It’s an ancient cliché that with each passing year, we grow more and more like our mothers. A carefree individual is swallowed into a resemblance of the woman who raised her. But what truth does this myth hold today, when women often have radically different experiences from their mothers and self-awareness is at its peak?
Women go through all manner of intricate measures to avoid becoming their mothers: there’s the therapist specialising in pattern recognition; the exercise regime keeping hereditary bulk at bay and let’s not forget the constant self-reprimand to listen, where she would have butted in, or speak up, when she would have stayed silent. We have a lot to lose if we surrender – our youth and identity for one. And yet we love our mothers, hold much of what they did as a gold standard and are anxious when we fall short.
I was touched to learn that a woman who had a hostile relationship with her tough-loving, erratic mother and dreaded becoming her, found peace in recognising that she inherited her fierceness. Fierceness, an uncommercial trait that the endless tea-parties and pink blooms surrounding mother’s day don’t account for – though anyone who has given birth, watched a wildlife documentary or dealt with a suburban woman trying to get her child through the 11+, knows it’s integral to maternity.
Growing up, I saw my mother as her own person. She worked full-time, while other mothers stayed at home, so I felt part of her life, rather than the centre. Sensitive and loving, she is unapologetically herself. I see myself becoming more like her in at least four ways, though I haven’t yet made the final leap…
1. Suffering fools badly
With the exception of mildly bigoted elders from another era, who must be half-listened to and gently corrected, my mother doesn’t give fools the time of day, let alone allow them to influence her decisions. Controversially, whenever I was upset because someone scolded me for my opinion or cheek, mum would say they weren’t as clever as me. It didn’t matter whether this was my nanny, an older relative, or a Cambridge-educated mathematician. For a young girl, this was as radical as Marx’s comment on religion – it made me think that intelligence had the potential to dethrone authorities. Taken literally, her stance could make me arrogant or intolerant of different perspectives. It’s vital to listen, but also to have boundaries and know how to protest the most dangerous kinds of foolishness.
2. Asking for obscenely wishful things
My mother has never shied away from asking for what she wants and is relentless until she has pursued every option for getting it. I have to admit, this quality embarrassed me when I was younger – I was the sort of person who would rather go hungry than face the awkwardness of asking for a vegetarian option. But now, whenever I have a craving, however fanciful, I will go to lengths to satisfy it. There is a bench seat in a cafe with a view of a goldfish pond. After work on Tuesday, I knew that I had to go there and write. So, I walk for an hour, uphill, in high heels and when I reach my destination, find two others have taken the space. I sit at a neighbouring table and can’t help noticing they are so deep into their digital spheres, the view may as well not be there. Which pisses me off. The guy is wearing headphones, so I figure the girl is a safer bet. Before I can stop myself, I’m asking if we can swap seats, because I came here to draw that view (a teeny white lie). She refuses, saying she too likes the view and is communing with the fish telepathically as she’s magnetised to her feed. Shrugging, I slink back to my seat. A minute later, the guy in headphones come over and asks, ‘sorry, did you want to sit by the view?’ Et volià.
3. Nurturing a collection of tiny containers
Like every old-fashioned housewife, my mother adheres to the proverb: ‘waste not, want not.’ Like a figure-conscious yummy mummy, she also doesn’t let a morsel of food she’s not hungry for, pass her lips. Hence the tiny containers. She drinks red-wine from a finger bowl she stole from the Eurostar; stores four remaining spaghetti strands in an egg cup and a dwindling stock of Christmas truffles are transferred to ever smaller dishes. She also collects shells and glass bottles with bases so minute, they have to lie on their bellies.
4. Never missing an opportunity to practice my latest skill
When mum begins a new hobby, it inflects everything she does. Now that she’s learning French, and determined to maintain her standing as étoile de la classe, she not only texts in French, but pronounces all ethnically ambiguous words and trade names in a French accent. E.g.: I-bu-pro-fén (Ibuprofen) and Có-có (Combined Codeine). She only half jokes that should she wind up on the wrong side of Article 50, she will move to France.*
5. Miraculously never gathering fluff
My mother is always immaculate. I have never seen her coats or woollen jumpers pill or attract stray bits of fluff. I think she’s a witch…
*This is unlikely, as my mother has the immunity of formerly colonised peoples and decades of residency in this country. Only the likes of Theresa May are safer from deportation. But it’s her dream that counts.