My daughter Siena and I spent much of the summer at my mother’s lake house in Ohio. It was the longest I had lived in my mother’s house since I was in college. And to make it even weirder, Ohio was not my home. (My parents are the only people I know who sold their beach house in Florida to retire in Ohio.) So I felt a bit like a fish out of water in the first place.
Don’t get me wrong. This summer was a lovely mélange of swimming holes and kayaking and Slip ‘n’ Slides and fairy villages and long lazy mornings. But it wasn’t easy to move back in with Mom, even when you have the world’s best mommy like I do.
Meet Lissa, The Brat
Here’s an exchange from my time there, when Mom was throwing a luau to show me off to her friends.
Mom: Honey, go put on a nametag.
Me : (envisioning the “Hi, my name is…” paper stickies with the red borders) No way in hell, why do we need nametags? That’s so cheesy.
Mom: Because lots of people here don’t know each other. So please, just wear a nametag.
Siena: (Looking at her Nana) Why won’t Mommy wear a nametag?
Mom: ‘Cause she’s being stubborn.
Me: You can’t make me.
Mom: No, I can’t make you wear a nametag. But I’d really appreciate it if you would.
Me: Okay, fine. I’ll wear a nametag that says “Hi, my name is Mildred.”
Siena: (confused) But that’s not your name Mommy.
Me: (rallying my 5 year old daughter and my 11 year old nephew onto my team): In fact, that’ll be fun! Why don’t we all make up new names and put them on our nametags! What name will you be, Siena?
Siena: Hi, my name is Siena.
Me: Okay, fine, don’t play. But my name is Mildred.
Mom: But you can’t put Mildred on your nametag. Everyone already knows your name is Lissa.
Me: THEN WHY THE F*CK DO I NEED A NAMETAG?
Yes, I did finally give in. And yes, I wrote “Lissa” on my nametag. And you couldn’t even see it because it was covered up by my white plastic lei and the tiki torches barely provided enough light to read nametags anyway, but Mom tilted her head and smiled when she saw it, and that made it worth the humiliation of having to wear a nametag to a backyard barbecue.
Mom Brings Out The Worst In Me
I don’t know about you, but I find myself exhibiting my very worst behavior when my mother is around. I mean who does shit like this? How hard is it to just put on a nametag? And yet, it’s like I can’t help myself. Here I am – 42 years old – and it’s like I’m still asserting my independence, proving that I’m a grown-up, demonstrating on a daily basis that I am no longer breast-feeding off her tit.
And my poor mom doesn’t deserve this kind of behavior. She tries so hard to make me happy. And then I wind up nit-picking every little thing she does. Like “Wow, Mom. You eat a lot of sugar. Ever thought of cutting back?” And “Jeez, Mom, this salad dressing has eleven ingredients I can’t pronounce. How hard is it to make a fresh salad dressing?” And “Cupcake Wars? There’s a TV show called Cupcake Wars? Is your life so boring that you find it thrilling to watch two bakers competing for who gets to make cupcakes for Dodger Stadium?”
I mean that’s how much of a bitch I can be! I don’t treat my husband or my best friend or anybody else like this. So why do I torture my beloved mother, who I love as much as I love anybody in this whole wide world? I mean I adore this woman. So why does she bring out the worst in me?
The Safety of Unconditional Love
I’ve been pondering this question this summer, as I beat myself up about how badly I treat my mother sometimes. And I realized in a flash of insight that my bad behavior is probably just a testament to my mother’s unconditional love for me. I don’t have faith that my husband would stick around if I treated him this way. And friends would probably say “Sayonara.” But deep in my heart, I know that my mother will love me, no matter how much I screw up, no matter how poorly I treat her, no matter how much I regress into behaving like a naughty 12 year old.
Maybe sometimes my inner brat just needs to act out and be witnessed – and still be loved – so I can behave like a grown up the rest of the time. Or maybe this IS the real me and Mom gets to see a completely unfiltered version of myself, the version I don’t trust anybody else to see.
Or maybe I’m just a brat and deserve a good spanking. I wouldn’t blame Mom if she decided that was in order. In fact, maybe I should have brought her the fly swatter and just dropped trou.
Or maybe I should apologize.
Perhaps if I felt insecure in my mother’s love of me, I would behave better, going to great lengths to try to earn her love. Perhaps if she had abused me or neglected me or abandoned me, I’d be falling over myself trying to please her. Maybe Mom should take my bratty behavior as proof that she did a great job raising me (even though this may seem counterintuitive.) After all, it means I know I am loved. I know my mother isn’t going anywhere. I know I can do anything, be anyone, risk everything – even fail – and my mother will still love me.
So what’s a little nametag rebellion?
Does Mom Bring Out The Worst In You?
What do you think? Do you find yourself behaving badly when you’re around your parents? How do you keep your inner brat under control?
Please share your tips and stories with me, before I drive my poor mother batty.
No longer slamming doors,