“Oh, OK, Frances. Whatever you say,” I hiss at my mom, sarcasm seeping through the static.
“It’s not here! I. Don’t. Have it.” she answers back, her voice climbing to shrill with each declarative statement. Statements I know to be patently false and I refuse to let slide. My mother definitely did have it — it being a box of “work clothes” I left for safe-keeping at her house right after I graduated J school.
My end-of-summer plan was to take a carry-on stuffed with H&M interview suits on a week-long trip to New York, get an awesome job, start work immediately and then send for my things. Being the champion that I am, all those dreams came through save one. Frances was claiming she didn’t have the box. That I never left it with her.
“Well, WHEN you find it. Send it to my new address in DC. You did write it down didn’t you?”
She sighs an exasperated “yes.” But before I let her off the hook (figuratively and literally) I make one last dig ’cause that’s just how I do.
“What is it then?”
“What is what?”
“My address!” I shout triumphantly. Now before you call me a completely bratty and spoiled only child, please note that Frances very rarely writes things down properly — or at all. There will undoubtedly be a missed street number, a “southwest” quadrant, instead of the correct “northwest” or some weird spelling of “V Street” that baffles even the professionals.
“If you wrote it down,” I continue, “then read it back to me.”
“Don’t patronize me!” my mother yells into the phone before hanging up abruptly, leaving me to either contemplate my bad behavior in stunned silence or call her back. I choose the third option and laugh out loud. Patronize? Me? Never.
This is how a lot of our adult “conversations” go. After a decade of figuring out who we were outside of living together, my mother and I have settled into some pretty immutable roles. I play the put-upon only daughter forced to forever deal with her mother’s scatterbrain. Frances plays the sweet hippie who curses only when her snooty daughter won’t let up.
I remember the time she asked, “Well, Lena, if you know so damn much, then why are you asking me?!” It was the kind of line you’d expect to hear a mother say to her 16-year-old daughter. I was 29 at the time, which is why I found a new survey that claims 23 was the magic number for mommy-daughter bonding a bit lacking.
According to the feminine hygiene product company Li-Lets, “It is only when a woman reaches the age of 23 that she finally starts to appreciate everything their mother did for her.”
After querying 2000 British moms and daughters, the company described a typical teen girl’s year as being packed with 164 door slams and 183 arguments with mom, among other crazy hormonal behavior like 127 fall-outs with friends, 123 tears over boys, and 306 discussions with friends about boys. All that sounds about right to me, except for that bit about there being an age-limit on mom fights.
“The relationship between mum and daughter can be testing during the teenage years but it’s clear that when a woman reaches her early twenties she appreciates her mum more than ever,” said Lil-Let spokeswoman Mary Young.
Okay sure. Once I was out on my own — paying bills and taking names — I definitely appreciated whatever magic my mom got a hold of to keep it all together for so many years. But that doesn’t mean we no longer fight, we just do it differently. Now instead of arguing over the way I dress, boys, money and my manners. We argue over the way I dress, boys, money and my manners. Wait.
What happens after 23 (or whatever age you’ve decided to not be a teenaged nightmare) is that the protective veil of childhood gets lifted. Now these women (or at least mine) can tell you what they really think about you, and (if you’re me) vice versa. It’s not that we don’t love or respect one another because we do big time, but now neither one of us has to pretend — at least not all the time.
I can say, “Mother, what you’re saying makes absolutely no sense” and she can say, “I’m rubber you’re glue” because we’re both adults now. Or some version thereof. True there’s no slamming of doors and hysterical “You’re ruining my life” type of outbursts anymore, but those can easily be replaced with the clicking of “end” buttons and “You have no IDEA what my life is like!” Either way it’s all love.