I guess I knew it for sure when I pulled the pile of birthday cards from her trash can. Especially since my own birthday cards from the past 35 years were all lovingly stuffed in the attic.
I had to face the cold hard facts—my teenage daughter was not like me. She was, in fact, the total opposite.
I should have known it from the way she chose a healthy salad over a burger and fries, how her bedroom was kept spotless and organized, and how she would do her homework on Friday nights rather than save it for 10 p.m. on Sunday.
I would catch her in the kitchen organizing the Tupperware drawer or lining up the piles of shoes at the front door.
I became shockingly aware I was raising a child who was just like my own mother.
“You’re just like your grandmother,” I would grumble, watching her separate the recycling and put it into the proper containers.
When she set the table, it was done perfectly—forks on the left, spoon and knife on the right (a skill I still struggle with). Everything she did was perfection. While I lived with the motto “fun first, work later,” she lived by the reverse.
How I had rebelled against my own Martha Stewart-like mother, who could bake a pie with her eyes closed, sew a shirt with a collar and buttons, and whiten the bathroom grout—all in an afternoon.
She didn’t understand my collections, my piles of creative art projects that were never quite finished, or how I would rather run outside to play than sit at home and sew aprons.
My mother would stand, dusting rag at her hip and glare into my jam-packed bedroom, “You are JUST like your grandmother!”
“Yes! Yes, I am!” I would happily agree. My granny, the messy hoarder, who would rather sit and play Scrabble with us, hiding her dirty dishes in the oven until it overflowed.
“That is NOT a dishwasher,” my mother would point out regularly, as she washed my grandmother’s dishes. Granny loved to laugh and play with her dog, and sit and read endless books about aerodynamics or how to make sausage—taking notes on scraps of paper, which she piled everywhere.
Her appetite for knowledge was insatiable, and her long-neglected housework didn’t bother her a bit.
I didn’t mind a mess; why did my daughter like everything so neat and perfect?
If I suggested we skip the dishes and just go for a walk in the woods, she shook her head and started filling the sink with dishwater.
My daughter could create an artistic masterpiece and then discard it as easily as a used paper cup. “I don’t need it,” she would say, as I tried to save it.
I realized something important as I pulled more of her school projects out of the trash. My love for her wasn’t based on who she was or wasn’t. I loved her with the fierce mother-love that surprises all mothers as their children are born.
I loved her the way she was, no matter if she was like me or not.
I realized that was how my mother loved me, too.
I had always thought my mom didn’t love me as much because my pies always burned, my sewing projects turned out crooked, and my collections overflowed the house. My mom loved me despite the fact that we were so different—opposites. I was more like my grandmother, just as my daughter was just like hers—my mom.
I saved a few pieces of art, threw the rest out, and smiled to myself. One day I’d get revenge. If the pattern continued, she would end up having a daughter who was just as messy as me.