Like most women, I compare myself to my mom a lot. Okay, a whole lot. Moms set a standard for most of us. Whether it’s a negative comparison — I’ll never be like her! — or a positive one — Dammit, why can’t I as good as her?! — our moms are the dominant examples of what a woman is as we grow up.
My mom is a frugality queen. She never goes to the grocery store without her coupons. She loaded up on sales, sometimes to ridiculous proportions. (We joked that baking cups were going to be my dowry. There was a year or so where we had to stow paper towels under the couch. Both were clearanced down to a quarter or so. But, when she left my dad, I’m pretty sure she abandoned a good chunk of remaining baking cups. And my Burger King Star Wars drinking glasses, which I’m still bitter about.)
It wasn’t just frugality, though: Mom seemed to do it all. Beyond parenting, she worked full-time, took on freelance, and did most of the cleaning, plus all of the cooking. She helped me edit my papers, drove me to and from friends’ houses, went to the plays I worked on, taught me how to drive, she drove me to/picked me up from friends’ houses and so much more.
She even suffered through some horrible kids’ movies, leaving only occasionally to play Ms. Pac Man when she couldn’t take it anymore. (At the time I resented that little trick, but, looking back on the My Little Pony movie, I’m a little amazed she didn’t just drop me off and run for the hills.)
Looking at all that, I wonder how she did it all. Actually, I asked her just this morning. “I was really tired,” she said, matter-of-factly.
For some reason, that answer cracks me up. Maybe it’s just relief that there wasn’t some huge secret I wasn’t privy to — that she wouldn’t say, “Oh, you didn’t get the handbook? It was written by Martha Stewart. I can’t believe you’re so out of the loop!”
On a more serious note, Mom pointed out that she was probably purposefully keeping herself busy so that she didn’t think about her marriage and that she was unhappy.
Fair enough. But even after she left my dad she has still maintained an almost exquisite level of frugality.
Part of that was out of necessity — she didn’t feel capable of a job and she was using her limited funds to support me — but a lot of it was habit. Frugality comes naturally to her. As for me, I think like a frugal person, and I don’t do too badly overall. But it’s a far cry from what I grew up with.
Then again, I’m slowly learning that excelling in some areas of life doesn’t mean that a person is perfect at everything. Usually, quite the opposite.
I had to practically tear the pen out of my mom’s hand at the first apartment she looked at. It was a nice place, but it was on the second floor with a narrow staircase. And she had a very heavy sleeper sofa. Not to mention that it wasn’t nearly as close to stores as our current place.
I couldn’t understand it, until my therapist pointed out to me that my 46-year-old mother hadn’t looked for a place of her own in over 23 years.
Fair enough. I had developed skills by age 26 that she simply hadn’t had to. And because she took over household duties when her parents divorced, she had developed skills (cooking for three people, stretching a grocery budget, etc) that I simply hadn’t had to.
In other words, I guess my mom is human after all, not some super-efficient superhero. Given her overactive sense of guilt, I suppose I suspected all along. But she did sit through a good chunk of My Little Pony and The Chipmunks movies. That should at least qualify her for a snazzy cape and a moderate power. Maybe making rude people sit in the corner and think about how they’ve behaved.
So, once again, I’ve learned the important lesson that no one is perfect — at least, not for extended periods of time. Which means I shouldn’t keep holding myself up to an artificial standard.
If it gets pounded into my head a few more times, it might actually take!