Middle Lane

07/11/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Stephanie Gertler Author: Jimmy's Girl, The Puzzle Bark Tree, Drifting, The Windmill

The cab driver who took me from the train station in Springfield, Massachusetts to Northampton, Massachusetts on Monday morning had two very authentic-looking green eyes tattooed on the back of his bald head. He also drove with both hands off the wheel (was he using his knees?) while he talked and gesticulated about morality, the nonsensical illegality of marijuana as juxtaposed to the nonsensical legality of tobacco products, and how he believes in welfare, but doesn't like the prostitutes at the bus depot (who "take" welfare, he said) and sell their "wares" as well as pills with kids in tow. In addition, he told me about his difficult childhood as the youngest of seven children whose father was a violent alcoholic, his sainted mother, his hard-working wife, his three small daughters, and how he feels that no one is ever entitled to boredom: All this during a 20- minute car ride at roughly 70 miles per hour in the left lane. I am a middle lane kind of woman who stays within the speed limit and keeps her eyes on the road.

Did I really just make that last statement? Am I really, with all my bravado, just a middle-lane kind of woman who proceeds with caution?

So, there I was visiting my daughter Ellie in Northampton since Monday -- a promise I kept as she and Larry settle into their new house while Larry was away on business. It's the first time Ellie's lived in a house except for the one where she grew up with parents and brothers in place. She was a little skittish about being "alone," and their 55-pound dog Tucker is trained not to bark -- not a great asset when you hear bumps in the night and want a guard dog.

Right now, Ellie and Larry's house smells like lemons since I spent a lot of time cleaning. Alas, I know the scent will be only temporary since I can't get either of them jazzed enough about the citrus scent -- not to mention that long work hours for both don't leave a lot of time for home maintenance. And romance is better.

The cleaning wasn't entirely for them -- although I would be a liar to say I wasn't motivated. Cleaning is therapy for me -- a combination of exercising my muscles while organizing my thoughts as I wash away grime and fold items of clothing like origami. There's a synergy: Dull surfaces -- mental, emotional, wooden, porcelain -- come to a glimmer. Though the mini epiphanies during cleaning have to be written down or they'll go right out of my head again...

The night before last, Ellie and I tooled around town before stopping for sushi: I bought her a refrigerator magnet that pictures a 1950's "housewife" with a bobbed , gray shirtwaist dress and apron scrubbing a gleaming white bath tub. It says, " A clean house is a sign of a wasted life." Ellie insisted that I buy a coffee mug for myself -- with a similar female image it reads, ""If by 'happy' you mean trapped with no means of escape, then yes, I'm happy."

Yesterday morning, my mug was filled with coffee, and Ellie and I both laughed. This morning I used one of Ellie's large floral mugs -- ones once in our old house. The new mug haunts me now: It was a joke that evoked too much conversation last night and opened too many doors that should have stayed closed -- with me behind them no matter how she pulled on the door knob.

What happens when we become our daughter's "friend" if we discuss ourselves as wives is that we end up burdening them -- making what we say subject to misinterpretation. After all, we're either still married or once were married to their fathers. We try to answer questions truthfully, unable to fool women in their twenties, yet when we lay ourselves bare as women/wives, we become all too vulnerable as mothers. The thing is, these young women are still our children. They don't want to see us rage on, shed tears, suffer confusion, endure uncertainty. We talk to them, trying not to cross boundaries -- yet without the intimate explanations... the nuances... it's like body surfing as the waves come up and over us as we fight the pull of the undertow in tandem.

So last night was a new course for me in motherhood titled perhaps How Much of Our Lives Do We Reveal to Our Daughters? I believe, regardless of the daughter's efforts to allow us a "no holds barred" forum, mothers and daughters cannot talk about the mother's life. We mothers must bite our lips no matter the temptation... bite to the point of drawing blood.

This is a strange crossroads: Ellie is the woman I always wanted her to be. She is brilliant, sensitive, and perceptive. She is an innate feminist, and beautiful inside and out. But she is my child. And although she was cavalier about the purchase of the coffee mug, she doesn't want to know when I take the editorial comment to heart even though she asked a million questions. Truth is, sure there are times I've wanted to escape, but at heart, I am the woman who drives in the middle lane -- and from the middle lane you have more options: It's easier to get to the fast lane and the slow lane depending upon the drive. Unlike the road, life is not linear (God, how many times do I say that?), but certain detours taken and navigated are personal maps. She'll have her own journey.

As I left, Ellie said, "You're my best friend, you know."

I kissed her and held her close. Sometimes, for me, she's still about six.

"Aren't you going to say that I'm yours?" she asked.

Based upon last night, I said, "No. I'm your mother, and I love you. I can be your best friend -- but you can't be mine."

Sometimes a coffee mug is just a coffee mug.