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Algernon: “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.”
Jack: “Is that clever?”
Algernon: “It is perfectly phrased! and quite as true as any observation in civilized life should be.”
—Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest 1898

When do women turn into their mothers?

The nineties are kind of a blur to me, so I’m not sure exactly how this happened. One minute I was a sophisticated, independent career woman who used four-letter words and alcoholic beverages in public. A moment later I spawned and all of a sudden my mother took up residence in my mouth.

Now my kids got all the good lines, and somehow I was complaining about modern technology and saying the most dreaded line in parenthood: “Would you jump off a bridge just because everyone else was doing it?”

There was nothing about me that didn’t embarrass my children.  By the time he was eight, my son was convinced my computer and dial-up modem were carved from silicon chips trapped in amber during the Jurassic period. While he had no sympathy for my feeble excuse that I didn’t unplug my computer during a thunderstorm because I was in the hospital, in labor at the time, he did insist on accompanying me on the expedition to replace my storm-fried modem.

[NOTE FROM BARB: For those who don’t remember the nineties, the song of our people was the sound of a dial-up modem connecting. My theory was a 12-year-old boy whose voice was just starting to crack and a six-pack-a-day octogenarian smoker were standing at the phone exchange and whenever someone turned on their dial-up modem, the boy would crack out a series of random beeps from the Warner Brothers Cartoon intro, the smoker would hiss and wheeze, with boy adding intermittent beeps, and then they would flip a coin to see if they should plug in the cord to the connection or drop it. I’m pretty sure that’s how it worked anyway…]

Arriving at Computers-R-Us, we were greeted by a young man who asked, “What kind of system do you have?” When my son told him, he was impressed. “I’ve heard my grandfather used to have one of those in the old days, but I’ve never seen one myself.”

When I explained about the fried modem, he asked, “How about a Fax with background send/receive at 14,400 bps group III?”

My son nodded. “Are those the V.42bis/mnp protocols that achieve throughput of 57,600 bps with a 999 box voice mail system?”

The eight-year-old and the salesman (neither of whom, I think, shaved yet) wandered off happily discussing speeds and protocols. “Write when you find work,” I called after them. “Make good choices.”

His older sisters, on the other hand, were more humiliated by my wardrobe deficiencies. I tried to tell them I was sporting the new, energy-conscious environmental-friendly look. [Translation: I gave up ironing two pregnancies ago, and I now only wore things with dirt on them. For evening wear, this ensemble was often accessorized with a splash of eau d’baby puke.] But they insisted it was an emergency and we had to go to the mall immediately.

I’m not sure where they developed their fashion sense. It seemed only yesterday the best you could say for their choice of outfits was they were politically correct—equal representation for all colors, patterns, and seasons at once. The only things missing were the empty whiskey bottles and the lampshade.

I admit I’m not a very good shopper, especially when it comes to my own clothing. When I was their age, I used to dread the moment my mother would drag me to Chez Mall Énorme.  “But I have clothes,” I’d wail, pointing to my jeans with the hand-embroidered patches and my crocheted vest.

“You’re not wearing patched jeans with holes in the knees to school,” my mother replied as she trapped me in a dressing room by walking out with my jeans while the saleslady with the cat glasses plied me with armfuls of tasteful polyester doubleknits.

But the shopping gene must skip generations, because my two older daughters loved to shop. Actually, this had its advantages, they assured me. I wouldn’t need to save for college for the oldest one, because she decided her career goal was a job at her favorite mall store. She already had all the qualifications: she wore a single-digit size and she could transform a basic $49.95 outfit into a $49.95 outfit with $150 of accessories faster than you can say “Visa or Mastercard”. For a store discount, she was even willing to be perky.

“Can I have these jeans?” Child#1 asked, pointing to a pair of jeans with patches and factory-installed holes in the knees.

And that’s where it happened. I opened my mouth, and out came my mother. “You’re not wearing patched jeans with holes in the knees to school.”

”Besides,” I added, “Kids today have it too easy. In my day, we didn’t have some worker in a third-world sweatshop to beat up our jeans; we had to wear them out ourselves.”

Just then Child#2 came out wearing a crocheted vest and a tie-dyed gauze skirt. All she needed was the lava lamp and the “Woodstock or Bust” sign.

I turned to the saleslady with the retro cat glasses. “How do you feel about polyester doubleknits?”

So how about it? Have you found yourself speaking your mother’s lines? Is your father the voice in your head? I was thinking about this as I read two new books. My next post will review two very different stories about the parent who lives on in us.