There comes a time in every woman’s life when she will unconsciously do something or say something or perhaps just think something that will trigger the visceral response, “My god, I have officially become my mother.”
As an adult, there have been many instances where I have caught a glimpse of my mother in me, like the other day when I said, “Oh, for crying in a kerchief!” in a business meeting, without even a hint of irony. I laughed it off, and told myself that I had been watching too many I Love Lucy reruns.
Or like last month when I caught myself singing, Momma’s Little Baby Loves Shortenin’, Shortenin’ to my cats.
But for me, the true defining moment came this weekend as I was paying my bills. I had just written out the check for my cell phone bill, but couldn’t immediately find the envelope amidst the pile of papers that had amassed on my dining room table. I pushed aside an old issue of People Magazine, and tossed out three or four gardening catalogs (Gardening? I don’t even have a window box. Who does their mailing lists?), until I finally found the Sprint envelope. I shoved my check inside, then flipped the envelope over to slap on a stamp, only to be met by this image.
And that’s when it hit me: My god, I have officially become my mother.
Growing up under the tutelage of a quintessential child of the 50’s was not easy for a self-proclaimed tomboy like me. On a normal workday, my mother would wear stilettos, a garter belt, and stockings with the seam down the back, and I swear to you, she was not a hooker. I, on the other hand, have never owned a pair of shoes with a heel over two inches, and wearing pantyhose makes me want to claw my legs off.
She started dying her hair at age thirteen, and has been every color of the Clairol rainbow over the years, aside from jet black. “No one looks good in jet black dyed hair,” she would always tell me. “Not even Elvis.”
Last year, when I finally had to concede that I could no longer pull out my grey hair without leaving huge bald patches, I reluctantly asked my mother to help me dye my hair for the first time. She took a disturbing amount of pleasure in watching me squirm and scrunch my shoulders up around my ears as she dumped what felt like a bucket of pig’s blood onto my scalp.
“Isn’t the fifteen minutes up yet? It’s dripping. It’s dripping down my back! Mom, it burns!”
“That just means it’s working. Sometimes we have to suffer for beauty.”
But our biggest point of contention by far revolved around the topic of makeup. As a teenager, most of my friends would innocently waltz out of their houses on weekends, bright-eyed and clean faced, only to later meet up in the Burger King parking lot with eyeliner and cigarette lighters in hand, leaning into rearview mirrors as they smeared thick black lines around their eyes before the boys from the soccer team showed up.
As I tried to sneak out of the house to meet up with friends, my mother would hear me squeak down the stairs toward the front door, then call for me to come back into the living room so she could inspect me first.
“You don’t really think you’re going out looking like that, do you young lady?”
I would stare at the ground, and pick at invisible pieces of lint on my sweater. “Mom, I gotta go. Lori’s waiting for me.”
“Jenny, get back upstairs and put on some lipstick and a little mascara or you’re not going out at all!”
Sometimes I can still see the image of her coming at me with her latest tube of whatever lipstick came in the Clinique Bonus Days giveaway. I would close my eyes tightly and wrestle my head from side to side as she squeezed my lips into a pucker, trying desperately to tart me up before sending me out to see a movie with friends.
“Mom! It’s too orange. I don’t want any – no! Wipe it off!”
“Oh, for the love of Pete, Jenny. It’s just a little lipstick. And besides, it brings out the green in your eyes. See how pretty you look?”
Growing up, there was never a piece of paper, grocery receipt, envelope, or catalog in our house that didn’t have my mother’s lip prints on it. Anything was fair game when it came time for her to reapply. I cannot begin to count how many times I turned in homework, only to find my mother’s logo branded on the back page. I can mark important moments in my educational history by the varying shades that would appear on my work:
“Mom! You did it again! Mr. Wendell keeps asking when you’re going to come to the next open house, and today he asked me if dad still lives with us. The kids are starting to say stuff – cut it out!”
Sometimes I am amazed that I made it through those early years without more psychological issues, but my latest Sprint bill is evidence enough that there must be some lingering damage. I had hoped that the cycle would end with me, yet here I am, inadvertently sexually harassing some random Sprint Accounts Receivable person. They don’t deserve that, and neither did Mr. Wendell. I guess I should just thank my lucky stars for online bill payment.