Something strange happens when women become mothers. No, it isn't the mommy clothes or the widening hips but more of the intangibles. It's almost like they make a deal with the Devil - "I'll have this spawn of hell in return for enormous powers." And one of the powers that they have - including the eyes at the back of the head (yes, that's real) - is having the following sentences mean absolutely nothing to them. Even when you're 30.
"You can't tell me what to do!"
These words just bounce right off them. They nod and agree about how you're old enough to make your own decisions, about how many more responsibilities you have now – with a career and investments and everything else, how you have grown up to be a mature woman, and then Wham! Be home by 10. Put your clothes away. Save some more money. Watch that car watch that car!! No matter how many times you say these words to her, it doesn’t matter.
She tells you anyway.
"Stop the emotional blackmail!"
Your mother signed on a strange dotted line when she gave birth to you, a dotted line that gave her immense powers. We all know the one where she knows that you'd eaten the last slice of meatloaf even when it was hours ago and you’d washed the dishes. She didn’t even think for a minute that it was Tammy, your imaginary friend! The other power she got was being able to twist your innards into a pulpy gutted mess by just one barely quivering lip and a heartbroken stare. This is how she got you to call her everyday without fail even when you were hungover and your tongue felt like sandpaper after another late night bash in the dorm. This is how she ensures that you visit even when your life is going to hell in a handbasket. So when you say those words to her, all she hears is “mumble mumble mumble.”
The blackmail continues, and you simmer in low-heat while you visit your family with her, get to know your nephews and nieces, hear her laugh at a funny paragraph in the book you got her for her birthday, and you think of all the things you could be doing in your apartment, watching TV, drinking beer all by yourself. And you think, “This emotional blackmail is bullshit!”
"Butt out of my life!"
Right up there with the first one, this one works in the opposite way. You say one thing, and she hears, “Mom, I really need you to tell me what to do.” This is why, whenever you say these words to her, she returns with “Tell me what’s going on!” The sad part is, you tell her what’s going on, with the total understanding that she won’t have the answer. And often, she doesn’t... or even worse, she tells you what you already know, deep down in the recesses of your heart, things that you don’t want to acknowledge. But sometimes, just sometimes, she says or does the exact thing that changes everything. And she sees it in your eyes, that you underestimated her once more, that everything you thought you knew or could expect from her has just been proven wrong. And she smiles, because it’s the same look you’ve had on your face every time she surprised you – about the meatloaf or your boyfriend.
"I hate you I hate you!"
This one is the last great weapon in your arsenal. You bring it out when everything else has failed. When she has refused to let you deal with your life by yourself, when she has insisted on fighting your bad choices even when you knew they were wrong, when she has categorically chosen to misunderstand what you meant when you said “Butt out!” When nothing has worked, you bring this out, certain that this will finally make her stop, make her not believe in you, make it finally okay for you to not constantly try to live up to her expectations of you. And like all great weapons, this promises effective destruction. And it works, she gets that you hate her. What you forgot however, is that this doesn’t make her hate you. And since she doesn’t hate you, she doesn’t stop.
"Please don't die Mum.."
And then, years later, as you sit amidst your grown nephews and nieces, your cousins and your extended family that she ensured you build ties with, at a moment in your life when you have achieved everything you didn’t think possible, and finally have come to terms with how much of a solo cheerleader your mom has been, when you find yourself on the other side of the mom-conundrum and have learned to laugh about how your kids seem to think you were born yesterday, she lies on a bed, frail and exhausted, smiling at your pitiful jokes designed to make her laugh, to not think about an improbable tomorrow. She lies there and you finally squeeze these words out of your heart, and hope that just this once, she will listen.
And, just like every other time, this time too, she doesn’t listen.