On My Mother

My mother is not a feminine woman. She doesn’t worry about clothes, keeps her hair cut short, and the only make-up I’ve ever seen her wear is lipstick. When I was a child, I knew it was a special night when she added a touch of pink to her lips.

As a narcissistic teenager (a redundant phrase if there ever was one) I resented this. All I wanted to do was blend in with everyone else. I craved a mother who would teach me how to wax my legs and pluck my eyebrows and apply eyeliner.* My mother doesn’t even use conditioner herself, there was no way she was going to help me add highlights to my hair. We never went bra shopping. It was my father who went with me to find my high school graduation gown. I wanted a mother who would do all the things my friends’ mothers did. Motherly things. Girly things.

Things I had to teach myself.

Now that I am older than my mother was when she gave birth to me, I have a bit more wisdom to my credit. She may never admit it, but in many ways my mother is a feminist. Growing up, I received only a handful of compliments on how I looked. The focus was always on my brain or my performance. I was enrolled in sports, not dance, and all of my hand-me-downs were from my male cousins. I played with cars as much as I played with dolls. I was given a large amount of physical and emotional freedom and was encouraged to pursue science. My parents were always equals in everything. My father still does the majority of cooking and cleaning. Friendship has been a key component of their marriage’s success and I am so lucky to have such excellent role models in that regard.

My mother’s lack of concern for appearance and apparent disregard for gender roles should have been a revelation.  Instead I was angered by her unwillingness to follow the patriarchal path. I wanted my mother to want to be like everyone else. But she refused. I wish I had let this self-possession guide me as I made my own decisions and battled my own dragons.

My mother’s adolescence was much more difficult than mine, not that one would ever guess at the trauma she endured by speaking with her. It makes me proud. I hope that kind of resilience lies within me. Most women my age live in fear of turning into their mothers and, if I am being honest, I have worried about this as well. Every time I catch myself doing things the way my mother does them – a certain phrase or smile or gesture – I wince. I don’t want to be like her and yet, when I think about it, most of my best qualities are those I inherited from her.

I’ve always felt my personality more closely resembles that of my father. My constant worrying, my extreme dedication to my work, my shyness, and my private nature all come from him. As does my love of history and my enjoyment of classic Hollywood. I never felt like I had anything in common with my mother. She is too outgoing. She likes to craft and watch Ladyhawke over and over againRegardless of her odd taste in entertainment, my mother has made me more easygoing. I rarely take offence and I like to think I am at least as approachable. Her ability to brush things off and move on, I hope, lives in me too. As does her loyalty and her kindness.

This isn’t to say my mother is perfect or my father is a wreck. I am pleased to have acquired his sarcasm and his ability to make fun of himself. But I am finally gaining appreciation for a woman I used to begrudge. We had our battles, however, I now acknowledge my role in them and appreciate all she tried to impart.

My mother is a stronger woman than I used to believe. She is smart and warm and capable of standing up for herself. She was a feminist role model for a girl who’d desperately needed it. I wish I’d crawled out of my critical hole long enough to notice that before now. If I sometimes sound like her, I guess I could do a lot worse.

*Yes, I am still harping on this eyeliner thing. It is this gap in my knowledge I can’t ignore! Why can’t I do it without stabbing myself in the eye?

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15 Comments on On My Mother

  1. 24 Paws of Love
    February 7, 2014 at 12:33 am (6 months ago)

    I too cringe when I do something that my mother would do. My mother didn’t know how to be a mother. Yet I got my love for plants and animals from her. And they are what kept me alive through the years. I don’t know how to relate to people who have good parents. I didn’t even know it exist. But I understand the struggles. I hope you find the mother you are looking for.
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  2. Sue
    February 7, 2014 at 2:22 am (6 months ago)

    Sounds like your mum was ahead of her time. She must be very proud of you.

    I like that film:)
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  3. Lauranne
    February 7, 2014 at 3:45 am (6 months ago)

    I think growing up we always want what we don’t have. I am ashamed to admit as a child I used to hate going shopping with both my parents. Everyone else’s parents were divorcing and so I was one of the few people with a mum and dad.

    Know I am more grown up I love spending time with them an admire how they have made their relationship work – something so few people seem to be able to do nowadays! I sometimes wish I could go back and bitch slap some sense into my younger self!!
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  4. Rachael
    February 7, 2014 at 3:52 am (6 months ago)

    We were opposites as kids then. My mum was always very feminine. She’d get ready to go on a night out and ALWAYS wear a skirt, high heels, red lipstick and stockings, whereas all I wanted to do was wear trainers and head down the park. By the time I was nearing the end of high school I wanted to be more like her. As Lauranne said, we want the opposite of what we have! It’s only when you become a grown up you really appreciate what your parents did/do for you. Lovely post :)
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  5. Roxy the Traveling Dog
    February 7, 2014 at 7:00 am (6 months ago)

    As a teenager you never see what’s good about your mom, no matter who it is. Now that I have raises kids and gone through the same stuff, I can appreciate a bit more the person my Kom is. I still don’t want to turn into her though. Not too much anyway.

