The Mama Daughter Dynamic

There are two things I have grappled with most of my life.

One: I have always had hair angst. If it is long, I want it short. If it is short, I can’t wait for it to grow out. And, I have always wanted bangs. That thick fringe that sets off your eyes or the side swept bangs that frame your face.

The second, and one that is most shocking, is I have always typically done the complete opposite of what my Mama has wanted me to do. Pretty much every big decision – from marrying the first husband to not going to law school– has been the polar opposite of what she has wanted and demanded of me.

Both – the bangs and the Mama – have given me fits throughout my life.

And the horror of both is that Mama has always tried to dictate what she thinks I should do with my hair.

There was nothing quite like going to the salon as a teenage girl, with dreams of how you wanted your hair only to have your mother standing behind the chair telling the stylist, “Just give her a perm. And she’s growing out her bangs, so don’t cut them again.”

“I don’t know why I can’t do what I want to my hair,” I would protest.

“Because I know better,” she said.

In a moment of desperation, I once cut my own bangs the night before going to a school competition at the state level.

I think I placed out of pity.

“Why did you do that to your hair?” she asked me.
“You wouldn’t let me get bangs. I needed bangs!”

“You didn’t need that!”

I had cut them so short and unevenly, they were a jagged line about an inch below my hairline and would curl up like corkscrew pasta. It was a wretched mess and there was no way to fix it.

Granny took me to get a pair of shoes.

“Shoes?” I asked. I never turned down shoes but thought it was an odd outing.

“There’s nothing we can do with your hair, but you may as well have some cute shoes as a consolation prize.”

Of course, this probably set me up with the belief that when all goes wrong, buy shoes.

Mama just used this as a multi-purpose example of what goes wrong when I don’t listen to her.

She never lets me live down anything, either, so for the longest anytime I didn’t heed her warnings, she would remind me: “Don’t let this be another cutting your own bangs incident.”

Mama has been quite outspoken and vocal about all my mistakes.

“I don’t know why you married your first husband,” she said one day. “I never could stand him.”
“Maybe if you had, I wouldn’t have,” I replied dryly.

Granny snorted at this comment. In all of her infinite wisdom, Granny never uttered one bad word about my first husband while we were dating or married. She waited until the divorce was final before she expressed her utter disdain of him.

“Well, Jean, you knew how we felt about her daddy, and you married him anyway. Reckon that’s the only thing the old gal got that was like you,” Granny stated.

Mama reminded me every chance she got about what a mistake I had made by marrying him. She recited every time she had warned me and had been right.

I did like I always had and tuned her out.

“You aren’t listening because you know I am right!” she would say.

She urged me to go to law school and I didn’t.

Every time I have complained about my career – or lack thereof – her immediate response has been: “Well, if you had gone on to law school like I told you, you would have had a better career. But you don’t listen to me. Even when I am telling you something that will help you.”

“Where’s the fun in that?” I asked. “You would have absolutely nothing to hold over my head.”

Granny once told me to not pay her any attention.

“She ain’t never listened to me so I don’t know why she expects you to listen to her,” she said. “Bobby listens to me; Cole will listen to you. That’s what a son does. But a daughter is made to not listen to her mother.”

Maybe she was right.

I was needing a change recently, tired of my chin length bangs and sent Mama a photo I found of the hair I wanted with soft, long bangs.

 “Cute!” she texted back.

I called her the day of the appointment. “What do you think about that cut I sent you?”

“I thought it was precious! You would look so pretty with your hair cut like that!”

“Really?” Did she see something different than the one I had sent?


“You saw the photo of Emma Stone, right? With bangs?”

“I don’t know who Emma Stone is, but I saw the girl with the red hair and bangs and loved it. Are you getting your hair that color, too, or just the bangs?”

“Just the bangs.” What was going on? She always fussed about me coloring my hair.

“Well, it will look good on you. I can’t wait to see it.”

“So, you think I should get bangs?”

“It’s your hair. You should get what you want, and I think that will be adorable. So, if you want it, get it!”

I walked into the salon in shock. Had we finally, after 46 years of existence, turned a corner?

