Like mama, like

I’m balanced on a bar stool with my mother at Cha Cha Cha’s, our tried-and-true for calamari and sangria-induced confessions between thrift-shopping on Haight, when she turns to me with that expression. I imagine it’s the same she donned upon my first destined-to-be-sensitive cries in the hospital, a look full of genuine wonder that this pudge of pink and mess of curls was hers, all hers. Even now, 25 years later in the dim light of a gussied up tapas restaurant, I can tell she is looking at my cheeks pulsing with wine and bubbling conversation, hair still flying from the wind outside, and thinking to herself, “I can’t believe this woman is my daughter.” She begins her praise and I wave it off, dismissing the compliments with a simultaneous reach for the pitcher and her glass.

It’s always been a source of contention, really. That she could be so lovely on her own and accept a goodness in me I’ve never been able to find. As I groan on about my bleak dating prospects, joking I’ll never meet the man of my dreams doing what I love (i.e. double fisting totchos and a beer at home in the buff), as that would be creepy and necessitate a restraining order—I become increasingly frustrated with her adoration, that bemused smile. Because she knows, as she proceeds to tell me, that everything happens for a reason. Each choice we make falls into the next, the daisy-chain of our presumed fuck ups or successes ultimately leading us down the path we were supposed to be on. She means this to be reassuring, but I begin playing with the paella, unsnagging my tights from the seat. Fidgeting to the rhythm of my nods.

For it is in these moments that I feel my worst. Feel like I’ve failed her. I do not see the world this way, with a freeness, this je ne sais quoi-laissez faire she wears so goddamn well. And perhaps it is difficult for me to relate to these words, the well-earned mantra of a woman who has fiercely loved herself through two marriages, four children, and a constant slew of shit from all, because I am young. And purposefully not naïve. And more prone to over-analyze and subsequently pick apart each petal that makes up the stupid daisy-chain rather than appreciate the beauty of all the flowers. My mother is a woman who unabashedly plucks the roses from the bushes of her neighbors because she just loves them so. I am the woman who calls her a klepto and hates that part of my character wishes hers were less vibrant. I am still, after all, my father’s daughter.

Our relationship has always been delicate and relentless, a tight-rope extravaganza that made puberty a real treat for all involved. As I get older it seems easier to think of her more as my best friend, thus abandoning any expectations of the standard parent-as-role-model fare. Which, of course, has its own complications. It’s obvious in the way I write: “mama” in personal texts (the “hot” always implied); “mother” anywhere else to create a false sense of formality, distance. It’s in the way I tease her about her boyfriend, always with a girlfriend-like candor but all too aware our taste in men aligns all too well. We bash on her family as if they weren’t my own, eager to ignore my poor track record as a granddaughter and niece and place the blame on others, though I suspect it hurts her inside. That’s how it’s always been—me, taking far too often for being raised by such a giver; her, beaming at my shortcomings, giving anyway.

When the tab arrives, her arms are already outstretched, everything open. We stare at each other in silence, and I try my hardest to keep our gaze. To stop parsing the big picture “I love you.” Let her nuance take hold.

My Mother, the Inadvertent Cockblock

I’m in the lobby of Marie Callender’s trying not to collapse on the hostess after a weeklong stint of food poisoning induced fasting when a man in a preppy suit and what can only be described as a douchebag choker appears by my side. He must sense my desperation because suddenly his hand is on mine, and my mother and I are quickly ushered to a table within staggering distance. I’m grateful, as such chivalry has saved me the trouble of turning off the hearing aids of all the geezers in the waiting area in order to steal their place in line.

Mystery man hands me a menu and without looking I order two blended margaritas, ignoring the empty stomach issue and hoping they’ll serve as an adult smoothie appetizer. Anything for starving girl! he laughs, and heads to the bar with a wink.

“He’s so flirting with you,” my mom grins.
“Cool, maybe he’ll make my drinks faster.”

For the rest of the meal choker dude lingers at our table, offering refills and condiments and overly personal details about his exciting life in Santa Cruz. I make the appropriate uh huhs and head nods but am busy caressing the sexy burger in front of me because, hi, priorities. Mama Edwards, however, is in fine form. Each question about my hobbies and interests is deflected with stories of her own hippie days over Highway 17, and questionable compliments on his questionable attire. His eyes flit back and forth between us, assessing the situation. On one side of the table: a doe eyed 22 year old, easily pleased by immediate gratification, yet more interested in making out with a turkey patty than a manager at a mediocre restaurant chain. On the other: a slightly more seasoned cougar dressed in clothing from the teen section, with a charming smile and a tendency to make physical contact at any opportunity. Eventually his eyes settle, and I’m left in peace.

This is OK with me for two reasons:
1. I already have access to incredible foreign deck.
2. The only perk to hitching my wagon to a manager at Marie Callender’s is the free pie, and I don’t have the self-control for that kind of glory.

I’m no stranger to the “Are you two sisters?” pickup. My mom is beautiful and embarrassingly cool, and she owns it. I’m not brown bagging my head anytime soon, but I haven’t had the years of practice finessing my sparkling personality yet. She has enough confidence for the both of us, and I’ve never felt the need to cultivate my own. I milk the quiet, blushing daughter angle and let her take the reins, as it usually ends in free food or favors and Saturday night plans, and everybody wins.

What’s frustrating is that I tend to resent her ability to dazzle anyone in her wake. My eyes probably have permanent damage from excessive rolling, and I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to have a role model who didn’t consider blue sparkle eye shadow to be a daily staple. In elementary school I pouted as other girls lined up to hug her legs and count the hundreds of shiny bracelets on her wrists. I’ve spent far too many extra minutes in the car waiting for the gas station attendant to stop professing his love. I don’t even bother asking about her latest soul mate because I don’t have the patience. But just as I’m plugging my ears to avoid her latest boyfriend(s) drama, she tells me I’m such an amazing daughter. That I’m gorgeous, smart, funny, [insert gushy parental terminology here], etc. I then get a wonderful sensation of overwhelming guilt, as she’s always been my biggest cheerleader, mini skirt included. She has nothing but immense—sometimes suffocating—love pouring out of her, and I’m over here all butt hurt because I inherited her hips but not the guts to shake ‘em. It’s not her fault I’m a late blooming wallflower. It’s not her fault I put her on a pedestal and refuse to climb up there myself. Although, it would be nice if I couldn’t see up her short dresses while chillin’ down below.

If for some godforsaken reason I was interested in manager man, I wouldn’t know the first thing about stealing his attention back. You’d think watching the master at work would have taught me a thing or two about captivating males out in the wild, but I’ve got nothin’. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m uncomfortable trying mating material in front of the woman who birthed me, or if it’s because I’m worried any suitor I meet may secretly harbor a kinky mother-daughter fantasy. Either way, I’m not sure I’m ready to blossom just yet. I bet my dad is incredibly pleased that the combination of her overpowering personality and my inability to flirt serves as the best birth control a parent could ever ask for.

By the end of the meal the man has finally disappeared, and we walk ourselves to the door. My mom shrugs and says, “He was nice. Too old for either of us, though.”

He was 32. Oh, the therapy.