My relationship with my mother has a long and complicated history. My father died of pancreatic cancer when I was nine. Up until that moment he had been my whole world and then suddenly I was left with this loving caretaker whom I barely knew. She had been busy, caring for all of us including my father before and after his illness. Their’s was a marriage born out of post-WWII convention: the man who worked and controlled everything, and the subservient homemaker. My mother had a career during the war in Army Intelligence and was assigned to the Pentagon, but after the war the only careers left to most women were teacher, nurse or secretary. Many times if a woman had a career, she could not have a husband and family, and was dubbed a spinster. My mother worked as a secretary for awhile and then became-you guessed it-a Real Housewife. Since this role was forced upon her by society, she rebelled against it. As a result she was many times angry and resentful. She felt trapped in a role that left her little time for any contribution outside the home. After my father was gone, she spread her wings again. She was dragged kicking and screaming back into the workplace by my brother. Her confidence had been beaten down after all those years, and she is an introvert. My brother encouraged her to run for local office, which she did, and won. She ended up being mayor of our village for 24 years. In 2004, she was selected as one of NE Ohio’s Outstanding Women.
At 88, my mother is a regular reader of my blog. Recently she commented how much she thought we were alike. I was stunned. What?! Us!? Alike!? We are not alike, I thought. I am like my father: adventurous, an animal lover, brash, at times reckless, impulsive and extravagant. My mother then added, “I wasn’t just a mother you know. If I were young, I would be participating in the Occupy Wall Street movement.” My mother camping out without a daily shower, wearing her make up and high heels-okay I doubt it. However, I can see her standing up and participating in the political process and I think she always had a romantic dream of making a difference in the peace corps. Her comment made me think further about our many similarities. How many of our similarities were due to nurture and how many were due to nature? Because whether we like it or not our parents have a profound influence upon our lives both genetically and behaviorally. We all reach the realization where we think, oh my, I am turning into my mother or father. No matter how much we vow not to repeat her same mistakes or personality traits, living 18 years with someone and having her genetic components has a powerful influence, whether we like it or not. I can look at my brother and see my mother. Sometimes it makes me cringe and other times it makes me smile.
Even though I wrote an award-winning essay in the early grades about my mother’s obsession with cleanliness, I have developed the same habit. Recently I beamed with pride when two different friends on two different days told me my home always looks like a page out of Architectural Digest whenever they drop by. Everything is kept neat and clean and I am sure our housekeepers love coming here as there is not much for them to do.
As a little girl I loved playing dress-up in my mother’s room. I can envision in great detail the designer black suede high heels, suits, dresses, pearls, lipstick and purses. My mom owned a purple Jantzen swimsuit, and when she put it on she looked like a glamourous pin up star from the 1940′s or 50′s. My mother wore high heels to the beach and sprayed on her Chanel No.5. However, I was proud of her. I longed to be just as glamorous and be admired for my fashionable style.
When I decided it was time for my husband to meet my mother I prepared him for the trip home. He was the first man in a long time that I deemed worthy enough to meet Her Royal Highness, as I refer to her. I told him about her compulsive neatness, her interest in politics and community service and likened her current existence to that of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations, living in a house collapsing into itself with the curtains drawn. It was always my father who enjoyed picking out furniture and decorating, my mother just enjoyed keeping it clean. But age has kept her from cleaning as compulsively as she once did and Mother would never be comfortable allowing strangers into her private sanctum to clean.
To say my husband and my mother hit it off is an understatement. They were able to connect easily and talk about a wide range of subjects. Even though they are both introverts, they found that they could easily chat and share stories. I believe their willingness to make an effort for my sake was an important contributing factor to the success of the meeting. They both like to quiety influence others, and are not bold and brash with their opinions as I am.
As I watched them interact, I was struck by their many similarities. As I mentioned both are introverts and have a degree of social anxiety. The verb “to change” does not exist in either of their worlds. They are both frugal and financially responsible. Both share a love of grammar and the English language. Both were influenced greatly by education and particular teachers. My husband is not close with any of his siblings and neither was my mother growing up. They both focus on practicing good posture and comment on it frequently. For both a recipe is gospel and not to be altered. Neither of them like dog hair, however they both tolerate it for my sake. Both are obsessed with weight and diet. Growing up I was very influenced by my mother’s obsession with being and staying thin and keeping me that way also. Now I am married to a man with the same goals. What I wouldn’t give some days to be able to eat unlimited junk food and sweets!
Did all those years with my mother predispose me to fall in love with and marry a man with many of the same qualities? I don’t know, but I do know that a girl could do a whole lot worse. The one quality that they both share, and without a doubt it is the one I love the most, is that they both love spoiling me rotten.
What qualities do you share with your parents? Is your partner like either parent?