While lamenting her daughter’s latest eye-roll over something or other, a friend said, “The problem is, I remember this. I remember having this attitude and talking back to my mom, and I remember what my mom used to say. I can’t quite reconcile that I’m now the mom saying the things I used to hate to hear as a child.”
“I know what you mean,” I said. “I not only use the same lines on my kids, I sound so much like my dad when I use them that the hair on my own neck stands straight up.”
This is how it happens. This is how we become our parents. We start with the best of intentions when we have kids: “Oh, we’ll be great parents! We’ll do things our own way! We’ll talk to our kids and discuss issues and establish behavioral guidelines that they will understand and follow! Our kids won’t hit the teenage years thinking we’re idiots!”
And it may even work for a few years. Our kids may dutifully follow our lead, may take our suggestions for the wisdom behind them, may even ask our advice on hair or clothes from time to time. But then, for some reason (although I myself blame double-digits), POOF! It’s gone. The tender thread that held us together snaps like a fresh green bean. They become their own people. And their people no longer like our people very much.
My parents’ way of doing things, I’ve come to realize, is not unlike my red hair, which I spent the first half of my life hating and the second half trying to match exactly. They look at me, this boy and girl, for whom I spent a combined 36 hours in labor, in the kind of agony that horror movies only hope to convey. I assumed I would achieve a perfectly nuanced relationship with them that generations before me have failed to achieve. But they now look at me the way I looked at my parents when they tried to sing along to a contemporary pop song, and I finally get it.
And the “it” is this: It doesn’t matter that I was revered as an all-knowing, all-powerful goddess whose side they couldn’t bear to leave for the first few years of their lives. Because for these next several years, if I’m lucky, I might get the occasional “hello.” And with that revelation came another: I’m reacting to the news not unlike the generations before me.
Oh, sure, there were clues over the years—the oft-spoken “Don’t make me come in there!” chief among them. The first time I uttered those words, I could actually hear my mother’s “I told you so” all the way from Buffalo. Next came the ever-popular “Am I talking to myself here?” and before I knew it, I’d realized the value in those words and adopted them as my own.
I thought it would stop there. It didn’t.
The floodgates opened. At every turn, a new phrase rolled off my tongue: “Because I said so” and “Those clothes aren’t going to fold themselves, you know” and “Yes, well, life isn’t fair.” These were followed by the evocative “If you don’t stop crying, I’m going to give you something to cry about,” whose circular reasoning drives children nuts—which I now realize is half the fun.
I started sensing a pattern, maybe seeing parenting with a little more clarity than I did in the old days, before, say, my children could speak. I began to see my own parents in a somewhat different light, also, with a dawning realization that they, too, might have once harbored the delusion that they would escape these years unscathed. . . until my brothers and I hit our teens, and doors started slamming and eyes started rolling and words started leaving their confused lips.
I suppose in the natural course of events, my children might one day find themselves saying the same things to their kids, and thinking back to their own teen years and what their parents used to say to them. Maybe it’s the circle of life.
“Besides, it’s how I did things, and I turned out all right!”
Maggie Lamond Simone is an award-winning writer and mother of two living in Baldwinsville. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.