Most of us spend a minimum of 18 years living with our mom and, from the first time that someone related to us the cliché that all women become their mothers, a lot of us strive not to be the things we find most annoying about that particular parent. I identified the parts of my mother I didn't want to become at a relatively young age. I didn't want to be jealous, I didn't want to be rigid, I didn't want to hew to outdated stereotypes of how one's house should look when one has company and I didn't want to make an irrationally large deal out of things that weren't. This is not at all to say that my mother doesn't have many fine qualities as a mother, wife, friend or woman, but everyone has their flaws and those were the ones I didn't want to emulate. My plan to not become my mother has worked out about as well for me as it does for everyone, which is to say it mostly hasn't at all.I'm home visiting for the weekend and, in an unhappy coincidence, my family ended up mid-family crisis this morning. By the time I'd finished writing Crappy Hour, my mother was scrubbing the shit out of the bathroom tile. She then cleaned the toilet, did a load of unnecessary laundry, changed two beds, tore apart the basement looking for dishwasher fluid, made lunch, abandoned her lunch in search of a pillow case, gave my father 20 minutes of instructions on how to make a salad for dinner tonight and threw away all the crackers in the house. Yeah, I don't understand that last one either. On one level, I wanted to make her stop and sit down and deal and, on the other, I knew exactly why she was doing what she was doing because I do it too. Last Christmas was my first post-break up Christmas after having been in a relationship for 5 years. I started to make some cookies for some closer friends and ended up baking 500 in less than a week — I didn't even have enough friends to give all of them to at Christmastime, and ended up bring three dozen frozen ones to Moe in February. When I had an inkling that said relationship was on the rocks, I reorganized and color-coded my closet rather than crying. When it did end, I itemized my list of items to take to Goodwill and loaded up my car, then reorganized my drawers, did some much-needed work on my car and and obsessively dusted the newly empty slots in my wine rack. When I needed to work through a job crisis once, I spent 4 hours oiling my leather sofa, scrubbed every surface in my bathroom and kitchen and dusted everything else, including my blinds. Only when I sat in the midst of a place so clean that my mother would've been proud did I call my best friend to cry that I'd completely fucked up my life. I know why I do it and why she does it: We're both intensely pragmatic creatures who have built a measure of self-esteem around being the Reliable One. We take comfort in the routine of the mundane, in the Zen of the minor physicality of cleaning and organizing. We find some measure of unfounded faith in the idea that bringing order to clutter can bring psychic order to cluttered thoughts — even as we know that it never really works like that. And, to a great degree, we do it because we're both terrible at openly expressing our actual emotions. It might seem easier to cry in grief or tell someone you love them or are proud of them, but she and I both know it's far easier to yell when someone of whom your proud disappoints you than to admit to being proud in the first place, or to scrub burnt bits off the stove than to cry on someone's shoulder. So while I'm sure I'm less jealous than she is and don't spend hours vacuuming before having guests over and try to be as flexible as humanly possible to the foibles of my friends and family, I am still my mother's daughter. So I have to go now and shuck enough corn for 10 people and then make a salad 'cause you know my dad ain't gonna do that right.
Well, to answer the original question, the first time it happened, I was about 16 (it's a little scary at that age when an adult's stentorian "Excuse Me!" comes out of your mouth when you're trying to get someone's attention) — so since then I've tried to apply what I've learned and shelve the rest that doesn't work.
Lately, she's been comparing me with my grandmother a lot, which is a champion way (after years of other people, in addition to Herself, telling me I'm my mother's spitting image, in both character and demeanor) of making me feel like I don't have a personality of my own — which, considering the way she and my grandmother interacted, I have to believe is some sort of test of the Emergency Broadcast System — to see if I am "tough enough" to be a real "woman of this family", to see if I can stand up to the BS without either crumbling or blowing a gasket.
(Confession therapy on a Friday. Way to go Jez.)
It Is Only A Test.