I Am My Mother. So Are You

Mothers are the real reason films like The Invasion of the Bodysnatchers or The Stepford Wives are so popular. Nobody’s freaked out by alien invasion. What we really fear is the inevitable vortex of becoming “mum”.

(Edited version published in Red Magazine, June 2011 issue.)

A girl walks past, dressed for a date. She looks nice. “God, look at those shoes!” I say to myself. “They make her walk like an ox. And that dress. You can see right through it…whatever happened to slips?”

I stop myself: I don’t even own a slip. Who wears slips anymore? Wait, who’s running my mind?

If you’re a daughter, you’ll know the answer. In those unguarded moments, when your thoughts are on autopilot, you’ll find the most terrible thing has happened: your brain has been taken over by your mother. For the rest of your life, you’ll be channelling this voice, this inner mother – and there’s precious little you can do about it. (Insert sound of mother’s echo-y laugh here.)

Laugh if you like, but this is a crisis on a global scale because our mothers are evil; no, not bad-evil. It’s just that they can’t help using the motherly skillset all the time: criticism, nagging, emotional blackmail and huge doses of love.

Of course, some of us have it worse. Like me. My mother (a Virgo and we all know what that means) is an exocet missile of energy, spite and love. She knows things she can’t possibly know, like the fact my boyfriend was gay when she’d never even met him. That that dress was too short – yes, I was yanking it down all night. And those shoes. Oh, don’t get me started on “the shoes”.

The Exorcist is my biopic because I feel possessed by my mother. I am exhausted by trying to stop her comments from coming out of my mouth. I know I’m not alone. I saw a pillow that reads, “Mirror, Mirror on the wall, I’ve become my mother after all.” The minute something’s inscribed on a pillow, it’s true. I bet Moses held up two pillows with all those commandments written on them.

As I grow up and older, my mother’s thoughts elbow mine away more and more. I see this as a failing, as if my own personality is slowly ebbing away. Gone are the days when I’d energetically fight her on every subject. For instance, as the owner of a small clothing store, my mother was the women who put the ‘yes’ into polyester. In my teens, I wore black and felt European, so polyester was a no-go area. “What’s wrong with polyester?” “I don’t like it! It traps body smells.” “There’s nothing wrong with modern fabrics, Karen. Nobody likes to iron.” “Mom, cotton feels better. It looks better.” “Oh, just you wait. You’ll see.”

My mother’s prophetic incantation of “Just you wait” was never said lightly. Of course, she was right. Modern polyesters – unlike the huge doubleknits of yore – are brilliant. I ordered a polyester dress yesterday and there’s nothing quite like spending billions on “her” favourite fabric that tells me once and for all that my mother is smarter than me. (I showed her the dress over Skype, and she approved but I lied to her about the price. My mother thinks its smarter to hit the sale rail first. She’s right about that too. Grrrr.)

Believe me, I’ve tried to get rid of my inner mother. I’ve purposely done dumb things just to not be her: stupid haircuts, idiotic footwear and strange-o-rama diets. But, as time wore on, I tried her suggestions on the sly. If I dressed in a more feminine way, men did treat me differently. If I ate the way she told me, I felt better and lost weight. Then I began to realise that, as her only daughter, I am the sole and rightful heir to all of her hard-won truths. So, I’ve ended up with a lot of wisdom, whether I wanted it or not. I have tons to spare if you need any.

How do you silence your inner mother? Let her be right. Gulp, I know. As long as you fight her, you’ll be doomed to repeat the quarrels of the past. If you don’t let your inner mother have her way, you’ll argue forever more about how to raise your kids or roast a chicken. Even worse, you’ll be locked into maternal combat with your own mind.
Honestly, you’re too old for this. Follow the advice of the great comedian Lenny Bruce: “Grow up. Sell out.” The sooner you submit to your inner mother, the sooner you’ll find peace.

How do I know this works? I had a fight with mom that was a turning point. I was in London, she was in America. She wanted me home for Christmas. I wanted to be with my (okay, yes, gay) boyfriend in the South of France. We hung up on each other. An hour later, she called me back, saying. “I’m sorry. I have some growing up to do.”

She was 76 years old then and dammit, she’d tricked me again into seeing that even when she’s wrong (South of France was much better than Big Rock, Illinois), she’s right (she did have some growing up to do).

So, the next time you look down and see your mum’s hand jutting out of your sleeve, smile. She’s always going to be there. It’s you who’ll be richer, having to channel the power of two great women – hers and yours – for the rest of your life.

Now, you’re not going out wearing THAT, are you?