Turning Into Mother

Turning Into Mother

By Maggie Van Ostrand


cat-face“Careful you don’t tear the wrapping paper,” I said to my daughter as she opened her birthday gift. “You can iron the wrinkles out and use it again.” It was at that moment I realized that the unthinkable had happened: I had turned into my mother. How could this be when I, who rebelled against anything bigger than I was, had valiantly fought against ever becoming like her. I love my mother but in all honesty, she had sayings that could drive us kids straight to the rubber Ramada. She didn’t have to talk either; equipped with an inexhaustible supply of looks for every occasion, she could make us feel guilty quicker than Joan Crawford could grab a wire hanger.

Mother’s little habits turned out to be hereditary despite my vigilance. I save one earring just in case the lost one ever turns up. I transfer phone numbers onto my computer but still save the little pieces of paper the originals were written on. I keep the rubber bands that hold bunches of broccoli together. I never used to do these things. I save leftover bits of soap to mold into one usable bar; this will come in handy to combat soap shortages if we’re ever in another war. I even caught myself repeating Mother’s most famous line, suitable for all catastrophic occasions: “It should be the worst thing that ever happens to you.”

I have a drawer full of brand-new white cotton gloves because every Easter for years and years she sent me a pair even after I moved to Mexico where no one wears them. Maybe she thought I’d need them if I ever got invited to a cotillion at Tara, or decided to have a retroactive coming out party. (I could have a coming out party every time I wear a Wonder Bra.) Maybe one day I’ll donate the white gloves to one of those brass bands you see marching in the Rose Parade every January. I’d do it now except for the guilt.

I don’t stop whatever I’m doing until it’s finished, no matter how exhausted because “If a job is once begun, never leave it till it’s done.

Be the labor great or small, do it well or not at all.” Last time I moved, I was so weary from hours of packing reference books, and daunted at the thought of all there were still remaining to pack, I gave tons of them away. It seemed like a good idea at the time except I later realized I needed most of them for fact-checking stories I was working on. I ended up having to buy them back from used-book stores. I see Mother’s wordless “I told you so” expression whenever I have to buy back one of my own books.

“Save that dress, it´II come back in style,” I tell my daughter. Mother used to say that and my response then was identical to my daughter’s now: “Mom, I need the closet space.” “You could always build an addition to your house.” “Finish your dinner. Think of all the starving children in Europe.” When I tried that one on my kids, my son answered, “So send the leftovers to Europe.”

Mother’s answers cover every disaster life slings at us. “I’ve got a pimple on my forehead and tonight´s the prom.” “Wear bangs.” “I’m thirsty.” “Swallow.” “My root canal will cost $700.” “Thank God you can afford it.” And when all else fails, there’s always “Just wait till you have one of your own.” I told my kids I’ll give up using guilt when it doesn’t work anymore.

It should be the worst thing that ever happens to them.


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