I make no illusions about my relationship with my mother. I often wonder what were the gods thinking when they decided that I was to be the egg chosen to gestate in her womb. Polar opposites, she is a fashionista with an eye for glamour, comfort and all things material. Recently, she chose her vanity over video chatting with her grandson. I just shook my head.
I, on the other hand, am your typical nerdy tomboy with a love for football, the Aliens franchise and Boho couture. I don’t always have my feminine allure in check when I walk out the door. I’m inclined to dismiss her advice about my appearance, even if I know it’s right, in an effort to hold on to my individuality. I just don’t want to be that person.
Throughout her lifetime, my mother has seen herself in everyone from Walt Disney to Scarlett O’Hara, idols who have inspired her perfectionism and the naming of her children (my brother’s name is Ashley). I have no idols, really. I get weary with celebrity and my own son’s name was birthed from a deeply spiritual moment in tears. I would not say we are oil and water, our views on the world align beautifully, although she is more inclined to threaten the assassination of some of our more despicable government officials than I am. Yet, it is how we exist in the world that causes our strife.
Our mother/daughter clashes are loud and biting, neither of us willing to back down as I make her pay for her shallow and persistent critiques from my childhood. She detests my lack of reverence and my stubborn unwillingness to cater to her every need as she manages the twilight of her life without my father. I could probably be more sympathetic at times, but I refuse to humor “playing dumb.” To do so goes against everything I was raised to be as a daughter of the feminist and civil rights movements.
Knowing this, I knew welcoming her into my space for 20 days in Paris would be a risky endeavor. Before her arrival, I told myself that I would resist any temptation for conflict. I would let whatever aggravation I was feeling just slide off my back. But after four days of ridiculous questions and pleas of rescue from the microwave to an ATM machine, I had enough.
“I feel like you want me to think for you. You are not some damsel in distress,”
I fired the first shot.
Her retort was a series of complaints about my lack of sensitivity and that when she has guests, she puts them first. Of course, I had presented the data to prove otherwise as I’ve seldom felt like a guest in my parents’ home, however, that was not at the core of this argument. The brutal truth that has haunted me for most of my life is that while I loved my mother, I didn’t really like her as a person.
In a courageous moment when the angry exchange settled, I humbly offered up this admission as I felt that I had no other choice. She took it surprisingly well.
Ironically, days before this latest spat, my mother had mentioned June Cleaver and how she was always calling on Ward to come to her rescue, especially with the boys. I don’t remember the context for the conversation; however, since episodes of Leave it to Beaver serve as background noise in her sewing studio every day, the reference was not as random as one might think. Thankfully, it also provided me a safe landing pad after the bomb I had just dropped on her.
Approaching middle age, I’m finding that many Gen X women are evaluating who we are at this time in our lives, especially as we tend to our aging baby boomer mothers who were raised on the June Cleaver fantasy and created the “Me” generation excess of the Eighties, all the while bringing us up on the sass of Claire Huxtable. I was taught to excel academically and professionally, yet in our heated moments, it’s like my mother resents the very independence she and my father expected me to have.
My friend Kate offered an insight to me about the advice given by our baby boomer mothers, “Be bold, don’t offend. Run for president but forgive your husband when he humiliates you by having sex with an intern. . .” It does feel a bit like a contradiction. I personally believe that Hillary Clinton would have been much more successful politically if she had chosen to walk away from the predator that is her husband. Bill Clinton was a predator, the worst example of toxic masculinity. If it walks like a duck. . .
My mother and I had a healing conversation about how differently we were raised as women. She acknowledges that she benefited from the feminist movement, yet as she continues to scrutinize my own relationship status, the old remnants of dependency on a man surface. I admit that I am probably pathologically independent. I still struggle with finding a balance between vulnerability and strength. But, I also know that my mother, even at 72 years old, is much more capable than June would have her believe.
I told her that.
I also think our argument represented the persistent tensions between baby boomers and Generation Xers in general. As I write this, Joe Biden has just announced his entry into the 2020 Presidential race. I sighed. Great, another old white guy set to eclipse the field of strong, Gen X women in the candidate field. Ugh. For decades, we have reaped the environmental, social, economic and political effects of the baby boomers values. Enough already.
Now, what to do about those millenials?
Here is a link to one of my favorite articles about Generation X. Definitely worth a read. https://www.vanityfair.com/style/2017/08/why-generation-x-might-be-our-last-best-hope