April 2018

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Mom's birthday

"Your mom is so beautiful." Friends, teachers, and strangers often said this to me when I was growing up. The other thing that people often said to me was, "You look like your father." No one said Dad was beautiful. Though no one else put these thoughts about my parents together for me, and though I'm no mathematician, I can use the transitive property as well as the next geek. For those of you less advanced in mathematics, I can put two and two together: I heard these people say, "You don't look so much like your beautiful mom."
Mom and I are not alike in other ways, too. I can look right at something that I am looking for--maybe my keys or an earring--and not see it. Mom can go into a room to look for something I've lost and say, "I feel it's here somewhere." She'll pick up a sweater and a shoe and presto: my keys. She's psychic. Unlike Mom, I love to travel, to visit new places with new people. The more different a place is than places I already know, the more I like it. My mom, on the other hand, likes to stay home, or if she's travelling she wants to go home. (My dad calls her E.T.)

There are lots more differences: Mom's either been going on or off a diet for as long as I've known her; and I assiduously avoid knowing the calories in anything. Mom rolls her hair in curlers and sits under one of those old school hair dryers that look something like a moon suit, and I leave the house with wet hair every morning; Mom has the soprano voice of a songbird, but I sound more like a jay bird when I sing.

I have always wanted to be more like my mother, and in some ways I've succeeded. Mom's nickname is Sweets, a nickname that she doesn't like because she thinks it's insincere. Really, though, she has a sweet disposition. People say I'm sweet, too. Ann calls me "Sweet Mary." This compliment from Ann and others mystifies me, but perhaps there's something to it. I like the idea that Mom and I are both sweet: not saccharine and not sugary--just sweet.

Like Mom, I fight gender roles and stereotypes even while I live with them--and sometimes I take advantage of them. We were both raised in the Southern belle tradition, and we learned our role well. If I need something heavy moved, for example, I become an instant damsel in distress, and a big strong man moves it for me. I'm not consciously manipulative; the role just comes to me naturally in the way that your adrenaline might surge when a tiger runs at you. I think people want to lift heavy things for Mom just to see her smile.

Like Mom, I like to think of myself as assertive, not aggressive. Mom took an assertiveness training class back in the days when she and Dad were more newly wed. (Dad says his life changed on the day she signed up for that class). I got my assertiveness training growing up.  I have needed no course. I have my sister to teach me.

Mom has influenced me, and perhaps I have influenced her, too. She was just 23 when I was born, so she learned to become a mom just as I learned to be a me. Like Mom, I am getting older, but she is even older than I am. Today, she is especially old. Tomorrow is her birthday, and even in our advancing age, I watch her and strive to emulate such grace.

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