The first time it happens is the moment you realize it’s been building since you became a mother. You can’t write it off as a coincidence or a one time thing, either. Oh no, the first time it happens you know it’s going to happen again, over and over, until the day you die. I am speaking, of course, about the moment you realize you sound just like your mother.
The next time it happens, and you open your mouth and the sound of your own mother comes out, it’s really not that much less bizarre. For better or worse, t’s always going to be equal parts funny and unsettling. Even for someone like me, who is and has always been aware of how weirdly like my mom I am, it continues to be jarring. Because how can I be in the same category of experience as my mom? My mom is a grown up, you guys! I’m just a kid! A 34-year-old kid with a husband, and a mortgage, and two kids of my own, and deck furniture, and a bank account, but a kid. I’m not an adult yet! Am I?
Have you ever sung along with the radio, and you hit one note, and the singer hits the same note and you get that weird reverberation thing going? That’s kind of what it feels like when you channel your mother without meaning to. These are the most common situations and phrases that invoke the sameness. You know, so you can be prepared:
And then, the 20th time, your mother’s actual voice comes from deep within your soul, through your throat, and out of your mouth. This is witchcraft, plain and simple. Terrible, dark, powerful witchcraft, and it is really, really weird.
In my house, this was always the scariest for my brother, who normally went by his middle name (long story). The minute we heard “Brian” it was like, “Oh damn. Sh*t just got real.”
When you were a kid, you never understood why your mom was being such a damn killjoy (“Mom, I do this all the time. Nothing’s going to happen!”), but here you are, imploring your children not to jump from the top bunk of their bunk beds because all you can see is broken bones and gashed foreheads. When they see "fun," you see pain and hospital bills and dirty looks from people passing your child with black eyes and a broken nose as you go through the grocery store who (you are convinced) are going to call child protective services on you.
When you’re a kid, and you’re yelling at your younger siblings because they’re being assholes, your mom inevitably comes over and she’s like: “You’re not the mommy, I am the mommy” and you’re like, “You jerk, I was trying to take some damn initiative with these punks because you certainly weren’t. I don’t see why you’re getting upset with me. You should be thanking me!”
Or maybe that’s just a #oldestchildproblem.
I’ve also had this thrown at me when I wanted to make decisions for the family (ice cream for dinner, for example) and was told I was not allowed to make these decisions because "I was not the mommy." Well, nowadays, my children are the ones “taking initiative” and “making decisions” and I have to bust out this old admonition. Because I am finally the MFing mommy and they need to respect my authority.
Do you know that small children talk all the time? Whether they want a snack, or they want you to watch something on TV they think is funny, or you need to see them do a somersault, or they want another snack, or they want to go to the playground, or they want you to play My Little Pony with them, or they want another goddamn snack, they always need your attention. It doesn’t matter if you’re occupied with someone else, either in person or on the phone. Oh no, whatever you’re talking about is not as important as whatever your child is going on about (or so they think).
And as my mother would invoke this line with me, so I invoke it with my children. And just as I replied so many moons ago, my children revisit it back on me: “But I just need to tell you something important.”
I feel like I was way more scared of this than my kids are. It works better on my daughter than my son, but still... I dunno. Maybe I haven’t perfected my crazy-eye technique here, or maybe I’m just focusing on the times it doesn’t work for me while simultaneously focusing on the times it did work on me as a kid. Point is I hear, "If you do't get over here by the time I count to three" almost as much nowadays as I did back when I was 4.
I say this pretty much every day of my life because my 6-year-old son always wants something. It doesn’t matter what. He once asked for an ice scraper that he happened to be passing by in a grocery store. Sometimes, if I can see the greedy look in his eye, I’ll preempt him even asking for it and say, “Oh wow, that would be a great thing to ask Santa for this Christmas” or, “Oh what a good birthday present that would be!” Somehow, magically, this works every time. And the best part? As predicted, is that he has forgotten 98 percent of the stuff he, at one point, thought he would never be happy without. (I know this because he recently wrote a letter to Santa and it only has six items on it.)
This tactic did not work on me, though. I heard it all the damn time and I hated it because I recognized it for what it was: my mom avoiding the issue. Would it have killed you to get me those toys, mom? Still, I have to hand it to the old girl, because she may not have bought me all the things I wanted, but in so doing she gave me the gift of this really effective distraction technique.
To quote my husband: “I never thought I’d say it to another person, and I never understood how it could possibly be true when I was a kid, but OMG these kids have so many damn toys.”
I never knew why my mom complained so much about our toys. I mean, what did she care? Why didn’t she want us to be happy? Why was she always trying to get rid of my stuff? (She wasn’t, but I perceived it that way during her annual toy purge of the stuff I literally never played with and didn’t care about, but suddenly became very interested in once she suggested we donate it.) I can tell my own children think I’m the Devil when I tell them they have enough toys, because they look up at me with these eyes that say, “That’s like saying the world has too many rainbows.”
OMFG jus eat. JUST. EAT. Though I will admit that even as a child I had sympathy for my poor mother in this instance. She worked extra hard to make us delicious, home cooked meals every night… and one of my brothers basically staged a hunger strike every single night between 1988 and 1995. I think I probably even told him a few times, “Dude. It’s good, just eat the chicken.” Nevertheless, he steadfastly refused and it was a constant battle.
Nowadays, my sympathy for my mom has turned into empathy of having that same battle with both my children.
Sometimes, I will hug my children and hugging them makes me feel like my own mother. It’s like I’m feeling the giving end of the hugs I received as a child.
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