Sunday, April 5, 2009

Becoming Your Mother

I now see it's inevitable.

At some point into motherhood, at some moments, every woman becomes her mother.

It happened to me this morning when I had to lay down the law to my four-year-old daughter. We had driven to ballet school and were getting changed for Sunday morning ballet class in the changing room there -- a weekly class she elected to attend, mind you, I don't force her and it wasn't my idea -- when she put on her ballet shoes and then firmly declared of one of them, "This one bothers me."

Off it came. Much readjusting of the shoe was attempted, to no avail. It's not that it's too small; it wasn't pinching at the toes. My daughter just didn't like the way it felt around the ball of her foot today. I offered trying it on the other foot. We did. No dice. I suggested taking her socks off. That was met with refusal. I offered to buy her a new pair at the store at some later time, when it would be open (it wasn't this morning and besides, even if it had been, class was starting). All I got was wailing.

She was informed of the rules: no shoes, no class. She was informed that if she did not put on her shoes and go to class, she would NOT be allowed to play at her favorite park, known as the Duck Park (because ducks live there) afterward, but would be made to just go home. The new shoe offer was repeated; the no class, no Duck Park admonition was repeated; when it was pointed out that class was by now half over, due to her having missed so much of it having a fit, she still refused to put the shoes back on and go into class.

Hollering and screaming went on for about 15 minutes. Finally, she got it that I was for damn sure serious about just going home. So in near silence -- except for me grousing to her about how much ballet shoes and the tutu and the class had already cost us -- we came home.

Now, she's alone drawing and cutting up paper, as is her wont, in the playroom. She knows her brother got to go out with daddy to the car museum, and get a treat at Starbucks (he's nuts for those Madeleine cookies). She knows she may not even get to attend a classmate's birthday party this afternoon. Yet she has not emerged to say a word to me.

We have both retreated to our corners.

I recall moments such as these between me and my mother. I don't remember much what they were about, except one unforgettable time when I refused to go to bed, and she stuck me and my blanket out in the corridors of our NYC apartment building. Oh, and there was that time I refused to come out of the bathtub and had locked myself in: I think she had to get the building superintendent involved in that caper. What I remember most was this icky feeling. After the adrenaline of all that drama came the sour stomach, a case of the grumpies that would not go away for what seemed like the whole day (or until I fell asleep if the fit happened at night). I never much thought about what it felt like for her. Kids are narcissists for much of their childhoods, and don't have much conscious empathy for their parents.

But now that I have become my mother -- She Who Will Not Be Messed With, Or There WILL Be Consequences -- I know what it feels like. It feels just as bad as it did for me as a kid, only with more awareness: a sense of irony that turning into your own mother is inevitable no matter how you might fight it, and a sense of having won a battle but lost a war in a power struggle I never wanted to be in to begin with.

Later I suspect there will be hugs and forgiveness on both our parts. In the meantime, we lick our wounds in separate rooms, and I have gained some empathy for my mom 40 years too late. I wish I could tell her I'm sorry for being such a royal pain, because I'm sure I was, but she is no longer around to tell. I blame my genes or my parenting for my daughter visiting upon me the same behavior with which I plagued my own mom. But I also know that this is something four-year-old girls are apt to do: test the limits of their power, and of yours.

I shrug in philosophic acceptance of the cosmic justice, and know the part of mom that lives in me is laughing in recognition at my plight. Once again, I'm reminded of her oft-repeated remark to me at such moments in our relationship, a wished-for prophecy said with what can only be described as a Brooklyn/Jewish inflection: "You should have THREE just like you."

I think sometimes my daughter IS the equivalent of three, at least when it comes to willfulness.

Thank goodness she is cute. One of my grade school friends who has two daughters wrote on Facebook something in jest to the affect of, "I think they're made that cute so we resist the temptation to throw them out the window." Though I've never gone that far even in jest, I remain stunned at just how exasperated a small being of only about 35 pounds can make me.

I hear stirring and am going to check on her. Wish us a speedy reconciliation, and a lesson learned on her part -- that there ARE limits, that she CAN'T always get what she wants -- and on mine: that we are our mothers, and one day, my daughter will become me, when she's dealing with hers.

1 comment:

William V. Madison said...

"All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That is his." -- Oscar Wilde