteen ten times,” he says.

“Now close your eyes,” I say.

“Mom,” my son starts at 6 a.m., “you’ve got two choices. You can let me watch TV or you can buy me a new video.”

“Yeah, I’ll give you two choices. How about early bedtime and a bowl full of rocks for dinner.” Never imagined I’d be channeling my mother. Never imagined, at the time of her death 17 years ago, I’d ever want to hold (let alone have) a baby, as the only ticking clock was the one that woke me at noon for class, the gym or my waitressing gig.

So it happens now that sometimes I am my mother and my son is me and events in time do indeed run parallel, and in those moments I have no idea what year it is. I recognize in me the best and worst of my mother. Though as bold as I try to be, I will never wear her fire-engine-red shade of lipstick or match a hat, heels and suit in shocking pink.

But never say never.