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Dealing with the Ideal

October 19, 2011

I’ve always wanted a lot from my mom. A lot of things she could never give. Somewhere early on, I grabbed hold of the sitcom family ideal and started piecing together how much my family would never match up. I’m still struggling with it at 31.

There’s something lost and painful there. Something that wells up in my throat and spills over my eyes when I imagine that “perfect” family where I come home from school to find my mom in a checkered apron, pulling an apple pie from the oven and singing some Gladys Knight and the Pips; then she’d laugh and say “oh, honey, those were the days. I remember when I skipped school one time and ran off to wait in line for tickets to go see them. Now don’t you go getting any ideas about doing that,” she’d scold with a mischievous twinkle in her eye, “But those were some fun times. You should’ve seen the look on your grandpa’s face when I came down in my short skirt. I think I about gave him a heart attack!” She’d cackle and I’d watch her with that teenage mix of wonder and embarrassment, imagining my mom rocking a mini skirt juxtaposed to the perfect little “mom outfit” she was sporting.

Chocolate cake works for this fantasy too

She’d ask me how my day was and I’d tell her. I would actually tell her about how my homeroom teacher smelled like B.O. and how Mindy, my best friend, was still peeved at me about what I said about her boyfriend, how I was nervous about tryouts for basketball this year or why I decided not to take AP Calc next term. Sure, I’d leave out things because every kid needs secrets, but I’d tell her about me…my dreams and my thoughts and my opinions. She’d listen, leaning against the gleaming counters, clucking her disapproval at some, conspiring with me at others, sharing stories of her life when it seemed there was a lesson to be learned.

During the holidays, there would be more apple pie, there would be the traditional one gift rule on Christmas Eve after midnight mass, there would be board games where the whole family yelled and laughed and recalled past holidays where my brother cheated by hiding extra Aces under his leg, there would be small glasses of wine we shared with our parents when they knew we were staying in, there would be late nights where my mom would open up about herself not because there was a lesson in it but just because she knew it was important for me to see her as a person apart from her role as my mother.

My mom could've been a Pip

In this imaginary land, my house would be the one all my friends came to…for the game selection, for the home cooked meals, for the silliness and warmth and safety and love…for my mom. She’d be intuitive enough to know when a friend was in over their head with something, intuitive enough to see that that friend didn’t have an adult to confide in. She’d listen and know whether to just hug her tight or knock some sense in to her. And I’d sit and listen, having had a million of these teaching moments in that very seat, wondering what it would be like if I hadn’t.

In my reality, I was always that girl sitting at a friend’s house filled with awe and envy. I was always seeking out that ideal; trying to make up for everything I didn’t have at home. Even now looking back, I know it truly was missing and that my mom couldn’t have given that to me. What is different between me and that yearning young girl is that I can see now what I really wanted.

I really wanted to take away the chaotic nights when my dad would drink too much, I really wanted to take away my mom becoming a mother at 16, I really wanted to take away the need for public assistance, for renting, for being a single parent with a GED, for getting up every day at 3:30am and pulling on panty hose and a polyester skirt to go wait tables, for dragging her daughter out to the car she’d warmed up against the bitter winter to the babysitter every morning at that god-awful hour for that god-awful job day after day after day after day.

I want to take away the daily struggle she had to just eek by, the reality of her own childhood that made what she provided for me a miracle in and of itself, the aching back and legs she has from over 30 years on her feet wearing shitty shoes because she wouldn’t dream of spending more than $20 even when I’ve told her a hundred times she needs something more supportive, for always buying $20 shoes so that her kids could go to a safe school and get new school clothes and go on field trips and come home to a house where the heat always worked and she was there every night…exhausted and in bed by 8pm, but there.

Like these, but definitely not fancy name brand Keds.

 

If I could take that all away, maybe she would have had time to pick up baking. Would have been able to think beyond surviving to wax poetic about life and love. Would have had that giddy childhood from which to recall funny stories to entertain my friends. But she wouldn’t be my mom; my mom who buys dish soap and toilet paper when it’s on sale for me and my brother even though we’re both doing fine, my mom who won’t drive on the interstate but says things out of the blue like “I’d love to go on an African safari,” or my mom who didn’t cry or hip-hip-hooray or even smile really when I told her I was engaged…but who wanted to know what our colors were so she could watch out for sales at Meijer.

An attempt to spoil my mom with a spa day.

I don’t know if I’ll ever stop wishing it could have been different, but I’m trying to never make the mistake I did in youth of wishing she were different.

-Nicole Collins

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. October 19, 2011 3:37 pm

    Thanks for sharing these reflections. It’s always hard to have parents. Or to be someone’s child.

  2. admin permalink*
    October 21, 2011 12:26 am

    oh Nicole . . . how we share so much. You always bring tears to my eyes when you write from the heart. We may never change our family, but we can certainly work to change our situations . . . Love you.

  3. Katy permalink
    November 14, 2011 3:20 pm

    Nicole, that was beautiful.

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