Ask a Mom Who Is Not Your Mom by Amy Fusselman

Dear Ask a Mom Who’s Not Your Mom,

If I am waiting to hear back for a job interview or a film festival submission or something like that, every time I talk to my mom she asks me if I’ve heard anything yet.  It drives me crazy.  It’s hard enough having to wait for news without constantly being reminded about it.  Doesn’t she understand what a terrible thing she is doing?  How can I stop her?  What is wrong with her?

-Waiting

 

Dear Waiting,

I feel for you. You are right to wonder why she is acting like that. Let me explain.

Parenting is generally presented to people about to embark on that process as a good and natural thing, one of the most good and natural things on Earth—similar in many ways, to, say, Manifest Destiny.

his painting (circa 1872) by John Gast called American Progress, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Here Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads civilization westward with American settlers, stringing telegraph wire as she sweeps west; she holds a school book as well.
HEADING TOWARDS PARENTHOOD: This painting (circa 1872) by John Gast, called American Progress, is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Here Columbia, a personification of the United States, leads civilization westward with American settlers, stringing telegraph wire as she sweeps west; she holds a school book as well.

 

Listen, do you want to know what a good and natural thing to do is? A good and natural thing to do is to lie on the couch all Saturday morning undisturbed, studying the pretty pictures in the latest issue of Art Forum while drinking this funny new beverage made of “coffeefruit” and fake sugar that tastes like blueberry pancake syrup and is supposed to put all the collagen back in your face.

Parenting is not like this. Parenting is traumatic. It is traumatic to be responsible for a small human being who doesn’t know—and I mean this in the nicest possible way—jack shit, a small human being who literally does not know not to walk off a cliff.

Parents, having gone through not just a minute or two of this nonsense but years and years of it, are traumatized. Even when their child is no longer living with them, and is well on their way to an exciting, fulfilling, independent life, the parents are still dealing with their post- traumatic stress disorder, and they can’t be casual or normal about anything, because the act of parenting—that normal, natural act—has turned them into total freaks.

You don’t say whether or not you have asked your mother to please stop doing this, but I am going to assume that you have. Assuming you have already asked her not to do this, and she is persisting, then my advice to you, dear Waiting, is this: edit. This is hard because it requires you to hold back your news and you may be used to telling your Mom everything, but I am here to say, that’s gotta stop. You are grown-up now and you must think of yourself as a sort of living New York Times. Not Gawker, not TMZ; The Gray Lady. The stories you tell to your Mom have to be “fit to print.” That means that they are stories that have already happened, and are carefully reported. No cliffhangers. Your Mom is too delicate for that.

***

Dear Mom Who Is Not My Mom,

I keep getting older.  Every day.  Only my clothes stay the same age they were when I bought them. I thought my Hello Kitty t-shirt was ironically cool until I saw that one of the Really Desperate Housewives was wearing one and the Internet went apeshit over the inappropriateness of it.  “You’re too old!” the Internet said, “It looks creepy on you!”  The thing is, Not My Mom, I want to age with dignity and grace, at least when it comes to my clothing.  But, sweet lord jeezus in heaven, I do NOT want to dress like my own mom.  What should I wear?

Sincerely,
Fancy Christmas Sweaters Give Me A Rash

 
Dear FCSGMAR,

I am so happy you sent in this question because it gives me a chance to not talk about something: fashion. In not talking about fashion, and in making a distinction here between fashion—which is a gigantic monster that hovers over women like Godzilla over Tokyo and shits 50 pound Vogue magazines every September and makes other ridiculous messes every goddamned day all year long—and clothing, which is merely flimsy and small and which we can roll up into a ball and put on or not, we can discuss your question without distraction, because your question is not really about fashion, or clothing, at all. It is about aging.

So. Let us think first of women who have aged with dignity and grace because, as I know you know, FCSGMAR, dignity and grace are not physical qualities but spiritual ones, which is why we can’t find them in our clothes, Hello Kitty emblazoned or not.

There are many women to choose from, but the first who comes to mind is Beatrice Wood, the west coast ceramicist who died in 1998 at age 105. According to her obit in The New York Times, Wood was “a ceramic artist known as much for her irreverent quips, beauty, bohemian life style and famous lovers as for her luminous luster-glaze chalices.” Perhaps a propensity towards “irreverent quips” is not dignified, but surely it is graceful, and we should all be so lucky as to have that quality (to say nothing of having “famous lovers”) noted in our obituaries.

Beatrice-Wood-art-books-chocolate-young-men
Beatrice Wood and friends

The New York Times obit also notes of Wood that, “For the last four decades of her life, she dressed exclusively in bright Indian saris and wore large amounts of silver-and-turquoise jewelry, even when throwing pots, with her thick, hip-length gray hair twisted into braids or a bun.”

