My Life as a Mom: Rebel Rebel
Skipping a Generation
When my mother and I are together these days it's in a hospital room, where I am sleeping on the floor beside her bed; at her house, where I sit on the closed toilet to make sure she doesn't fall in the shower; or in her car, which I am driving to pick up the many pills it takes to keep her going.
Now that we're cast in the roles of 79-year-old woman with lung cancer and devoted 50-year-old daughter, you can hardly see the relationship we once had or the people we once were. But let's roll back the clock to 1975 or so. She was a golfing, bridge-playing, stock-market-investing conservative. I was a bohemian-in-training, a poet, a hitchhiking vegetarian. Our hairstyles alone -- her bouffant waves set weekly at the salon, my insane mess brushed about as often -- said it all.
I saw her as the emblem of what I would never be. In fact, I figured out what I wanted to be by saying "not that." But for all my dedication to non-conformism, I was following a rather well-worn path. So, if a person rebels against her parents, then her own child rebels against her-- what do you think happens? I imagine many women are learning the answer to that question as I have, beginning when I gave birth to my mother's first grandchild.
Not long after he could talk, my son Hayes expressed his desire to wear designer clothes, play golf, and sell junk bonds. As soon as he could understand what kind of people were in his immediate circle -- a freethinking writer mom, a hairdresser dad, their artsy friends -- he began to wonder if there had been mix-up in the hospital. But then he got to know my mother, of whose company he was a bit deprived since we lived in Texas and she was still in my home state, New Jersey. Once she drove him to his first golf lesson in her Lexus, the matter of his lineage was cleared up. You had only to see them in the halfway house in their polo shirts discussing the NFL draft to see how much can skip a generation.
If I was Hayes's version of "not that," my mother was "all that" -- he even listed her as his hero on his MySpace page. Most of the time I found the situation funny and charming. Looking back at my own upbringing, I saw how wisely my mother had handled my choices, tolerating them in a way that communicated both disagreement and acceptance, a way that kept her in my life and in my head. When I made mistakes she forgave me. She showed up at every poetry reading I invited her to and she enjoyed them, just as I began to enjoy Hayes's football games and golf matches.