I'm not expecting a bunch of fanfare this Mother's Day. No homemade card with a hand-drawn portrait of me surrounded by hearts. No "Best Mommy Ever!" title clicked out by my daughter on her trusty label maker. The days of that kind of royal treatment are over. Hannah is 12 and a half now, which means we've entered the phase where she finds me completely annoying.
Like Troy Polamalu, she says it with her eyes. And she says it with a look that takes me straight back to when I was a kid and found my mom to be every bit as insufferable as I apparently am now. That's how I came face-to-face with this hard truth: Despite my commitment to be nothing like my own mom, I've somehow ended up annoying my own daughter in much the same ways, only worse. Like the custom amplifiers in the movie Spinal Tap, when it comes to being annoying, I go up to 11.
Here's how the comparison breaks down:
Mom was a nutrition know-it-all. When it came to health food, Mom wasn't just an early adopter, she was an original apostle. She preached the evils of white flour and worshiped at the altar of brown rice. I knew what a legume was back when all my peers thought it was where the boat from Gilligan's Island crash-landed. That kind of knowledge was in the water at our house.
Everyone feels sorry for kids who get picked last for sports teams at school, but what about the kids with whom no one will trade lunches? You never hear about their pain. Not a single kid wanted anything to do with what was inside our incredibly uncool wax paper baggies. When it came to lunchbox currency, a cucumber-and-cream cheese sandwich on whole wheat was the equivalent of an insufficient check. Not only would my classmates not trade anything for it, I couldn't have paid them to take it.
I learned from that experience -- but not the lessons you might imagine. I'm raising my daughter to be a tofu-eating vegetarian and have indoctrinated her over the years with movies like Super Size Me and Food, Inc. This means it's impossible for her to just go along when her friends want to enjoy a burger and fries. Try as she might to block it out, somewhere in the back of her head is my voice droning on and on about how French fries are the nutritional equivalent of rat poison.
Mom made a terrible career choice. As a kid, Mom had wanted to be a doctor -- a career choice that would have promised premium pay and plenty of prestige. But she inexplicably ended up starting a Montessori school instead, a move that drained rather than filled the family coffers and forever branded us as "different."
When I complained about the school as a kid (which was all of the time), Mom told me that someday, I would appreciate the sacrifices we were all making because when I had kids, they would have a wonderful school to go to. This answer only underscored how out of touch she was with who I was and what I wanted out of life. I would never torture my own children by sending them to an alternative school. My children would go to a normal school.
Like Mom, I had big plans when I was a kid -- I wanted to be a lawyer. And unlike Mom, I didn't quit on my dreams. I pursued my goal all the way through law school. But after practicing law for a few years, I decided my real calling was to be a writer. Now, as Hannah puts it, rather than getting paid in dollars, I get paid in "likes." And instead of having a fancy downtown office, I work from home. When I pick up Hannah from school every day (the very same Montessori school that Mom founded almost fifty years ago), I'm rocking workout clothes rather than power suits.
Mom was overly-opinionated. Life was surprisingly complicated considering we lived in a house with so much black and white. Even when something appeared straightforward, there were tons of ethical considerations that could lead you to surprising conclusions. For example, grapes weren't just a delicious fruit that was too expensive for our family's budget. You had to determine whether the grapes were red or green. If they were green grapes, then you couldn't eat them even if you were lucky enough to get them for free.
That's because as socially responsible people, we understood that green grapes were actually the battleground of decent pay and working conditions for the United Farm Workers. Eating them was tantamount to spitting in the eye of Cesar Chavez -- a household saint -- and telling him you didn't give a rat's ass about migrant farm workers. That sort of behavior would earn you a one-way ticket to hell faster than eating every last apple in the Garden of Eden.
