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 again. Regardless 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?