And then it hit me: she was reverse psychology-ing me.

Not only did she reverse psychology me; it worked.

I didn’t get the bangs I wanted, but I will.

Even if I have to cut them myself.

Success is paved by a nagging Mama

About a year or so ago, there was a scientific study released that determined nagging mothers raised highly successful daughters.

I am not sure where they got their study pool or what they used as their definition of “nagging,” but I would like to declare myself an outlier to this study.

If nagging had anything to do with it, I would be the Queen of the Universe. Or at the very least, CEO or Grand Poo-bah of something magnificent.

I had a double dose of nagging from both my crazy redheads.

Between the two of them, I had all my bases covered.

Granny had her own subjects to nag me about.

There had better not be any pre-made cake mixes in my cabinets and biscuits didn’t come in a can.

Thankfully, the old gal didn’t nag about housework. She hated it herself and stated matter-of-factly that she was allergic, so I didn’t have to worry about that.

“But you ought to make your bed in the morning,” she stated one day, casting a glance towards mine.

“Why? I am just gonna get back in it later.”

She grunted at me. “That logic makes no sense. Make your dang bed. Smart people make their bed after they get up.”

Where she heard this, I don’t know. Since then, it has been heralded as some indicator of success by some noted people. I am sure if she was alive, she would take credit for stating it first.

Iron your clothes, wear a slip, break in your shoes before you wear them were other nag-full reminders I received.

Sit up straight, sit like a lady, don’t smack your gum, say thank you – did you say thank you?

Call your mother when you go somewhere. Call your mother when you get home. If you don’t want to call your mother, let someone know where you’re going and expecting to be home.

Along with: do your homework and don’t wait until the last minute to do it. Chances are, you may run into an issue and need more time. Don’t miss a class, don’t count on someone else’s notes, and do your work well the first time. Measure twice, cut once.

Both of them drilled this into my head constantly.

When Mama drove me nuts, I went to Granny for coffee and sympathy.

She just gave me coffee.

“She’s trying to raise you right, lit’l un,” she told me. “And it is taking both of us to do it.”

“Did you nag her like this?” I cried.

Granny sipped her coffee. “I did. I tried to. She’s stubborn – that’s where you get it from.”
I am not so sure about that, I think stubborn is a genetic trait in the women in my family along with the freckles.

“She didn’t listen to me, just like you don’t listen to either one of us,” she continued. “Your mama is incredibly smart, she just always thought she was smarter than me or your grandfather and could do her own thing. She could be running AT&T if she had of listened to me.”

No doubt if a nagging mother could nag her daughter all the way to success, Mama could have been a telecommunication maven. But she didn’t really aspire to that. When she was offered a new position, she turned it down because it would have meant a longer commute or a move, and less time with me. The success was right within her reach, but, Mama was happy where she was.

I wish I knew what that was like. I am always feeling that restless spirit that things could, should be better than they are.

Anytime I complain about life not being the way I want it to be, Mama loves to remind me it could have been – had I only heeded her nagging.

“This is when I should maybe tell you I told you so,” she will say not so gently. “But you never listen to me or do what I tell you. If you had, there’s no telling where you’d be now. You probably would be a millionaire and retired.”

I let out a deep sigh.

She always thinks if I had only listened to her, I would be a millionaire.

Maybe she’s right.

If that study was any indication, I should be a millionaire made over, have an empire to rival Oprah’s, and maybe own my own small country.

I find myself nagging my son now, telling him some of the same things I received as a child.
Make your bed, read something new every day, say thank you – did you say thank you?

What are you going to be when you grow up? An engineer? You sure you don’t want to be a lawyer?

He sighs. “I know, Mama, you don’t have to stay on me about this.”
“Yes, I do, too,” I say. “If I had listened to Mama, there’s no telling how different my life would be right now.”

He rolls his eyes – where does he get that eye-rolling from? Oh, right. Me.

I pray he never tells Mama that little tidbit. She will never let me live it down.

A nagging mother leads to successful daughters; I wonder what the outcome is with nagging mothers and sons.