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  6. Amy@GoPetFriendly
    February 7, 2014 at 9:19 am (6 months ago)

    Winter is a great time for contemplation, isn’t it? I find myself, too, changing the way I’ve thought about my parents all these years. I assume it’s part of growing up – if I can still say that at my age – but the perspective we get as we reach the ages our parents were in our memories adds a whole new component to the game. It’s much easier now to understand them and I think that shift from child/parent to friends who love and respect each other is such a neat transition. Great post – and I’m really enjoying the latitude you’re giving yourself to blog about whatever is on your mind. Getting to know you better is wonderful!
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  7. Annie
    February 7, 2014 at 10:06 am (6 months ago)

    When I think about my Mom and about the battles that raged between Mother and daughter I must admit – I still think I was right. However, the older I get the more I realize how much I learned from my Mom – (I didn’t get the eyeliner lessons or waxing either). I learned loyalty – how to respect those that are different, how to stand up for myself, and to have confidence it what I do. I learned that what I think of myself is way more important than what others think of me. I stand up for my beliefs – and if you don’t like me for that – well, too bad for you.
    One of the greatest disappointments in my life is that I never got the chance to tell her how much she taught me – and how much I loved her for it. So, if you have the opportunity – tell your Mom how you feel – before the opportunity slips away.

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  8. Pup Fan
    February 7, 2014 at 1:24 pm (6 months ago)

    This was an interesting post – I can see a lot of myself here. I’ve often thought that it seems universal that teenage girls battle their moms and then often have that epiphany later that their moms were pretty darn cool after all.

    My mom was kind of similar to yours in some ways. She never wore makeup (I admit I still envy her amazing skin), would occasionally put on lipstick, and didn’t spend time imparting wisdom about plucking my eyebrows. (We did go clothes shopping together, but there was never a focus on the stereotypically feminine beyond what I selected myself. We were also a household about the brains rather than looks, and I’m forever thankful that it turned me into the person I am today.) Now that I’m more mature, comparisons to my mom are about the highest compliment I can think of. It’s interesting how maturity can change your perspective.

    I had a few cousins who were happy to step in on the hair & makeup part, although their lessons were pretty 80s and required some extensive unlearning later. ;)
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  9. Vicki Cook
    February 7, 2014 at 7:28 pm (6 months ago)

    I have always been very much like my mother. I was born the day after her birthday and I look just like her. That’s not something you necessarily want to hear when you’re an adolescent and struggling mightily for your independence. For years I managed to maintain anger and resentment toward her – long after I should have grown up and gotten over it. So what changed? Now I have a teenage daughter and I I understand why she made some of the decisions she did. I can own my part in our conflicts . I have come full circle.

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  10. houndstooth
    February 7, 2014 at 9:43 pm (6 months ago)

    You just have to play with eyeliner to get it right! ;)

    Oddly, I have a lot of the same feelings you expressed towards my dad. It would be hard to explain it all here in a blog comment, but we have had a complicated relationship. For a long time, I was very careful to be sure that I was nothing like him. Now that he has Parkinson’s and I can see him aging rapidly before my eyes, I have a new appreciation for some things.

    And I happen to love Ladyhawke! :P
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  11. chris
    February 8, 2014 at 3:32 am (6 months ago)

    It would be an honor to have a mom like that.

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  12. Callie, Shadow, and Ducky's Mom
    February 8, 2014 at 10:21 am (6 months ago)

    Ah, the irony of growing up! My Mom left this world just months before her 57th birthday (and a few after my 26th); and just as I did back then, I wish I could have “just one more day” with her to say all the things I never told her. I don’t cringe when I find myself saying or doing something she used to — I laugh at myself because I know if she were still on this Earth, she would be laughing and saying “I told you so.” Your post reminded me of my own relationships with my parents but in reverse. Mom and I were close, but Dad and I used to butt heads like a pair of rams. Mom taught me all the “girly things”, but wouldn’t let me wear makeup to school until I was a senior, and by then I didn’t want to.
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  13. melF
    February 9, 2014 at 6:36 pm (5 months ago)

    What a great piece. I loved your phrase about being a narcissistic teenager being redundant. So true. I look at my mom and remember being embarrassed by her at times. She was more girly than your mom, but she also was overweight and nagged a lot. She still nags, but I have such a better idea of who she is and how she came to be the way she was and how she overcame it.

    Mother-daughter relationships are so complicated, but I think one of the blessings of getting older is seeing them as people as well as moms. I know I appreciate my mom and her strength a whole lot more than I ever did as a child, teenager or early adult. You gave me a lot to think about. Thanks Kristine.
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    • Kristine
      February 10, 2014 at 3:26 pm (5 months ago)

      My mother and I did not have an easy relationship. I admit, I am at least half to blame for this as I am not always an easy person to understand. We fought, but then, don’t all mothers and daughters? We do get on much better now, as adults. I don’t know if I would call us friends as I will always view her as my mother. But I think the relationship we do have now works fine for us.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts.

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