When I was living in North Carolina my mom came to visit and one night, after some wine, we started discussing independence and life choices and the like. At one point she said: I think if my life had gone differently I would have turned out a lot like you. Which is a strange pill to swallow for a couple of different reasons. Obviously my mother could never turn out like me if she’d never had me in the first place. And, in a bigger sense, it was maybe the first time I started to think about her as an actual person and not just my mom who took me to little league and packed my lunches. But mostly, it was hard for me to imagine my wholesome, conservative, mid-western mother in my world of late nights, bar stools, feminist literature and tiny apartments shared with rotating housemates. No, my mother was baking flour, canned jams and casseroles. She used to say things like, “oh fiddle sticks!” or “for Pete’s sake!” in that nasal accent that makes everyone from Michigan sound warm and endearing even if they’re not. I fancied myself a bit rebellious when I struck out on my own and moved away from my hometown, the way no one else in my family had ever done. And the thought of my mother being anything like me was laughable.
So this past Sunday, after breakfast with my mother-in-law, I was on a mission for gardening supplies. On my drive, I called my mom to see how she was spending her holiday and to congratulate her on her greatest accomplishment: me. I also needed to ask her advice on the flower bed I was planning to cultivate because I’m convinced there is very little she doesn’t know about plants in general, but especially flower gardens. Within an hour I was squatting on a tiny, orange stool in my front yard pulling weeds and breaking up the soil with the Avett Brothers crooning southern twang from my iPod, which seemed like appropriate mood music for gardening.
As I crouched there, with dirt and sweat in the creases of my arms and knees, I thought about my mom. And not just because it was Mother’s Day. I thought about how she saw something in me back then enough to draw comparison between her and I. Back when I thought myself too radical with my vegetarian and my feminist literature and my cigarettes and my gay. And maybe she did see a little bit of herself in those things, in the independence I’d found in that tiny southern town. But I like to think that she also saw something else, the person I am now. The one who loves getting her hands dirty in the yard or spending hours perfecting recipes in the kitchen. The one who craves motherhood and enjoys her settled, domestic lifestyle. We all become our mothers in some way, I suppose. I just always figured it was my quick temper and love of Star Wars that I’d inherited.
When I was done planting, the garden looked, well, pathetic. The flowers haven’t bloomed yet so it just looks like tiny tufts of green circling our oak tree. Or it’s a maple tree. I’m unclear. Recognizing foliage is apparently not something I picked up from mom. But I think, with some time, the garden will turn into something of which I’m rather proud. My former self, all introspective and deconstructing in her academic pursuit for meaning and purpose, would say the parallel is me as a budding impatiens plant. And that over time, I’ve turned into something of which my mother can be proud. Of course I’m far too cynical for all that now, so I’ll just say thanks to my mom for giving me the very best parts of herself.