Tuesday, March 10, 2009

—And Don't Tell Anyone You're My Mother (she said sweetly)

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.

23 comments:

Kristina P. said...

What an amazing story! Even if she didn't remember you, I'm sure she appreciated your apology.

I hope you're doing well! We don't hear enough from you!

Kateastrophe said...

I'm honestly not sure i could come up with just one! I was such a brat (and probably still am, honestly)

I'm so glad you posted today. We've all missed you!

Kazzy said...

I said something this weekend that I already am regretting. Ugh.

Your Princess is so sweet and loveable. :)

LisAway said...

What an interesting story. That is really neat that feeling bad about having said that one word and not fixing it for so many years made you sure to not do anything like it again. I guess it's right along the lines of making weak things strong. He's really good at that. (and you're good at learning)

Your daughter is funny. I think I remember those days, too.

Brillig said...

HAHAHA! What a little stinker that Princess is! She's one of my favorite people on the planet, you know, but a stinker nonetheless.

And YOU? You absolutely SLAY me! "And although I've been dressing myself for decades, she insisted on choosing my outfit." HAHAHA!

I love your hubby's idea, about writing about an awful thing you said to someone. Of course, for you, there was probably just that one awful thing that you'd ever said to anyone. It would be a lot trickier for me-- way too many moments to choose from, and probably things I didn't learn from and am still struggling with. Ugh.

I love the scene that you ended this post with-- with the Princess holding your hand and introducing you to her friends and their moms!!! Such high praise!!

pam said...

Thanks for sharing that story. Isn't it amazing the little incidents we carry, even if the other person "doesn't remember"?
I do think the most important thing is to remember what it was like to be that age. You have such a healthy perspective through it all. I hope I can do the same.

Heather of the EO said...

I love what this story says about you. Your confidence now and your character always. You felt so strongly about making something right. Something that most people would have just shrugged off.

I missed you too!

Kimberly said...

You are so amazing to find parallels in your own teenagehood to help you now! I think I'd just get bitter and surly. Or maybe count those cracks in the ceiling...

That Girl in Brazil said...

This is great - thank you for sharing this with us.

Similar things have happened to me - being wracked with guilt, working up the courage to apologize, and then they don't remember.

I'm glad that it makes you forget.

The Mom said...

Oh, this made me tear up. I think we all have times that we regret.

Mrs4444 said...

Beautiful story, Charrette. I've heard of this treatment before but have yet to experience (I hope I'm immune!) But really, a teens job is to separate from her/his parents and figure out who he is when he/she stands alone. Part of that process sometimes involves throwing your parents under the bus for a while. I'm glad you've emerged unscathed :)

Heidi Ashworth said...

To me this story is more evidence that our faults are given to us b/c, with the right attitude, they become our strengths. It's almost like our faults are like flu inoculations--by having a bit of it in us, we have that bite of pain that really gets under our skin, which then serves to help us identify and fight that kind of behavior in ourselves in the future. I don't think I really said that well enough but when I think of my faults in this way, I can almost be happy about them. At least it makes me feel a whole lot less guilty . . . .

Jessica said...

Hey, glad you're back! Great story, another great bit of wisdom!

Melanie J said...

I am haunted sometimes too by things I should not have said and people who I should have not have shunned. I try so hard to overcome that as an adult and I think I mostly succeed.

Marivic_Little GrumpyAngel said...

Love.Love. Love. This story. Sadly I have a few burdens I've carried with me through the years. I managed to unburden my self of some and I hope to live long enough so I can dump the last load off.

The part about your daughter makes me smile. My daughter was the same in junior high. But she grew up to be a better person than I expected. Now she's 18 and she insists on introducing me to everyone. She resisted inviting me on Facebook, though, because she said she didn't want me nosing around her profile but eventually added me as a friend with a "what the heck!" non-chalance :-)

Tammy Lorna said...

Isn't it horrible to have those experiences! I had a couple (different, but similar) in my youth too, and they're painful and horrible to remember. But you're right, they teach you important lessons you never forget. So that's something at least!

And I will have to get a hold of the directors cut one day - I'd love to see it :)

xo Tammy

Eowyn said...

What a great story. I remember those times--wanting so badly to fit in but forever being rejected because my clothes were a decade too old.

This might just inspire me in a blog post...Same smell, different story.

I think you are one of the greatest additions to my life. Just thought you'd like to know.

MoziEsmé said...

I'm so glad not to be a teenager anymore! I too appreciate my mom much more now than I did back then...

LexiconLuvr said...

"THANK YOU HEATHER OF THE E.O. FOR INTRODUCING ME TO THIS BLOG!!!!"

Sorry, it had to be said. I just adore your posts. Wow. That kind of insight...just, Wow.

My lil' bro (incidentally my best bud) refused to let me call him by his nickname during middle school because I embarrassed him. By high school he was over it and even asked that I resume using the nickname.
I only hope when my sons are teenagers, it will also be a short lived embarrassment. =]

Steph @ Diapers and Divinity said...

Charette, I've been to your blog before and read it and was very impressed. I even shared some of your stories with my husband in the car one day. But I'm not sure I ever commented or said hello. Your comment today at my blog gave me the courage to pop in and give a real greeting and tell you that I think you are a very good writer, and it doesn't take a lot of research to see that you are a good person and a good mom, too.

I can relate to your story today in many ways. Thanks for sharing it.

Brillig said...

Okay, Cha-cha-charrette. This is me, begging you to post again...

Kristina P. said...

Charette, I hope you're doing OK. I never see you around in blogland anymore!

Scribbit said...

"Talking to royalty"--I love that line. I can just see you coming across the counter at her :)