We Are All Our Mothers

One of the worst things you could've said to me as a teen was that I was like my mother. 

"No!" I'd object. "I'm like my DAD!" prompting the compliment-giver to look at me like I was out of my mind. (Or at least an over-reactor.)

The truth is, I am like my Dad. We're both loud, we're both funny (or so I tell myself), we're both quick to flare (says my Mom), and we're secretly sensitive. Like all Donahues, I like to have the room, and I like to give my opinion (often when not asked for it), and I like big groups of people I know. My Mom, on the other hand, is very soft-spoken, patient, kind, generous, and willing to listen. When she has a problem, my Dad and I are the first people to tell her how to handle it and to remind her that we "wouldn't put up with that shit." And we wouldn't. My Dad will confront anyone he thinks is acting in the wrong, and I yelled at a group of teens at the movies a few weeks ago. Like my Dad's brother, I even point at people when I'm yelling at them. My Mom just nods and says she knows; I say "you don't know because you're not changing anything" and I wonder how we are even related.

Well, we are related through her having carried me in her uterus for nine months and later giving birth to me. Also, we're related through the underlying traits that I'll often downplay in order to get shit taken care of. (My Mom isn't the type to yell at strangers.) My Mom grew up being picked on by kids in elementary school, and then being relatively ignored by her fellow students when she got older. From there, she almost entered the convent, but was told by the nuns in charge that she'd make a better wife and mother, which she eventually went on to do after she met and married my Dad. They could only have me, so I was raised by my Mom's beliefs: to be kind to people, not to treat others badly, and all the Catholic stuff in between. (The last of which didn't work out so well.) Growing up, she got the most attention from me, both positive and negative. I cried every day in grade one because I missed her and wanted to hang out, but if something was wrong, I'd take it out on her equally dramatically. (I once kicked her in the leg because some kid named Alex spit on my shoe. And Alex, if you're reading this, what happened to you and also you're my enemy for life still.) I told her she was my best friend, and how much she meant to me, and then I became a teenager and did everything to freak my parents out.

Picture Georgette from The Mary Tyler Moore Show or Edith Bunker when I describe my Mom. Then imagine them having a teen daughter who does everything in her power to freak them out. But unlike my Dad (whose short fuse got even shorter), my Mom didn't freak out. She just listened to me and said "Well I wish you didn't feel you had to do that" and never grounded or laid down the law in any way. Not even years later when I yelled at her in the car for losing the directions to a wedding (because I was a person who needed to be on mood medication and didn't know it yet), did she freak out. She just sat there and stayed calm and suggested we go home. (We didn't, and yikes . . . well, I had fun, but sorry, again, Mom. That was bleak.) For a long time, I confused this all with weakness. What it was, was strength.

Dee Donahue is a strong woman. She's been through real shit. So has my Dad, and so have I, but during situations I can't just lose it on somebody ala Julia Louis-Dreyfus in Veep, I've realized I've begun channelling my Mom. I've realized (through her), that when somebody is freaking out about something that has nothing to do with me, listening and patience prevails over my first instinct (to tell them to go fuck themselves). I've realized that giving somebody a second chance isn't the worst thing you can do, and that kindness goes a lot further than . . . well, actually my Dad's kind, too. I get that from both of them. (Unless you're Alex the shoe-spitter. Then I will cut you.) Ultimately, I've also realized that I'm turning into my Mom in other ways; that like her, I will shove food down your throat if you come visit me, that I will get overly enthusiastic over something like a coupon, and that when somebody is telling me about the obvious ways in which they're rebelling, I'll stifle the urge to lecture. (I might say "that's stupid," but I won't lecture. There's a difference.)

Ultimately, I think we are all our moms — or variations of them. Enough like our moms that we can't be insulted when somebody compares us to them (the women who didn't tell our dads when we were really hungover in high school to prevent a WWIII equivalent). Frankly, "you're turning into your mother" isn't a bad thing unless that mother is criminally insane or a straight-up bad person. (Like, if your mother is Shia LaBeouf, yeah, be insulted.) Our moms gave birth to us. They got us this far. They fed us (no small feat), and they instilled enough values that we somehow are able to live our lives and work the Internet and have jobs and relationships and fix things. They're not the enemy because they never were. And if carrying traits from a person who managed not to hate me when I cried over my parents re-painting my room like the bratty teen I was is a bad thing, then who needs good? My Mom's got enough good for the both of us. (My Dad and I will just continue yelling at strangers.)

Tags: family, moms, mother's day, mothers

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