I love you more (10/1/2014)

“I love you more” has been an ongoing thing between my son and me.

He has declared on many a time, that it is he who loves me the mostest. I tell him there is no way.

“To the moon and beyond,” he would say, pointing his little finger to the ceiling.

“I love you beyond where the stars can reach,” I will counter. “Because I love you more.”

“Impossible,” is his response as he snuggles close, smiling happily at the knowledge that he is loved. I assure him it is not impossible at all, but very much the truth.

“You smell pretty,” he tells me every time he gives me a hug.

The little bee charmer will even tell me I am beautiful when I am sitting at my laptop, hair piled on my head and a coffee stain on my blouse.

“No, I am not, baby,” I will reply.

His arms will swing around my neck as he hugs me tight. “To me, you are.”

No one told me how precious little boys were. All I remembered was hearing the rhyme about little girls being made of sugar and spice. I knew as a former little girl myself, that meant I could be quite the sassmaker.

Little boys were supposed to be made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails – in other words, dirty, vile and nasty things. I would take that over sass any day.

“Did you ever want a girl?” Cole asked me one day.

“No,” I answered honestly.

“Even though you could play makeup and do hair and girlie stuff with a girl?”

“I am glad I had you and that you are you,” was my sincere reply. This makes him smile widely as he skips off to play.

He is secure in the knowledge that he is loved, cherished and adored. He has boundaries, and rules to give him his parameters in which to grow and develop. Kindness and compassion are required; chocolate cake or brownies are perfectly acceptable for breakfast.

But I want him to stay that precious, innocent, tenderhearted child he is, just a little bit longer.

I worry that the world will make him hardened. I fear he will let someone’s cruelty put out his inner ‘spark,’ as he calls it. I dread the thought of him ever having a broken heart or dealing with any disappointment that can’t be fixed by Mama making cupcakes or taking him to the park.

There may be a time, in the not so distant future, that Mama may not hold that special place in his heart as I do now. Where he doesn’t come ask my opinion first, before he does a friend and where no matter what Daddy says, Mama’s word is final. But I cherish the fact that now, for the time being, he is still my little boy and my one-and-only and my heart and that now, he thinks I hung the moon. My own teen years made me think my own mother knew nothing, a disillusion that I held until my mid-twenties.

Today, he rounded double digits, entering a new decade, one where he is now 10 and has been telling me, “I am not cute, I am serious,” when I comment how adorable I think he is.

He still lets me hold his hand when we cross the street, or puts his arms around my waist to walk in step with me.

He sees no shame in showing his unabashed joy at seeing his aunt Karla, the weekend before the big 1-0 as he ran down the hall of the hotel with joy to jump into her arms.

He still has that great love affair with a certain plush pig and the other plushies of Piglandia, occasionally asking me if I still believe the pigs are real.

I always say yes.

He’s changed so much in a lightning fast decade, growing taller, gaining quiet confidence and learning compassion. Teaching me about faith, tolerance and acceptance along the way. Things I should have taught him but he has brought the lessons to me.

He still needs Mama to help him fall asleep, as I sing him softly to sleep, me on one side, the pit mix, Angel Doodle on the other, guarding the pigs.

“I love you, Mama,” he said sleepily.

“I love you more,” I said, my standard reply.

This time, I noticed he didn’t say, “Impossible.”

The next day, again, we did our “I love you’s” but he didn’t reply with “Impossible.”

“You know why I don’t say impossible anymore?” he asked, seeing my questioning look. I nodded.

“I realized Mama, as much as I love you, I have realized, you do love me more. You have to; you’re the mama. Mama’s just have more love.”

“So no more ‘impossible?'” I asked.

He shook his head. “No, sweet girl, because I know as much as I do love you, it could never match how much you love me. Because I do know, you do love me more.”

He gave me a quick hug before he skipped off, to build things in Minecraft and watch his cartoons.

Growing up, faster than I liked but gaining insight and wisdom with each passing day.

Maybe, just maybe, he will let me hold his hand and sing him to sleep just a little bit longer.