This morning, as I sat down to begin work at my internship, I noticed in a different light what it was that I had brought with me for my on-the-go breakfast – a Diet Coke, a Nature Valley peanut-flavored chewy breakfast bar, and my thermos of coffee with hazelnut coffee creamer. I stared at these few seemingly meaningless objects before I pushed back my bangs with my right hand to notice the ring I was wearing. The one that I’ve been wearing more often lately because it reminds me of the one my mom used to wear when I was little. This is perhaps my first ah-ha moment.
I am my mother.
In the past five years, I have been told I look like her. I have been stopped mid-sentence by my older sisters, who completely freaked out as a Joanne-like expression crossed my face. I have been interrupted by my Uncle Steve, my mom’s older brother, at a sister’s wedding two or three drinks in, for him to say: “I’m sorry, but I feel like I’m talking to your mother forty years ago. Your siblings, they’re Moores. You, Emily, are an Owen. You’ve got our cheekbones.”
As indeed I do. Cheekbones that look exactly like my mother’s. Not to mention her eyes, eyebrows, nose, and even similar haircut for a good long while. Not to say I don’t look like my siblings, or my father – there is no denying parentage for myself or any of my siblings. But as my mother put it, “you have to have six before you get one that looks like you.”
But this realization is the first that not only do I look like my mother, I am, indeed, slowly becoming her.
I once had a professor, one of the last in my college career in fact, who was so completely chauvinistic, he could only be qualified to be teaching a feminist literature class. One quote I will always remember and I will always want to punch him in the face for: “Women’s worst fear is that they will become exactly like their mothers. And their destiny is to do so.”
Feminism aside, no one wants to hear that. I don’t care how much you love your parents, respect them for all they have done, and are lucky to end up exactly like them. Male or female, no one wants to hear that they are lumped into one assigned group that is destined to repeat exactly what has been done before them. Maybe it’s our generation of being constantly told to be unique, to be special, to stand out against the crowd. But I don’t think that’s even all of it. It would be true fifty years ago just as it was two years ago in that classroom – I was insulted. Albeit, mostly as a woman. For a man to say that about women in general, I was insulted for all women everywhere.
And anyone that knows my mother would know that I was not insulted because of the implications of what that would mean when specifically considering my mother. But it brought about a feeling I have realized is extremely common in my character – the need to challenge boundaries and expectations given to me by others who like to act like they know more than me.
So I stuck up my nose, called him a chauvinist prick (in my head), and subconsciously decided that I would never be like my mother. I might look like her, yes, but that was where the likenesses would end. I began making a mental list of the ways I was different from her. I convinced myself and let the chauvinistic prick drown in my wake of individuality and uniqueness. So, in the best way to deal with reality, I ignored it. It was a simple fact – I was not and never would be my mother.
I got into a Facebook comment conversation with two of my sisters the other day after I reposted something encouraging young girls to look to female role models who have accomplished something – Amelia Earhart, Coco Chanel, Susan B. Anthony – instead of Disney princesses who are chiefly just sitting pretty. We examined the roles of both sides and what young girls tend to take from the different examples. It was then that I realized that being raised the way I was, I did not have media telling me who to make my role models as a young girl. I had my sisters… and my mom.
In January, I moved here to New York City. After going through perhaps the toughest few months of my life, so far away from family and friends and most things familiar, I have found myself missing something. I hadn’t really figured out what it was. That is, until today.
Even as the baby of my family, I never feel like I was much of a whiner or one to cry and run to Momma (my siblings might have a different perspective). From a young age, I felt a need to make myself independent, unique, and different from the rest of my large family, including my parents. I was convinced that I could handle my life on my own, without Mom and Dad and siblings. I appreciated their help, yes, but I could do it on my own if I had to.
Even so, I always felt it strange that I never found the need to call my mom every day. That when a boyfriend broke up with me, I didn’t call her crying. When I was in pain in the hospital after a serious surgery and the doctor asked her to leave so that they could extract the drainage tube from my recently-collapsed lung, I didn’t gasp and cry to ask her to stay. When she was in the hospital after her stroke, I didn’t feel the need to be by her side every minute.
And going through the extreme maturing years between college and now, when most are separated from their parents for the first real time, I looked at the lack of constant communication as a flaw. Something must be wrong with our relationship, because it wasn’t like others I saw, even with my other siblings.
It was then, this morning, as I stared at my breakfast of champions, when all these pieces fell into place. I have never felt the need to run to my mother for comfort or solace or advice, because she’s here. Her soothing voice of reason, fairness, and compassion is the same over the phone as it is in the back of my head. It’s been her voice egging me on when I’ve been so close to quitting. Her’s is the voice that tells me the worst will be over soon. And it’s her example that makes me want to live in my moment, in my present, as much as possible. In passing down so much to me, in somehow making me so much like her, she has given me more independence than I could ever hope to have otherwise. Because when I look in the mirror, I see my mom. She’s always been right here, and indeed, she always will be.
So I drink hazelnut-flavored coffee. I feel the little calluses on my baby toes that I know she still has. I eat Nature Valley breakfast bars. I wear my ring with the big black stone on my index finger. I treat myself to a Diet Coke. And I call my mom when I know we both have the time, because she deserves what she has given me – independence with the constant knowledge of a loving, helping hand.
And I mentally tell that chauvinistic prick that he was still wrong – while it might be my destiny to become my mother, I could never possibly have a fear of doing so.