I lay in bed waiting for the heater to kick on. The alarm had sounded, once, twice, three times before I finally convinced myself the sound was not in my dreams. Mom and Dad made the small noises of morning, a mug from the cupboard, a brush in the shaving cup, rings sliding against the shower rod. Then, the one I lived to hear: the short thunk of the register blasting to life, and close on its heels, the rush of blessed hot air forced into our cold, dark winter rooms.
The night before, I gathered my clothes. This was the key to optimum warmth. The bathroom, the warmest room in the house, was mere steps away, and I didn’t want to waste any of them being cold. I grabbed the pile of clothes and shot through the hall to the bathroom. There, I put my clothes over the heating register on the floor, shut the bathroom door against more cold air and ran turn-your-skin-pink hot water. If I timed it right, the heat from the register and the shower made the bathroom my own personal sauna.
It wasn’t that we lived in a tin can, or that there was not enough money to pay the coal man. My mother was an early warrior in the climate and energy consumption battle. And so our thermostat was always, always set below industry suggestions, or humanitary conditions. She called us—her darling babies—Energy Pirates, when we left the lights on when leaving a room. But I digress.
The promise of a hot shower on cold winter morning was the only thing that could get me out of bed.
I hated being cold. If you ask me in the middle of an Oklahoma summer, I will forget this, and say I hate being hot more. But I’m lying; my brain has been temporarily addled. Ignore me in the summer.
This morning, I lay in my dark bed, on a coldish Autumn morning. Thinking. Praying. Listening to the house sleep and begin to wake. My daughter rushed into the bathroom adjoining my room. She closed the doors quietly, then turned on the heating fan. Just before the fan hummed, I heard her.
“I’m so cold.”
Truth: I never use this fan; it makes the bathroom too hot. She, untaught and untold by me, knew the drill: she had her clothes with her. That’s my girl.
Sometimes I think she’s the perfect storm, a wild blend of all my crazy and all her dad’s crazy. She’s loud, like him. She’s smart, like him. She’s persnickety, and I can’t put that on him. I worry about her, because we’re not perfect. We have these genetics, and these foibles. And then, on top of that, we’re human, and so we make mistakes, some of them big and hairy messes.
I know that my mother and I share a love of the beach, that we stand the same way when we’re tired, and that we read the same books over and over. But I am not my mother. And my daughter is not me. She is not consigned to the same mistakes or pains or triumphs. She is not defined by her parents, or by her parents’ weirdness.