It really is. Funny, that is. I think it’s hysterical in a macabre kind of way. All the things you rebel against and run away from turn out to be part of who you really are. And if you’re the rebel I once believed myself to be, then it’s parents and family. And if you’re really a grown-up you realize this isn’t a new development or part of maturing. The fact is you’ve always been like your Mom, but maybe it took you, like me, to see some of those familiar gestures and intonations to get it. It’s devastating, isn’t it?
Now, strangely, some women love their moms and find this thrilling. Okay, I’m joking and honestly, I don’t hate my mother (I’m sure she’s gasping in shock to hear me admit that), but I didn’t grow up wanting to be like her. (Now she’s nodding her head in satisfaction.) And, regardless of what she might have thought, I did learn from her.
Let’s take a moment so I can diffuse the situation. I grew up in the 70s. Some women were out fighting for their rights. Doors were opening and some women were leaping through them. My mom? Going through Julia Child and attending PTA meetings. (Okay, to be fair I went to a private school sans PTA, but you get the picture.)
I wanted Gloria Steinem and I got Samantha Stephens, without the magic. I’m not whining… anymore. But I am a very different woman with different expectations and understandings than my mother. Still this is true. So how is it I’m just like her? How did I become, of all things, a stay-at-home Mom?
I gave birth and couldn’t stand to leave that wiggling, puffy, lovely creature, my daughter. So I went to part-time. And that’s the beginning. I’ve only worked part-time for the last 13 years…just like my mom. (Okay to be accurate there were a couple years I worked more than that, but just a couple.)
But back to my mom. I thought I understood which ways I could do better, be more evolved. It was hard to relate and for a long time I was resentful. I’ve let it go and get to see my mother in a new light. And yet, I hear myself telling my daughter…”just wait, just wait till you’re my age and you’ll know” and I cringe. I literally feel my shoulders start to hunch as soon as I recognize that voice. There are so many more that I’m blushing right now.
To be fair, I wasn’t looking to escape everything my parents gave me. Not at all. My parents are both intelligent people trying hard and struggling, as we all do.
As I grow older I’ve seen myself making the exact same mistakes they did. I hear in my arguments with my husband an echo of their voices. I see the determination I have in my marriage and how I raise my family, in the exact shadow of theirs. I find that I am so loathe to be wrong and so afraid of being less than that I see their faces in my mirror.
My parents grew up with little. My father’s father died before my father was born and my mother’s mother by the time my mother was three. Let’s not talk Freud right now. Theirs were lives of wanting, of needing something. Something? I don’t think there was a name to it. They wanted better, yeah sure, but they wanted so desperately, so hungrily. They ran to each other in need, in love, but so lost and so desperate.
I felt that same needing and wanting in myself early in life. I didn’t know how to name it and it seemed like other kids escaped it. I didn’t know I was lost. But still, I found a great man, created a great life and it wasn’t enough. I hungered and desired and wanted and yearned.
For WHAT? I kicked myself, screamed, pulled my hair out asking myself FOR WHAT? What IS it???? Finally, in my 40th year I think I get it. I never wanted more than myself. I wanted to walk tall in my own skin, to feel enough. I didn’t know it, but that’s what I was searching for.
My parents didn’t know how to give that to me because they didn’t know what it was. It didn’t exist in their world. I have to remember and often remind myself that my father was born in 1935. Or? He lied about his age at some point. To work, I think. And now I don’t know the true year. And that in itself saddens me. I think, how can you know yourself if you don’t know what year you were born in? And if he didn’t know himself, how can I know him?
I was born in 1969. A fact of which I am VERY proud. I am still a 60s baby. I like that. I have satisfaction in it. It was a difficult time for our country, though. No less so for our burgeoning family. My father is black and my mother is white. They’ve been together since 1961. Yes, there are stories. Many of their stories are rooted in fear. Fear of being ridiculed, but more often fear of being hurt or killed for their love. And I picked up on that fear. I know it was warranted fear, but it was fear nonetheless. I wanted to think it didn’t matter. It did.
I don’t blame anyone. I don’t think my parents were cowardly. In fact, to hear the stories my parents were pretty fearless, but then again my mother was a blonde Swedish-American. Fearless is all she could have known is this turbulent US.
But now, in the beginning of my 40th year I have a better understanding of the yearning and the fear and the desire and the turbulence and I think, isn’t it funny? Isn’t it funny that I thought I was smarter, quicker, more adept, and just plain better. And yet here I am. I struggle like they did, I doubt, fear and love much like they did.
Isn’t it funny? Wherever you go, there you are. And that includes your family.