Jane was in bed with me this morning and calmly said, “Hey, look at that spider.” I glanced over and there was a spider about six inches from her face. And they were just eyeing each other calmly. If this isn’t irrefutable proof that people can rise above their gene pool, I don’t know what is.
I, on the other hand, swallowed a squeal and knocked it off the bed for fear the spider might eat my baby’s face.
Between our co-sleeper friend this morning, and the family of arachnids that took up residence in my shoe, I’m thinking it’s time for the exterminator.
But, I digress.
When I was a teen I fought with, and against, my mother constantly. This was usually a mistake of gargantuan proportion.
While some mothers face their teenage daughters with uncertainty and resignation, my mother, Margaret (we call her the Margenator) fought back against our snarky awful teenagerness with crossed arms and determination. Every time I rolled my eyes or smarted off she got mad. Glenn-Close-boil-the-rabbit mad. I can remember once she yelled, “I hope you have a daughter just like you!” I paid no attention at the time, because after all she was just a wicked mother out to steal all the joy from life, like Ursula swirling her black tentacles from the depth of the ocean and scaring off Ariel’s boyfriends. But years later, as I lay on the delivery table and held my daughter Jane in my arms, those words came back to me.
The second I saw my mother after delivery I started crying, the hormones flooding over me like a tsunami of guilt. I thought about the time I broke her antique vase. I thought about the time I was four and yelled through a department store, “HEY IS THAT WOMAN OVER THERE PREGNANT OR IS SHE JUST FAT?” I thought about all the other times I lay by the bathroom door, peering under the crack while she was trying to do her business and whining, “But I’m hungry nooowwww.”
“I’m so sorry for all the mean things I ever did to you” I balled.
She kissed me on the forehead and laughed and stole her first grandchild away to the other side of the room where I can only assume she was explaining to her important life matters, like how never to stand near a microwave, never take candy from strangers, and always wear Avon Skin So Soft before walking in the woods so the ticks won’t bit you.
In the months that followed my life did not go as planned. I became seriously ill in just about every way. My body gave out. I realized, for perhaps the first time in my existence, how much my own mother loved me. Because the love I felt for that tiny baby was too much to describe. I was desperate to care for her. Desperate to be well and healthy. My own mother trudged up and down the stairs with trays of food and medicine, her usually stoic face knitted in concern. The Margenator was on a mission to get me well, and there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t do. For the first time I realized how frustrated and hurt she must have been when she yelled at teenager-me, “I hope you have a daughter just like you!” When she yelled that, she was remembering me as a baby. She was remembering rocking me when I had fever, or letting me play with her makeup. She was remembering the little girl who loved and adored her, not a teenage angst machine.
I realized that all the women in our family tree had loved the next generation in just that way. I realized all the “rules” and suggestions and ideas and stories and nagging that had been passed down generation from generation stemmed from an avalanche of love. Sure, they may have wielded guilt like Thor’s hammer, but the women in our female tree, my mother included, are a testament to everything I feel for my own daughter.
As I tried to get well, laying in bed in my sister’s old bedroom and staring at her elementary-era booger wall, I realized just how much I loved and needed my mother. I realized just how much she had loved and needed her own mother. And so on, and so on. And my aunts. And my grandmothers. And all those women who came before and the nuggets of truth that have worked thier way down through the branches, like when my Great Grandmother India summed up her take on animal cruelty by telling my grandfather, “If you make that dog bite you I’m gonna give you a spanking.”
All this to say… my little girl isn’t like me. I admired her this morning, more than I can say, watching her stare at a scary black spider inches from her face without flinching. She’s braver than me. She’s kinder than me. And sometimes, I’m loathe to admit, she’s smarter than me. Soon she’ll turn into a teenager and grow two heads and have mood swings and think I’m the dumbest of dumb. But I also know that eventually we’ll come full circle.
And one day she’ll realize just how much I love her, just like the Margenator loves me.
And we’ll high five each other.
And then I’ll give her a paper towel and say, “Go kill that spider over there for Mommy.”