Ouch! That's not the worst thing anyone's said to me. But it's what my teenage daughter, The Princess, said as she reminded me about volunteering at her school today. Only it's better than that. Because the sentence actually began, "Remember, try to look pretty–and don't tell anyone you're my mom, okay?" I just laughed. And threatened not to go. To which she responded, "No, just kidding. I love you, Mom. But, yeah, don't tell people you're my mom, okay? Love you!" *smooch, smooch* Where did she learn this stuff, Hollywood? So I'm clearly not rich enough, thin enough, or beautiful enough to be seen with the likes of my daughter. And although I've been dressing myself for decades, she insisted on choosing my outfit.
Actually, the reason I'm able to laugh it off, rather than lock myself in a room and start rocking aimlessly while counting the cracks in the ceiling, is that I remember. I remember being 14 and wanting to grow up to be anyone BUT my mother. At some point I thought I wanted everyone to think I had one of those beauty-queen face-lift moms who drove a Mercedes and wore fancy clothes and big jewels. But the truth is, I'm not impressed by people like that. Not now. Back then, I just wanted to fit in. I maybe even kinda sorta wanted those people to like me. But instead I was mostly invisible.
A few years later my mom and my sister and I went into a consignment shop to sell back some of our clothes. And the snooty sales clerk looked down her nose at us and told my mother her beautiful Pendleton blazers were "a little dated". I wanted to climb right over the counter and show that lady a knuckle sandwich. But I behaved. Didn't she know she was talking to ROYALTY? In a few short years my mom had risen to positively heroic proportions in my eyes.
My husband spoke last week in a lecture series sponsored by the BYU library. And he said that, to prompt more honest storytelling and shed flattering facades, he often assigns his students to write about "the worst thing you've ever said to anyone." And I didn't have to stop and think about that one very long. Because I remember it so clearly. It haunted me for years. The worst thing I ever said was, "No." Which sounds pretty harmless. But it was a lie. A lie that hurt someone. And exposed a serious weak spot in my character.
Ms. Houston introduced her to the class. The new student's name was LaRue Hammler. (At least for our purposes it is. And it's a reasonable facsimile). She walked into my 7th Grade English class wearing hip-hugger bell-bottom jeans that looked like they'd been through a couple of wars, a halter top that managed to expose BOTH a roll of fat in front and acne all over her back, and long, dangly earrings that looked like miniature tie-dyed t-shirts. She sat down right in front of me. I cringed. Because I got a close-up view of the acne. But also because I recognized her.
She was in my Sunday School class a long time ago, when we lived in Bountiful. We only saw her a few times. They moved again before I ever really got to know her. But I was pretty sure this was the same LaRue. She turned around and grinned. "Hi" she said. "Remember me?" And then in a split second I summed up the situation, inventoried the clothes, skin and hair, and concluded it was not going to be good for my social standing to be connected in any way to this new girl. And I said NO. Can you imagine how hard it must have been for her to be transfered to a new junior high school mid-year, and then how relieved she must have been to walk into a new classroom and see just one familiar face? But I was so worried about fitting into this society of Mean Girls myself that I unwittingly became one of them. And turned her away. I made no effort to make her feel welcome or help her make friends. And I carried that burden of guilt for about 22 years.
One day I couldn't stand it any more. I was determined to make it right somehow. So the next time I visited my home town I made a few phone calls and tracked LaRue down. I apologized.
Then came one of the greatest ironies of all: She didn't remember me. Or the incident. Or at least she didn't admit it if she did. (Hopefully she hadn't spent years in therapy blocking it out!)
After a lot of heartache and tearful prayers, I was finally at peace. Perhaps one of the kindest gifts to surface was that in the process of carrying that burden with me from place to place for more than two decades, I had learned to become someone else. Someone who's less concerned with appearance and more interested in substance. Someone who would rather connect than separate. Someone who would always prefer to err on the side of inclusion. I love the way Mary Ellen Edmunds points out the foolishness of "spending money we don't have to buy things we don't need to impress people we don't even like." I'm so done with that.
So I don't mind being momentarily snubbed by my daughter. Because I remember. And I'm comfortable with who I am. In fact, after the event at the junior high today, The Princess took me by the hand and dragged me across the cafeteria to meet some of her friends and their mothers. So maybe she's not so embarrassed of me after all. Maybe she's already learned.
Look for this – and other entries on the subject of Mom – at Scribbit's Writeaway Contest for April, here.