I often wished that we could just relax and not over-think every last thing. But I understood we were way too evolved for such tomfoolery. Life probably seems much the same way to Hannah. Something as simple as running to the store for paper plates for a backyard barbecue is an ethical minefield. First, it matters which store you're going to. It can't be Walmart, because that store oppresses its workers and kills small towns. And while most big box stores are bad for the environment, Costco is better than others because it at least treats its workers OK. But the entire concept of buying in bulk encourages over-consumption, which is on par with gluttony. Oh -- and paper plates aren't cool because they just add garbage to the landfills. And about that barbecue: We're vegetarian, so, no thank you. And by the way, do you have any idea how much CO2 that outdoor grill is throwing off? We do because we're into science and we actually care about global warming. The weight of all of these ethical considerations is enough to make a kid want to drown her troubles in a milkshake from Chick-fil-A. But of course, you could never do that.
Mom was a culture snob. On Saturdays while our friends were watching cartoons, we spent all morning at the University of Texas taking orchestra and music theory classes. As a result, we were clueless about the plotline of each week's episodes of Scooby Doo and Fat Albert, and therefore had nothing to contribute to playground discussion on such matters come Monday morning. But if anyone wanted to put together a symposium of the characteristics of music from the Baroque period, we would have totally dominated. Unfortunately, that opportunity never arose.
On Saturdays, Hannah spends not just all morning but all day at the ballet studio, as well as Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings, too. Thanks to this schedule, she's pretty much in the dark when it comes to TV shows that other kids her age watch. But if anyone wants to dish about ballet documentaries, she can go toe-to-toe, no problem.
It's a hard fall when your kid swaps out your cool card for a mandatory membership in the Annoying Moms Club. But the upside of this sudden reassignment is that it has given me occasion to reflect on my own upbringing, and this has made me realize that being uncool has its own rewards, both as a kid and as a parent.
Watching Mom dedicate her life to doing something for love rather than money made me believe that career success is defined by the passion you have for your work rather than pay you receive. Without that foundation, I might not have been able to give myself permission to choose writing over practicing law. And that would have meant missing the chance to experience work that is so fulfilling that I am willing to do it for little to no pay. And where I come from, that makes me wildly successful.
Being raised by a mom who made a conscious effort to square the way she lived with her views on social responsibility honed my critical thinking skills. I never remember not knowing how to weigh various sides of an issue and come up with my own view. This ability comes as naturally to me as singing out of tune -- another one of my God-given talents.
Growing up in a family that was different and attending a school that was alternative has made me accustomed to having views that cut against the grain. And because I'm naturally opinionated, I don't hesitate to share them. Sure, this combination results in my having a smaller circle of friends. After all, not many people crave the company of a social triple threat -- someone who is that charming combination of out-of-step, opinionated and outspoken.But that means I have fewer Christmas cards to send out each year, which saves me time and money and is better for the planet.
Spending less time as a child sitting in front of the television and more time doing things formed the baseline of what feels right in my adult life. I may not get references to "Mad Men," but I do manage to keep up with the "Thee Daily Show" and the "Colbert Report." At the end of the day, that's the right balance for me. And speaking of balance, being raised on a diet of brown rice and lentils has spared me from having to battle cravings for junk food that were hardwired from childhood, and that means I can focus on my cravings for coffee, chocolate and red wine instead.
When Hannah grows up, I hope she'll have the confidence to follow her own internal compass, wherever it leads her. And whether she chooses to be a doctor, a ballet dancer or something else altogether, I hope it will be the work and not the pay that is the most persuasive to her.
I look forward to the day when I am not so annoying to Hannah anymore -- either because I earn my cool card back or because she herself ends up in the Annoying Moms Club thanks to the actions of her own children. But until then, I'll enjoy the company of all the other moms who are members -- and believe me, there are a lot of us.
Part of me is sad that Hannah won't be making me breakfast in bed this Mother's Day. But the silver lining is this: I won't have to help clean up the kitchen afterwards and that frees me up to lavish some time and attention on one VIP club member in particular: my own fantastic mom.