Saturday, April 3, 2004

Like Mother Like Mother

Like Mother Like Mother
Traci Burns

My mother is a bed-maker. She is also a blanket-smoother and a pillow-fluffer, but primarily, she’s a bed-maker. How I managed to turn out so disinterested in that particular ritual is kind of sad for me – I have nothing but good memories of crawling into my parents’ bed, being the first one to break that tight seal of tucked-in blankets and freshly-laundered sheets. It was better than opening a candy wrapper. Sliding my legs down between the cool felt heavenly. As a teenager, though, I never made up my own bed, only yanked the blanket up over the tangle of sheets to appease my mother, and now that I’m the grown-up, no way. Our bed is a wrinkled lazy nest of pillows and wadded blankets; I make it up only for expected visitors (my policy is that unexpected visitors deserve what they get!). There are different kinds of joy given to you by different kinds of beds. Neat beds give you the joy of looking at them; they look beautiful, like beds in magazines. They give you the opportunity to deflower them, to toss the carefully arranged throw pillows aside, to yank the sheets from their tight hospital corners and stick your feet out from under the covers to catch the night air, the way you like to do. A messy bed has been pre-enjoyed. You can tell someone has already been comfortable there. Sex has been had in a messy bed. TV has been watched in a messy bed. Cheese and crackers has definitely been eaten in a messy bed. What is it about the ritual of ignoring a ritual that gives me so much pleasure?

I am a mother and my mother is, obviously, a mother. We’re very different people, but I can’t help comparing my parenting style to hers. Parenting is full of rituals – the nightly bath, the three books before bed, the peanut butter spread on the apple slices just right – and I’m right there doing them. Ritual is important to my daughter. We’ve moved around a lot since she’s been born, four places in two years, and I know keeping the small things consistent is one way for her to find a feeling of home in any new environment.

This new place has a great bathtub. Bela scrambles to it every night, trying to lift her leg to climb in, but it’s a big old clawfoot and she can’t manage. She likes not being able to climb in, I think. It’s a new adventure. A bathtub that you have to have help to get in and out of – now that’s exciting! She’s not used to having neighbors so close – our old place was a house, and this one’s an apartment – so when we hear the cute young hippie boys making noise next door, her eyebrows raise. “Monsters, mama?” She’s staring at the bathroom wall. One of the hippie boys is on the other side of it, loudly talking, playing a bongo.

“Not monsters, baby. Boys,” I say, feeling a little twinge of joy at the similarity between the two. College boys are mysterious monsters – I remember! I’ve spent my time on the other side of that wall, sitting on the floor next to that bongo, smoking cigarettes and wondering which one of us was going to give in and kiss the other one first. I imagine Bela in sixteen years doing the same thing, and God, that makes me happy. So the bath ritual has become the human ritual, the cycle of youth into adulthood, the fresh threshold of experience nearly burst open, the huge galaxy of loving stars separated only by the thinnest wall.

My husband and I have a lot of gender-role reversal going on – he does all the cooking and the largest percentage of the cleaning; I do all the driving and the complaining about not enough sex, so it’s only natural that he’s better at girly hairdos. He and Bela have a morning hairdo ritual. She brings him a brush, a spray bottle of water, little rubber bands and barrettes. They both have the same hair; thick wild tangly curls. She sits on his lap and he gently gets the tangles out and puts her hair in perfect pigtails while singing a song he’s made up for the occasion entitled “Daddy Makes You Beautiful.” The first time I heard the song, I cracked up – “You sound like a pimp!” – but now it gets me every time. When will she be too old for “Daddy Makes You Beautiful?” When will she run straight through the house to her room, avoiding eye contact, embarrassed of her weirdo parents? I hope never, but I’m sure someday is more likely, so I’m busy enjoying every moment of this sweet two-year-old who can’t get enough of us.

No comments: