Family

November 15 2012
13
Jennifer Luitwieler

my mom and me

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.”

I smiled.

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.

13 comments

  1. i love this–the details and the history, the tenderness. there is so much parent in child, and yet we’re our own, and God’s. perfectly captured.

    Reply
    • JenL

      Thanks, you sweet thing. It’s so funny, how for a long time, I didn’t want to be anything like my mother. Now I’d give a whole heck of a lot to know just a fraction of what she knows. Also, she’s very sassy, sartorially. But she also lives in Florida, so she’s warm all the time!

      Reply
  2. Oh, this made me smile so much. The things, untaught, that we glean from our mothers. I see it in the way I sign my name, and I see it in the way my youngest daughter cannot finish a project to save her life. Ahem.

    This is so, so tender and sweet and wonderfully picturesque.

    Reply
    • JenL

      I find it both endlessly amusing and wildly infuriating the mannerisms and wit and smart mouth and independence my girls inherited from their parents (see how I give Pa a role there?) Oh, mothers and daughters. We are ourselves, we are them. Thanks, Megan.

      Reply
  3. I love this. I see traces of my grandmother in my mom and traces of them both in me. I can only imagine what traits and quirks I would pass on to my children.

    Reply
    • Jen

      I love it. It does make me wonder how people who do not enjoy healthy parental relationships view these similarities. Thanks, Leigh.

      Reply
  4. Ed

    I think I vacillate from horror to delight when I see the ways my parents are reflected in me. I have my mother’s bluntness, and sometimes it helps clarify things, but my goodness, I can step on toes sometimes.

    Reply
    • Jen

      I get that, Ed. I got my father’s snobbery and wicked shape tongue, I wish I got more of my mother’s grace and diplomacy. Instead I got her coking ability. Which is also good.

      Reply
  5. Gosh, do I get that worry about how we are manifest in our children.

    Thanks for this, Jen. So much to think about here.

    Reply
    • Jen

      Thanks, Katherine.

      Reply
  6. Can’t remember the last time I used the term heat register, and I’m not sure I’ve ever seen it in print. But I do remember the days of taking my clothes into the bathroom to warm them up. Remembering the 70s energy crisis here, and not with fondness.

    My kids are such a strange amalgam of their biological roots, which are a mystery, and blessings and curse of having grown up in a house with their father and me. Though my daughter didn’t come from my body, her voice and mine sound so similar over the phone that my own mother can’t tell us apart. There are things which I wish my kids hadn’t picked up from me and some which please me beyond measure.

    But they are uniquely their own selves, in ways which are sometimes beyond my comprehension.

    Reply
    • Jen

      When I looked at my babies and wondered who they looked like, my mother would always say, “they look like themselves.” I love what this conveys. A sort of little baby person, wrapped up and getting ready to blossom, and that not everything we are or do as a parent will be transcribed on their hearts and brains forever. They will be, and are, their own people. I like, too, that your children share your traits, because that is the full adoption picture in real life.

      Reply

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