Because I'm the Mom

How mothering pervades all relationships in life.

Mother, Daughter & Me: A Moment in Our 3-Generation Circus

Mother/Daughter living with her mother and daughter: Let the healing begin!

My mother, aka Bubbie (Yiddish for grandmother), was primping for a funeral.

As she got herself together she prattled on about her fashion choices, her hair doing just what she'd asked of it ('not like how Rula gets it to go, but close, no?'). Then, the finale, one final grand gesture of lip gloss application with an accompanying narrative...

My daughter, a highly-aware 7th grader, stage whispers: We're going to turn into her, right?

Me: Yup.

Bubbie leaves the house in a scented flourish. (For those wondering, she chose the wide-looped black and white chenille scarf she made during one of her many knitting jags.)

I turn to my daughter and say that while I may not have my mother's fashion or social chops to pass on to her, it's a Saturday morning and she and I are hanging out, really talking. That's gotta count for something. We really know each other, get each other. She's at this horrifying tween age and somehow, she and I manage to find each other, to connect deeply, every day. I know what's going on in her complex world. She knows that I know she lives in a complex world. She knows I value and honor her struggles. I know who she is, what she values, who the players are in her daily drama. And she knows I will call her out when she needs to be schooled. She knows me. If you asked her to tell you about her mom, she would give you a remarkably nuanced, realistic description of who I am, what I do, where I fail, what I want and what means most to me. The down side is she has never mythologized me.

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She knows I am a fully-fallible mere mortal. She's the kid who at 6, when she'd lost a tooth and my students asked her about the tooth fairy coming later that night, she shrugged: "Nah. My mom's always outta cash."

We're not friends. But our relationship and connection can't be confined within the Mother-Daughter paradigm.

Utterly unlike my relationship with my own Mother, which falls completely within those complicated confines. My mom was a two-dimensional character in my childhood play. My mom and I skirted the edges of connection, walked a tightrope of faulty images of who we were. I didn't know her when I was 12 and she didn't know me. I missed out on some important guidance and comfort. And so did she.

Now we're all living and growing up together, given this miraculous chance to do-over all of our childhoods, our parenthoods and remake our relationships. It's weird, man. Really weird. Sometimes my mom and I are acting like brats and my daughter will mother us all back to the ground. This morning my daughter flipped out because my mom and I got up in the middle of the night and nibbled away on her last piece of pizza. My daughter, sounding like our mother, said: "Please respect my property. I will place post-it notes on all food that is not to be disturbed. I wanted that pizza for my school lunch tomorrow."

Duly chastened, my mom and I snickered, to which my daughter rightfully replied: "That is not respectful, ladies. Not respectful at all."

Back to the original conversation, where I was trying to explain to my daughter how grateful I was to know her and to be known by her; I shared how lonely it got for me as a kid.

My daughter looked up at me, her dancing, chocolate eyes locked with my own, replied: You could have talked to the little egg of me that was inside you. I give pretty good advice sometimes. And, you know, you weren't alone even when you were.

What I wish I had said was: I want to grow up and be just like you. But all I could do was look back gratefully into her wise, loving eyes, eyes that look exactly like mine, but are all hers.

Pamela Cytrynbaum teaches at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

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