Yesterday, our daughter said something and my wife turned to me, a look of shock and, well, I’m going to go ahead and say horror, on her face, and whispered, “She’s you!” It’s true. Daily she is picking up the way I talk, starting to share my mannerisms and generally turning into a younger version of me. Okay, yes, a younger, thinner, blonder, prettier version of me but that’s not the point.
The other day she told a friend who was being cranky, “I’ll be happy to talk to you again when you’re able to speak nicely to me.” I was pretty proud of her for that. Yesterday she called her brother a “nutter”. I had to laugh at that. And today she asked me why I was walking “like a jackball”. I couldn’t help but start scanning my brain for other things I say all the time and worrying about her screaming “Are you fucking kidding me?” at a teacher tomorrow. Which got me thinking, if she’s going to be me, who should I be? I don’t mean, where does that leave me, I mean…who do I need to be so that she, in turn, will be the best she can be?
I know that part of this imitation is because we have newly become a forever family and she is bonding to us. I also know she is a teenager so being like me will be the worst thing in the world in short order. And, of course, like the rest of us, I know that she’ll go to therapy in her twenties to talk about how we screwed her up and to figure out who she really is, rebuilding herself like her very own Jaime Sommers except she has no idea who that is because Lindsay Wagner is really old, like, at least 30, and has never been on Video on Trial.
But I also know that what I do now is going to stick with her in ways she will not even realize for decades. I know this because my mum is hardwired into my brain, kicking in when I least expect it. Because, whether I like it or not, I am a younger version of her.
Now that I am the mother of a teenager, I am grateful to my mother on a daily basis. Mostly because she didn’t kill me when, frankly, she would have been quite justified in doing so. I hear her laughing at me from the Great Beyond (Do I need to capitalize that? Sure, why not?) every time my daughter rolls her eyes and tells me I don’t understand fashion or music or…anything. I remember with embarrassment the time I tried to explain to my mother who Led Zeplin was and she gave me a look which only now can I recognize as one that said, “Child, please…you couldn’t handle the things I could tell you about my Led Zeplin days…” So I’m not deluded. I know that my mother had a life outside of me. I know she was strong and accomplished and smart and brave and…oh man, stronger than I think I can ever really grasp. But I only know that now. I didn’t see that when I was my daughter’s age. What I saw was someone who wasn’t being who they wanted to be, who they should have been. Someone who gave too much up and resented it. Someone who wanted me to succeed but despised me when I did. And I worry that that’s who my daughter might see when she looks at me. And that’s not who I want to be.
So, if I want my daughter to be strong, healthy, compassionate, purposeful, successful and happy, I need to be those things, right? This is not to say that no one healthy ever came out of an unhealthy upbringing. I will say again, as I often do, look at Oprah! (Yes, I am aware that this is one of the things I will say to my daughter that will make her roll her eyes so hard she will bruise them but that will not stop me! Look at Oprah!) The problem is, there is a part of me–deep in the hardwiring of my being, buried under the part of me that loves to expand–that is very small and scared. That part thinks I am not supposed to succeed / be happy / have what I want / expand to fulfill my potential. And, while I don’t blame her, I know that part was handed down to me by my mum. And I want to be so sure, so fucking sure, that I don’t pass that part on to my daughter.
If I could, I would go back in time and be nicer to my mum. I would support her better and encourage her more. I would love her better. And, in doing so, I think she would have had a better chance at being who she wanted to be. And I know there will come a day, long past the teenage years, perhaps if she ever decides to have kids of her own who make barfing sounds when she sings along with golden oldies like Ke$ha (only, let’s face it, they will be right), when my daughter will wish she’d been nicer to me.
But who I am is not her responsibility; it’s mine. Just as, ultimately, who she becomes will not rest solely on my shoulders. Just as, despite the wiring, I am not just a younger version of my mother. The difference is, I needed to make the distinction between me and my mother for myself. I don’t want my daughter to have to do that. I don’t want her to ever have to extricate herself from my stuff to figure out who she is.
And so, I’m trying to figure out who I should be. So that I am proud of myself, so that I am not my mother, and so that, if my daughter is me, she will be proud of herself too. And not just some jackball.