She will ask me to be home a half hour before our scheduled mother-daughter bonding time. I’ll arrive an hour early to find her still fast asleep. I’ll wake her 45 minutes before scheduled departure, and she’ll spend 40 of them playing games on her computer, still in her pajamas. I’ll come downstairs at the designated time, ready to go. She still won’t have fed or dressed herself.
We leave 15 minutes late. She’s typing on her phone as she drives; she doesn’t know the address of our destination. She is swerving out of her lane, and I have to offer, as I do every time she drives, to navigate for her. She refuses, and I must sternly request that she not use her phone while driving.
It’s days like today when I wish I had anyone else for a mom, when I wonder how things would be different if this ball of insanity wasn’t the one I had to turn to when I’m lost. It’s days like today when I believe that she’s lost too, like she’s using a map for a place that was destroyed years ago.
We arrive at an event for a food shelter in West County, a “politician stop,” as she calls it. Her voice booms through the small warehouse; it is not a call, but a demand for attention. She manages, perplexingly enough, to be both dominating and congenial. She excitedly discusses ideas for collaboration with the food bank leaders, and introduces me to an old friend of hers from law school. She greets a gaggle of thin, superficial-looking women and morphs into an upper-class snobbish character I don’t recognize or understand. They take a couple of pictures together. My mother tries desperately to appear as though she fits in, but people who have seen the vibrant images her life has painted on her can recognize the falsity in her demeanor.
We leave, off to our sewing class. We are, of course, five minutes late, though fortunately not the last to arrive. The instructor begins lecturing. My mother cannot help but notice that the thread I’ve been given is blue, and my fabric, a bold pattern of reds, oranges, and yellows. She looks around the room distractedly for other colors to trade. Just the same as with any other task, she becomes unable to follow the structure or respect the intended use of the space, because her focus has become a life-or-death matter. The class cannot go on until she has found me thread that is going to match.
I whisper to her that we can solve the problem later, when we start sewing, or not at all. The threads are likely to go unseen; we will only sew on the inside of the soon-to-be bag. “Plus, I wouldn’t mind having the contrast. Blue wouldn’t necessarily look bad with these colors,” I insist.
The lecture continues, but Mom interrupts my attention every five minutes. She asks me if I understand what’s going on, as if I need her help, as if I’m incapable of comprehending or asking questions if I have them. I whisper, “Yes, Mom, I get it.” Later on, to ease her anxiety, I ask her clarifying questions (as if I don’t know that I have a handle on the material being taught).
We get through the class with minimal fighting, a feat that couldn’t have been accomplished months ago. I’ve had to fine-tune my patience to meet her dynamite temper. The ride home holds less tension, and the roles finally switch as she listens to me pseudo-complain about my friends’ silly shenanigans, and how frustrating and invigorating it is to be in high school, and how I’m still feeling a bit alone sometimes but I’ll find some way to get through this growing up thing.
I wish I could count all of the times I’ve been told, “You are your mother.” The words bring about a stinging feeling somewhere in the neurons that process aural information, and all the frustrations we’ve had with each other rush forward. Really, I just hate to think that we could ever be the same. Most of the time I resent her, but sometimes I guess it’s not so bad to be told you take after a high school dropout with a graduate degree. I guess it’s not so bad to hear you’re like a woman who’s always been able to speak her mind – a mind that is shockingly creative, analytical, thorough, and usually right. On days like today, when I have someone to remind me that I’m not so crazy, I guess “You are your mother” sounds almost like a compliment to me.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.