For Mother’s Day my daughter is texting me pictures of all the flowers she’s encountering in her day – it’s one of the sweeter of her many sweet expressions of love for me. No, I’m not going to lie and tell you that our relationship is characterized entirely by sweetness. Our relationship IS characterized by words like “very,” “more,” and words that end in “-er” and “-est.” We are both intense personalities, and therefore, like the “little girl who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead,” in the nursery rhyme, when we are good (or sweet or nice or loving to each other) we are very, very good, and when we are bad (or angry, or jealous, or sad with each other) we can indeed be “horrid.”
The same can probably be said of my relationship with my own mother. I wish I had known my grandmother better, so I could tell how far back this line of intensity goes. I do know she and my mother could stick to their guns with a truly astonishing level of stubbornness when necessary. My solitary memory of my great-grandmother was her fondness for watching wrestling matches on television! I bet she was a fairly intense lady herself. My father’s mother and I also had an intense relationship. I remember vividly a particular day, when I was boarding with her while in graduate school, that I felt an incredible connection and tenderness for her while helping her with some cosmetic care. Only an hour or two later, we were having a real beauty of a spat about what we would watch on television, both of us with our heels dug firmly in, and chins stubbornly up in the air! (She wanted a Knight Rider re-run, I was in the middle of a nostalgic moment listening to Ernie sing about his rubber ducky and didn’t want to change the channel just yet…yeah, I’ve always been mature that way.)
I believe that all of us formed our identities, in part, by testing them against each other’s intensity and strength. When I was a teenager, I know I thought I was fighting against something in my mom. My perspective has changed a lot since then, partly because of my own experience of parenting, but mostly from getting to know her as a woman in her own right, and not just as the role of “mother.” I had no idea at the time that the more I insisted on being myself, the more I was like her!
I am incredibly lucky to have been surrounded by women who, one way or another, find ways to express themselves authentically, and who tend to get better at it as they age. For all of them, young and old, there are certainly lots of times when it isn’t so safe to express their opinions or characters, but when it is safe, or when it is necessary, they do it with gusto. Instead of crumbling in on themselves, they all continue to emerge and blossom, grow and develop their own spirits.
So here I am, looking at a collection of blooms, everything from cut roses to street corner planters, and from charming paper creations to high-tech designer displays made of metal. Such incredible diversity and individuality! They fit in, or they don’t, with perfect sincerity. They are what they are. They don’t really care what the passers-by in New York think of them, or that their images have now been replicated on computer and phone screens thousands of miles away. May my daughter feel the same sense of comfort in her own skin. May I. And may all of you.