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My Mother’s Child MAG
I stepped through the automatic doors of the pharmacy onto the sidewalk of the shopping center. Keys in one hand, bag in the other, I started toward my car that sparkled from across the parking lot. The fall air encompassed me, that revitalizing brittle surge of the season that smacked of pumpkin patches, apple pies and reddening leaves. Proof of the world moving, proof of time passing.
I stepped off the sidewalk, careful not to turn my ankle. It was one of those days where I had been required to wear high heels instead of my favorite stained sneakers. Spending the day on my toes with my hips inverted wasn’t something I considered a delight and on the rare occasion that I tossed on a pair of black heels for the sake of a debate or school presentation, I had to focus on walking.
The parking lot was almost empty, too early for grocery shopping, too late for lunch. Hair tossed back, body encased in blazer, I walked toward my car.
Click, click, click. The sound of my heels seemed to ricochet off the brick buildings and echo though the expanse. Click, click. They tapped out a steady rhythm as I walked. Click, click. An image at the edge of my brain seemed to flicker into view and then dart off. It mingled between my conscious and unconscious, playing hide and seek with my mind. Click, click. The echo of the heels developed, their pattern compulsive and their sound sharp. Click, click, click. I fought with my brain to receive the image. I willed it into existence, honing in on the sound for help. Click, click. Two more steps and the image became clear.
I was my mother. Leather briefcase. Long wool jacket over a silk blouse, fending off the breeze. Hemmed maroon pants. A pair of black pumps clicking across the ground. Click, click, click. Sharp and pulsating. Rhythmic and smooth.
There are only slight variations that separate me from my mother, an ironic blend of choices and circumstance that, other than obvious physical changes, are almost invisible to one unfamiliar with our behaviors. Of course, it helps that she’s 40 and I’m 17. It helps that she’s a practicing lawyer while I’m battling high school. And it helps that she’s raised and managed a family while I have trouble keeping my room clean.
But these differences are simple deviations as a result of time. Twenty-five years of alterations aside, we’re nearly identical. Same dark hair, curly and wild with energy. Same brown eyes, blisteringly plain on a narrow face. Same wide shoulders on a small body. We both walk tall and speak clearly. Our talents are the same: writing, speaking, arguing, listening, and best of all, giving advice. We’re nasty when tired and quiet when frustrated. We’re entranced by democracy and inspired by justice, living on truth and searching for validity. Same sharp eyes, heavy cheeks, quick mouth. I am my mother’s child, and there is no way to refute that regardless of how many times I’ve tried.
Since I was a baby I have been told, “You look just like your mother” which mutated to, “You are just like your mother.” And that was something I took pride in. My mother is a beautiful and brilliant woman, with an education worth a lifetime and wisdom past her years. She always has the right answer, and regardless of whether I want to hear it or not, the right perspective. And it’s not that she simply thinks she’s right, she is right. Always. She treasures “Desiderata” as her bible and fantasy novels as her getaway. She’s up early, reads all night, and is perfectly content being alone. My mother is a beautiful and brilliant woman, and I am just like my mother.
And yet as much as I respect and treasure my mother’s intellect and perseverance, and wish it for myself, I hold an awkward and at times bitter perspective of her. It is a complicated blend of love and warmth mixed with concealed stress and permanent worry lines. It’s the constant dark circles under her eyes covered by a thin layer of make-up and her frail hands that constantly dig through the garden. It’s my mother: up early on a Sunday, already at work, home far too late on a Friday night. It’s her lying on a couch looking beat and warding off conversation. She is constantly overwhelmed, and yet at the same time, under control. She is a walking oxymoron. So am I.
And from there sparks the problem. For so long I saw my mother as a beautiful, talented, hard-working angel whom I looked forward to becoming. I wished to fulfill the prophecy from before I could fully comprehend its ramifications: You are just like your mother. I wished to complete my talents and in turn relive my mother’s. I wished to fulfill my dreams and thus fulfill my mother’s. And then I hit an age when I didn’t want to be her. But whereas for most it takes the ragged appearance of simple teenage revolt, mine came at age eight. As much as I respected my mother, and loved her, and bragged about her (as I still do), I didn’t want to be her. I wanted to blaze my own path, and in turn differentiate myself from her journey through life. The problem was my dreams and first-choice occupation would always be hers. But because she had claimed them, I refused, on that basis alone, to follow them.
It was a silent rebellion. There was no blow up that led to tears and bruises. No, no, my mother is far too sophisticated for that. My rebellion consisted simply of deciding I didn’t want to be a lawyer anymore. Instead, I wanted to be an architect. Or a mathematician, something so far out in left field from anything that I was good at that even I laughed at the possibility. But it was different from my mother.
My rebellion always took the form of my future profession. I inwardly scoffed, kicked the dirt in front of me, and mused: William and Mary? Ha, I can do better. Biology major? Ha, I can do better. Law school? No problem, I’ll just get my doctorate. How about heading the county’s bar association, winning an award for professionalism, and single-handedly running a nonprofit funding scholarships for kids in foster care? Ahhhh, maybe I can’t do better. She hit all the extremes, extremes that would be my passion and hold my undying loyalty had my mother not already dominated them.
Yet time had its effect on me. I’m the queen of reality, acknowledging fantasy as simply a dream and embracing the reality of a situation ... just like my mother. So over time, I changed back. I did it slowly, and with as little acknowledgment of its happening as possible. I moved away from math and decided I wanted to study rhetoric, which shifted into government, which eventually returned to law. But I would be different, I would be a JAG lawyer. Fine, fine, the distinction was still evident. I would go to Duke and live somewhere other than Virginia in a place wholly my own ... And then I applied early admission to William and Mary. Shocking, isn’t it? William and Mary, which has no ROTC program, but does have my mother’s name in the hall of fame. And in the books of its law school. And in the hearts of its professors.
And so I found myself walking across the parking lot listening to the clicking of my shoes, sounding distinctly through a vacuum of silence. It was a small yet symbolic representation of my mother’s coming, and my coming of age. In the crisp afternoon air of autumn I was stuck, literally, in my mother’s shoes. Walking across the parking lot, I transformed into her, taking on the final accents of the masterpiece. It was the last step in the direction of assuming my role as my mother’s child, and instead of resisting it, I took pride in it like when I was young.
“I’m gonna be just like my mommy,” I said, complementing their “You are just like your mother.” Pride turned into rebellion, turned into denial, escalating to decisions, compounding to truth, and now burning acceptance. I am my mother’s child and there’s no refuting the allegation.
I unlocked my car and threw my bag into the passenger side. Then I tore off my blazer, kicked off the shoes and reached for a pair of flip flops stashed under the seat. I might accept the allegations, but I was going to resist the transition as long as possible.