I will not become my mother, I will not become my mother, I will NOT become my mother. I can say this a hundred times a day and still I fight it with every fiber of my being every day of the week. And there is no more glaring example of the ways in which I have tried to not be my mother than in my anxiety every time Child One goes off on her merry way in her new car with her new driver’s license.
This is my own fault, mind you. I was the one who gave her the final push to get her license. As summer wound down and the first day of school loomed every closer, I was the one to say, “hey listen, I’m making plans for three Saturdays from now. And I’ll be busy ALL day. So if you want to get anywhere, you better take your test so you can drive yourself.” I did not say this to be cruel. Of course I had no plans and of course had she not taken her test (or God forbid, failed), I would have driven her wherever she wanted to go. I said it to be motivating. I figured that Child One would simply never make an appointment with the DMV unless pushed. Unlike me and my peers, Child One and her generation feel no pressing need to get their driver’s licenses the day they turn 16. Unlike me and my peers, Child One and her peers have, for the most part, healthy relationships with their parents. The desperate urge to escape, to get as far away from their homes as quickly as possible, doesn’t dictate their teenage choices. In fact, they’re very happy to be driven around, very happy to spend time with their parents, very happy to stay dependent. But the threat worked. And Child One made her appointment.
Anxiety and anticipation of failure notwithstanding, Child One passed the test and became a licensed driver three weeks ago. The morning after she got her license, she took her first drive, by herself, in her car to her internship twenty-five miles away. She then drove to her riding lesson, to lunch, to see a friend and then home. And I was a nervous wreck the entire time. I asked her to call me at every stop. I checked my phone for texts every few minutes. And I even caught myself wringing my hands – a gesture that when performed by my mother can send shivers of anger through my body.
Two nights later, Sig Other and I were home watching tv when the phone rang. It was Child One, on her way home from a friend’s house. Sig Other and she spoke for a moment and he said, “Yes, that would be great – see you soon.” He hung up the phone and told me she was calling to say she would be stopping to pick up frozen yogurt for us on her way home. And I burst into tears. The plump little blonde girl who wore Indian shirts and made horse jumps for herself and the dogs out of brooms and chairs in the backyard was now a tall, thin, gorgeous young woman who was bringing late-night treats to her old parents waiting vigilantly at home.
But it isn’t the crying that makes me fear becoming Charlotte. Crying is ok. I actually like the fact that I cry easily. I don’t mind blubbering my way through a movie or tearing up at school culminations. It’s the worrying that drives me crazy. My mother worried about me endlessly. And ridiculously. And irrationally. And still does. And it wasn’t just me she worried about. She worried about my sisters, my father when he was alive, my stepfather after that. And her brand of worry is not worry standing in for love. Her brand of worry is insane. If a storm in Palm Springs is reported on the news, she calls me in Los Angeles to see if I’m ok. Every plane trip of my adult life (and every road trip of my entire life) has to end with a call to Mom so she knows I’ve arrived safely. And if it were just a little reassuring phone call, that would be ok. But the truth is, she can make herself sick and make everyone around her miserable until she gets the reassurance she requires to calm down. She has no internal self-soothing mechanism. And this is the thing that freaks me out.
So every time I catch myself worrying about Child One driving by herself alone in a car in this big giant wild city, I fight the moment when my chest seizes up – when I feel the smoldering of that panic that my mother would allow to catch fire and burn wildly throughout her body before it spewed out uncontrollably onto the closest victim. It was unattractive. It was irrational. It seemed totally crazy and wildly selfish. It still does actually. And so whenever I feel that fear creeping up, whenever I catch myself wringing my hands or tensing up, I stop myself. I stop myself and carry on an internal conversation about the fact that I’m being irrational. I’m being silly. And I’m being my mother. This last is well more than enough to quell my anxiety and stop whatever urges I have to act out. I will still ask Child One to call me when she arrives at her destination. She’s only sixteen. She’s only had her license for a few weeks. Hopefully, by the time she’s 43, I’ll get over it.