I’m gonna say it: Shakespeare was a so-so writer.
Sure, he plumbed the depths of grief and came up with a gem like Hamlet. Okay, he turned teenage lust on its head in Romeo and Juliet. And, yes, he took us all the way to Scotland to show how absolute power corrupts absolutely. But not even the famous Bard could crack the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship. It’s been done. Many a talented and courageous soul has mined that literary pit. (I’m looking at you, Carrie Fisher.) But most, I find, don’t want to touch that stuff with a ten-foot typewriter.
Can you blame ‘em? I’m not sure I have enough gigabytes to open that can o’ worms, either. But my mother arrives tomorrow for a five-day visit, so it’s been on my mind. It means I have less than 24 hours to clean the house, bathe the Beast, wash linens, wax my eyebrows, get a haircut, and lose ten pounds. (I’m not saying my mother is critical, I’m just saying the last time I saw her, she pointed out in a crowded restaurant that I was developing a mustache.) I’m not the only one who feels under the maternal microscope. Look no further than my mom: her mother, my grandmother, rarely misses an opportunity to speak her mind. (“You gained some weight, dintcha?”)
My mom would have you believe that our relationship is like it is in the “Cathy” comic strip: A mother who always has the best intentions, and a daughter addicted to chocolate. My take is that we’re more like an Oprah Book Club selection set to Sondheim. Neither of us is necessarily wrong in our perception (but, c’mon, only one of us is really right—I don’t even like chocolate. Ack!).
I’ve known women who got on famously with their moms, but most of my girlfriends will confess to uttering the words, “My mother drives me crazy” once or twice—some once or twice a week. Someone once told me that she believed a curse ran through her family where all first-born daughters had ridiculously, often painfully, complex relationships with their mothers. I didn’t even blink at that notion—Mom, Grandma, and I are all first-born girls. I imagined our long and hexed maternal line leading all the way back to Eve, the mother of this mess, and her daughter:
- Eve: You’re not going out wearing that.
- Eve’s daughter: That’s not fair!
- Eve: This is non-negotiable.
- Eve’s daughter (whining): You are so unfair! One of your sons killed your other son, but I’m the one who gets punished??
- Eve: Not another word out of you.
- Eve’s daughter (screaming): Way to get us all kicked out of Eden, Mom! I hate you!
- Eve (yelling): That’s it! You’re grounded!
A curse made so much sense! Like all you had to do was find the jinxed umbilical cord and throw it into the fires of Motherdor and you and mom would finally be BFFs. Of course, it would all start up again as soon as mom suggested your hair looks prettier when you part it in the middle.
My sincere hope is that my mom and I have a nice visit. That doesn’t stop expectations from creeping in, though. Mom has expectations, too. She’ll deny it with her last breath, but setting expectations is part of our DNA. (Thanks, Eve.) Perhaps this is a good time to let author Anne Lamott remind us, “Expectations are resentments under construction.”
An earlier draft of this post had ten rules designed to help my mother have a good time. Revisions pared it down to eight, then seven. Then my best friend’s mother passed away last week and I realized that, while most were spot on, and a few of them even funny, life’s too short to waste time on silly rules to keep my mom in line. I still have one, though—the first rule—which my mother would do best not to forget this week:
#1. I’m a writer. Anything you say or do can be used in a future article/novel/play/comic/blog post.
Mom said, “Don’t worry about making any plans,” and I took her at her word. That said, I don’t know what the heck I’m going to dew with her for the next few days. Anybody got any ideas? It’s New York City, after all. I’m open to suggestions. Thanks!