I have a wonderful mother. Carolyn Rosser is an amazing woman. Truly, I adore her more than any other woman in the world. She loves me more than I ever rightly deserve and has taught me most everything I know about loving others. The following essay is a tribute I wrote for her for Christmas last year. I also submitted it for an essay contest…some of you may recognize which one (no…I didn't win ;) But my primary reason wasn't to win a contest. It was to pay homage to my mama. I am publishing it here today in honor of Mother's Day. She will be terribly embarrassed that I did, but Mama, I do it in love. I am sure many other ladies out there will relate to these sentiments.
"On Becoming My Mother"
It happened one fateful morning just prior to my sister's wedding. Standing in my parent's kitchen discussing the events of the day, I shuddered with horror as my mother and I simultaneously opened our mouths and in a lilting unison uttered the exact same irritating phrase. I gasped inwardly. Here it was. After years of denial and carefully crafted repression, the inevitable had finally occurred. I had become my mother.
I suppose it happens to every woman at some inescapable juncture: the moment she realizes she is no longer a little girl, but the one grown up she said she'd never be….the one who raised her. When I was nine I wanted to be an archeologist when I grew up, or the star of a Broadway show. My goal was to be somebody interesting who did interesting things. My mother was the least interesting person I knew. Over the years I made noble efforts to spice up her life. As an adolescent I coached her in pursuing hobbies and personal interests which I deemed to be of appropriate intellectual and cultural value. I wanted her to be someone I could emulate. Someone more dreamily self absorbed and indulgent…like me.
But instead of crafting my mother into my own image, she'd been slowly infiltrating my personhood with each passing year. Like emerging symptoms of an incurable disease, I tried to cope with the signs of my fate, hoping to defer the inevitable and praying for escape. As I stealthily trailed behind the inhabitants of my home, turning off lights and scooping wet towels off the floor, I consoled myself that these were signs of household responsibility, not just breeding.
When I declined to turn the heat up in December and compulsively cut coupons from the Sunday paper, I reminded myself that many women embody such thrift. Admittedly it always took a large sum of will power to keep from blurting out the tell-tale phrase, "Waste not. Want not."
There were more conspicuous signs as well, like my intense fear of water fowl and refusal to shower during a thunderstorm. I began being the bearer of lame jokes and embarrassing puns. I was known to state the obvious and become ridiculously excited over things like wisteria.
My mother's influence extended well beyond the trifle. She owned me on ethical levels as well. Her goody-two-shoes, by-the-book approach to everything had her reporting income from family yard sales on our taxes. When my husband suggested doing something slightly less than code with cash income he'd earned, I tried to act nonchalant. Inwardly I was hyperventilating.
My mother has always been a soldier about her convictions. She sticks to them the way she does her taxes. By the time I was three I knew I'd be breastfeeding my children. Not because nurses were wearing buttons saying "Breast is Best," but because my mother had made it clear that there were no other options. Thanks to her, my daughter has never used a pacifier either. I avoided placing one on my registry for fear of the "the look" I knew it would garner. Even though I am sensible enough to know that my mother is merely emotionally caught up in long established extremities, I find myself legitimately entangled as well. It wasn't only her guilt trip preventing me from embracing that paci; it was mine as well. Irrational and unexplainable, she had weaseled her way inside of me. Her beliefs, anxieties and compulsions were now also my own.
As I sat stewing, meditating on all the peculiar and neurotic characteristics my mother had marred me with; I tried to turn my mind to her better qualities. After all, I do love my mom. She is lovable for many reasons. Surely being her replica wasn't the worst of fates.
Although my mother can lecture about her idyllic convictions, she is never one to condemn. Love and compassion always triumph over her "rules." No matter how harrowing the internal battle, she always leans toward charity. So in the winter of 1980 when a drunk driver plowed through the median of Alabama's Highway 280, striking their car and instantly killing my mother's young husband, she chose not to condemn. As she sat bruised and heartbroken in her bed at Brookwood Hospital, my grandmother told me that my widowed mother extended her thin hand toward the open door to welcome her husband's murderer in for forgiveness and hope.
My mother has endured disappointment in her life. Children who defied her. People who neglected her. She says she yelled at us a lot when we were kids, but I don't remember. What I remember is my mother's empathetic tears when I came home from kindergarten, ashamed that I had wet my pants. I remember the handwritten notes on the napkins in my lunchbox. During a fit of creativity in high school my mother allowed me to paint the trim on my white bedroom furniture bright pink. She never laughed at my short stories, no matter how melodramatic. And when I stayed up crying till 3am in existential crisis, my mother held me silently in her arms. Never judging. Always patient. She gave herself for others. She gave herself for me. All she asked was that I not leave my wet towel on the floor.
What I ignorantly observed with childish eyes as weakness was secretly my mother's strength. Through her faithfulness and quiet devotion she caused others to shine. This spirit made her radiant. Now that I am no longer that idealistic girl sitting in the back seat, passively absorbing the life of the woman up front, I can either complain about the bizarre traits I'd gladly do without or I can choose to appreciate the many beautiful features she crafted in me.
I still roll my eyes at my mother's corny jokes and daily stresses, but now I pause before I do. It is convicting to know that as I chuckle because middle age has made her easily frazzled, frail and slightly more eccentric, I am actually gazing down a tunnel into my own future. It is spooky, and it is sobering. My mother, however, would tell me not to worry. That while we are all traveling roads that have been cleared by others, we each find our own way of walking down them. For all her indoctrination (both good and ill) my mother and I can often be two very different women. She exudes a bizarre affection for bookkeeping. I am lucky to balance my checkbook once a year. She cooks meat and three for dinner. I serve homemade pesto. None of us is doomed to be a robot. No one is made to be another's clone. Besides, she'd say proudly, You're a much greater woman than me. I am pleased that she thinks so, but I know deep down that she is still my better in all the essentials.
Watching my daughter toddle around our living room, I am keenly aware of my influence upon her impressionable life. It makes me feel powerful. It makes me scared. It is humbling to realize that without her even being aware of it she is already mimicking my mannerisms and learning my traits. The way she will (or won't) make her bed, fold a towel, and treat others will be highly impacted by me…her mother. Soon the little girl in diapers will be a grown woman too, realizing how I've cursed her, realizing how I've blessed her. Will she be happy with the lines I've drawn in her life? I can only hope.
The more I age, the more aware I am of my mother's influence upon my behavior, belief and very selfhood. But the less I seem to care. I think I realized I had grown up when I had the maturity to accept the grown up I had become. I am still early in my journey of adulthood, with much maturity and wisdom to accrue. But I can now say confidently, with no grimace on my face, that when I am done with my growing up, I won't mind if I have become my mother.