Hominy & Hash
IT'S NOT ONE THING, IT'S THE OTHER
by Constance Daley
American Reporter Correspondent
St. Simons Island, Ga.
ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. -- It's not about towels, you know, those times when a daughter stops her mother mid-fold over the laundry basket. It isn't necessarily an angry grab or snatch that ends the "just wanting to help" chore; the daughter might smile and say softly "I'll do those, Mom, you just sit down."
Once a girl leaves home, how she folds her towels is how everyone is going to fold her towels or she'll do them herself. And this goes for the toilet paper and how the roll is placed: paper falling over the top or coming down against the wall. It seems so inconsequential, doesn't it? It's not, though. At first a kind exchange where any response at all is taken as a verbal attack, and,from there, nit picking through clenched teeth becomes a battle.
In deference to my four lovely daughters, let me say this is about many mothers and daughters, not necessarily me and mine. When children grow and our lives are lived apart, behind-closed-door similarities in families are spoken about by women having lunch or playing bridge.
At first, these conversations are timid revelations -- often to explain the reddened eyes after a visit with one daughter or another. Later, women can laugh uproariously over the silly thing thatstarted a tirade. Still later, more immune to hurt, a mother might say: "Let her fold her own damn towels," and we'll laugh until tears streak our mascara at how picky, picky, picky mothers and daughters can be -- over towels!
Daughters are all different. Isn't that remarkable? They're often more like their friends, whom they can choose, than their siblings, whom they can not. Perhaps some of the differences come from their place in the lineup of children. In my case, the first daughter was between two sons; the next between a son and a daughter, the next between two other girls and the last ... well, the baby, an entirely different place.
I see them all as learning about life at my knee; they see themselves living it under my thumb. What I perceived as a right way anda wrong way, they saw as my way or the highway. I'm not the first towhine "What's a mother to do?"
My mother was such a gentle woman. Her whole life was husband and a house full of children. She was my first teacher and now my muse. She died at 82; I was 38 then and still not a day goes by I haven't wanted to tell her something. When I was growing up I never wanted to tell her anything. "Oh, you don't understand," I'd snap. And she'd let me untangle whatever it was.
It was as if I couldn't imagine she ever fell in love, or had her heart broken, or failed a test or had a bad hair day. How could she understand what agony I was going through? And, now, I can't even come up with an example of that "agony." Luckily, I came along before the psychobabble brigade put "mommy bashing" into our vocabulary. At a certain age, I might have joined in -- but, in truth, I had no weapons to use against her. I wanted to hate her (for loving miserable me) but I needed her reassuring hugs.
I had to find out for myself that there's more to life than family, but, by the time I learned it, I already had a husband and children. Until "The Feminine Mystique" was published we felt guilty for being so frustrat= ed all the time. My contemporaries acknowledge what wonder women our daughters are, and how special it is for them to know who they are as themselves -- not just someone's wife, someone's mother. Yet, it's easy to see they're still performing the same thankless tasks we did at home and also pursuing a professional career or holding down a job.
From the beginning, daughters came into their own through their mothers, not as some divine gift to them. The fact that we delight in their being does not make them our very own. And, we differ almost from the beginning. After all, we are both women, and, as such, we want to do it our own way. (It's part of the process.) As a mother we know we have to teach her "a" way to do things, and that of course is our own way. There are times -- and we women laugh at this -- we've said, "All right, do it your way," and then stand by to help them pick up the pieces.
I don't see anything inherently right or wrong in these relationships. The mothers can't imagine what was said or done to allow things to get so out of hand; the daughters feel guilty for making their mothers cry because that makes them cry and they don't want their mothers to see them cry. So, they hug each other to hide their crying eyes.
It's just something most of us live through. For a good part of our lives we wanted to please our mothers and for the rest of our lives we want to please our mothers by showing them our self-reliance -- even if it means shouting them down until they see it.
I can't apologize to my mother for how I acted growing up, I can only understand my daughters who will someday understand themselves.It's not about towels -- it's never about towels. It's about apron strings.