Not the Daughter She Had in Mind
An Unlikely Friendship
But the differences were always there, and as I grew into my 20s, new ones emerged. I eschewed matching outfits from Filene's for vintage clothes, the kind that my mother derided as things "a stranger wore and threw away." And I chose a life in New York City with an actor boyfriend over staying in our small town with a brand-new house full of coordinated modular furniture. "Aren't you ever going to settle down?" she'd ask me when I changed apartments or restlessly traveled. Even after I had published my first novel, she worried about me, wondering if I was ever going to get a real job. My mother believed in being a career woman -- she had worked her whole life -- but her ideal was a position with a pension plan, health benefits, and paid vacation.
Sadly, our small family of four suffered its share of loss. First my brother died in an accident, and then my father passed away from lung cancer, and suddenly just the two of us were left. I'm not sure when -- or even if -- my mother let that other daughter go, but somehow we have found enough that is similar about us to forge an unlikely friendship. There was not a single turning point. Rather, over time, I slowly began to see and appreciate her, and to understand that she believed her dreams for me would lead to my happiness. But luckily, I am stubborn and determined and opinionated and independent, just like her. If I weren't, I would have forced myself to be what she wanted rather than who I was. I would be living unhappily in my hometown with a nine-to-five job and an unfulfilled desire to write. But the traits I got from her allowed me to leave her dream behind.
We still don't understand each other's interests. My mother likes to spend a day at the mall shopping, or playing the slot machines at a nearby casino; I still like to stay inside, reading or knitting, away from crowds and noise. When my husband and I bought a 200-year-old house, she shook her head in disbelief; she dreams of shiny floors, a kitchen island, sliding glass doors. How did she end up with a daughter who loves old houses and fills hers with mismatched furniture and folk art, who wears clothes smelling vaguely of mothballs?Like Mother, Like Daughter
My mother told me on the phone the other day, "I had the strangest dream. I dreamed I was married to Paul Simon." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. My mother did not know that for years I had had dreams in which I was married to Paul Simon. "Wait a minute," I interrupted. "I've had the same dream." She wasn't at all surprised. "Like mother, like daughter," she said.
She told me something else, too. "I am so proud of you," she said. "Of your work, of your parenting, of the way you are living your life." I wonder whether she knew, in that moment, how I jumped, higher than anyone, and cartwheeled across the floor, out of joy that I'd made her proud.
Maybe she got the daughter she had dreamed of after all.
Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal, November 2005.