Mommy Chronicles

A funny look at motherhood and the mayhem it causes.

July 08, 2002

Better late than never

In so many ways, I am slow.

At 17 years, one month and four days, I was the oldest teenager in the United States to get her driver’s license, due in large part to the fact that I knew I would have to drive the same van with a V8 engine that I had ridden to kindergarten in.

In teenage years, getting a driver’s license at 17 is like postponing marriage until the age of 70. And what 70-year-old woman looks good in a princess cut, taffeta dress? The same one who looks sporty driving a giant, blue van.

But I digress. I have been very, very slow to process the information that I am someone's mother. I hear the word "mom" and I don’t think of me. I think of my mom. I think of her at my age, dealing with five small children and I shudder. When I think of me, I think of that same 17-year-old kid bumping down the highway in a van, trying her best to see over the steering wheel and retain a small nugget of dignity. And I shudder.

Anyway, a few weeks back, an editor from Lands’ End contacted me with the very exciting offer of writing an essay for their Fall catalog.

The assignment, he said, was to write about how mothers and daughters today are bonding over knitting. My mother was more of a seamstress, I confessed, but I could probably write something. Later, I sent him an e-mail outlining some of my story ideas.

He wrote back and very kindly told me that it was fine if I wanted to write about my relationship with my own mother. At first, I thought it was weird feedback, considering that was the assignment.

Several hours later, it dawned on me that the mother he was talking about was me. ME! I have been one for almost two years. That’s certainly enough time to get used to the fact. But it took me something else entirely to finally and officially feel like a mother.

It happened when I was singing along to one of Lucy’s Wiggles CDs when she gave me a dirty look and said, “Mama, be happy.”

“Be happy?” I asked. Sometimes, Lucy uses words incorrectly. For example, when the carpet is dirty, she says it’s “spicy.” She says the same thing about my legs when they’re stubbly. “Too spicy!” I think the same thing.

But why was she telling me to be happy when I was singing? Was I supposed to smile more, and maybe do a little dance?

That wasn’t it. When I started to kick my legs in a style that was a cross between clogging and river dancing, Lucy started yelling.

“Mama!” she said. “Be happy. No singing! No dancing!”

Clearly, Lucy was telling me that my voice is so awful it sounded like someone crying, and my dancing looked like a seizure.

“Did Ann and Susan tell you to say that?” I asked. Ann and Susan, my younger sisters, have long forbidden me to shimmy or do the swim in their presence.

Lucy didn’t respond. She ignored me ferociously while she listened to her music.

Aha! I thought. This is it. I am embarrassing my daughter, and she is giving me the cold shoulder. I am now, officially, a mother.

As slow as I was to fully accept my new role in the world, Lucy has been very advanced in establishing hers as the weary, humiliated daughter. A couple days after she issued the ban on singing and dancing, Lucy and I were in the car. I tuned the radio to a station I like and Lucy yelped.

“Mama,” she said. “Play MUSIC.”

“Lucy, this is music,” I explained, poking my glasses a little higher up the bridge of my nose. “It might not have words or a sexy rhythm. The musicians might be playing violins, violas and cellos. But I will bet you a cake of good rosin that this has been considered music for almost three hundred years.”

Lucy protested until I had tuned the radio to the very same dance station I listened to when I was that 17-year-old in the blue van.

I don’t know of anything more motherly than the power to embarrass or disgust your child, with the possible exception of sensible, large underwear and gray hair. Since I am in possession of these two things as well, I can go to sleep at night knowing exactly what I am: someone’s mom.

Here’s to that. Care to shimmy, anyone?


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