Now this sort of behavior is something to study, FCSGMAR. Whatever your occupation is, it could surely be done more gracefully and with more dignity in a bright sari and large amounts of silver and turquoise jewelry. And although I would never be the one to tell you not to don your Hello Kitty shirt as I am a huge fan of that feline myself, I would emphasize that it is impossible to know if something you are wearing is cool, let alone ironically cool. Those estimations are for the beholder to make, and in our quest for dignity and grace we must stop looking at ourselves from the outside in, and instead  start feeling ourselves from the inside out. We must wear our clothes, be they bright saris or Hello Kitty shirts, like our friend Beatrice Wood, with as much dignity, grace, and, perhaps, irreverence, as possible. Focus on that and you will be fine, FCSGMAR. Even in a fancy Christmas sweater.

***

Dear Mom Who’s Not My Mom,

I’m bisexual, but my Mom Who Is My Mom doesn’t know. She’s a very conservative Christian and I don’t want to upset her, but I don’t like keeping things from my family, despite their disapproving nature. Is it important for our relationship, do you think, that I tell her? It would not be welcome news to her ears.

Sincerely,

Child Who’s Not Your Child

 
Dear CWNMC,

Oh my goodness, this seems to be a depressing theme to our letters today, but here it is again: editing on behalf of a parent who can’t deal with the full story.

(What the hell is it with parents? Why are they so fragile? Why do they think so small? Why don’t they know—and I am trying to be kind here—jack shit?!).

Your circumstance is slightly different from our previous letter-writer in that you are not complaining, however justly, about your mom’s behavior in the face of a story she can’t handle because she doesn’t know how the story ends and she needs to know how the story ends because she can’t tolerate the anxiety that not-knowing generates. You are talking about a story that is not, presumably, evolving (although some would surely argue otherwise), which is your sexuality.

One of the primary tasks of parenting, I’ve heard, is to accept our children as they are. However, at the same time that we parents are supposed to accept our children as they are, we are also supposed to teach them right from wrong, and to train them how to function well in the world. Sadly, the aspects of the child we are supposed to accept and the aspects of the child we are supposed to correct and train are not always as clearly demarcated as you might think, and it’s possible that a parent may decide that at least some of this teaching/training business is for the birds, which may put said parent in direct opposition with the systems that said child is supposed to be operating successfully within. But more on that another time.

Your bisexuality may indeed challenge your mother’s understanding of what is right and wrong. However, your job is not to make your mom happy or comfortable. Your job is to live your life as fully as possible, and being true to your sexuality is a huge part of that.

Now, you may be wondering how I can give seemingly contradictory advice about editing your words for a parent over the course of two letters. I will tell you my rationale: when you are telling a story to your parent because you (rightfully) want their succor, and they seem, after repeated tries, incapable of giving it, you should stop. To continue would be harmful to you.

If you are considering informing your parent about a fact of your selfhood, and you are doing so because you are hoping for a deeper and more honest relationship with your parent, then I say go for it, despite the fact that this may be hard for your parent to hear.

What we are trying to get at here, ultimately, is the least amount of harm, and the greatest possibility of good, for yourself and your parent.

I wish you the best of luck, CWNMC.

***

Dear Mom Who Is Not My Mom,

What’s the deal with moms and swearing? My mom who is my mom is about as straight-laced as they come. When we were kids she made a swear jar for us. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve heard her say “shit”. The other day when I was helping her move a rug she said “It’s a heavy cocksucker.” What gives? Do you think she heard it in a movie and doesn’t understand the meaning? She’s 68 years old; could this be a sign of approaching senility? There must be some explanation.

Thanks!
Shockedsucker

 

Dear Shockedsucker,

OMG, this is perfect! Our theme has now come full circle!  Just as children have dilemmas editing themselves for their parents, parents have dilemmas editing themselves for their children. I am not your Mom, Shockedsucker, but I can speak of this from bitter experience. If you are, as I am, someone who loves swearing, who swears for the joy of it, who thinks pretty much any spoken sentence is improved by the word “fucking,” then you realize how much energy it takes to hold back the swears from the tender ears of your children. Your mom has probably just decided that you’re a grown up, you’re not fragile, you know stuff, you’ve heard the word before, and she’s not going to pretend she’s something she’s not for you anymore—that is, she’s not a lady who doesn’t swear. She fucking swears. I would take this as a compliment. She’s being more honest with you, she’s showing a little more of who she is. Is that not welcome news to your ears?

Thank you for your questions, friends.
I remain:

A Mom Who Is Not Your Mom