Growing up, I was constantly mortified on behalf of my mother, who did things like chew on the inside of her cheeks and hug total strangers and (o the indignity!) strike up a conversation with absolutely anyone at absolutely any time. Like we'd be standing in line at Wal-Mart (don't judge, THAT'S ALL THERE IS IN ARKANSAS) and she'd comment to the person standing behind her, "This is some line! Good thing I'm in no hurry," and regardless of the reaction of that person, she would continue to talk. "I see you have a package of diapers there. How old is your little one?" or "My, that's a lovely scarf you're wearing. Where ever did you find it?" or, in response to the questions "How are you?" she would answer, "I'm blessed!" or "God is good!" or "I am trying desperately to mortify my pre-teen daughters and I think it's working!"
I believe she considers it her duty to comment on everything about everyone, and only to their face, and certainly only in public. When at home, she's often distracted by the screeching or mewling or barking of one of their twenty or so semi-neglected pets or my brother's non-stop prattle about his video games or video game-themed toys, or, most often, she's distracted by Jesus. I always know when she's distracted because she looks through me instead of at me, and she picks at her chin with her fingernails and so I'll slip in a quick little, "and then I googled 'how to have anal sex'," just to see if she's really hearing me. But when we're in clothing stores she is nothing if not in the moment. She comments on the cut, color, fit, and general darling-ness of the outfits that other women are trying on. "Oh my, that color is LOVELY on you! (to me) Don't you think that color looks lovely on her? (to slightly-horrified stranger, again) Although I will say, I thought the teal mermaid silhouette was more flattering." I'm pretty sure that my mother has been the cause of hundreds of, "Who was that, do we know her?"s over the years. She treats everyone as if she's known them all her life, which sounds charming, I know, and people always ask me why it bothers me so much.
It bothers me because it's really just Obnoxious, with makeup on. Nobody wants your opinion on fashion, lady in the purple velour track suit. Zip it. Or at least stop talking to people about Jesus. That makes them uncomfortable.
In middle school, my grandma and mom got together and decided that my sister and I should be enrolled in junior cotillion, so off we were driven once a month to a club house with tremendous white pillars in the fanciest gated community I'd ever driven through. There, we learned how to be seated and how to sit. We were taught what those tiny forks are for, and how to dance the waltz and when to stand and when to bow and how to chew our food properly, and which way to pass the butter, and who should take the first bite and when, and that crossing your legs is unladylike and children should stand when adults enter the room and that middle school boys are assholes. That one I learned on my own. Until cotillion, I hadn't realize I'd been doing ANY of those other things the wrong way, and I often wondered, if those particular social graces were as important as my mother made them out to be, why in the hell she didn't just teach us the right way to do things the FIRST time we learned them instead of paying an exorbitant amount of money to pay a couple of pretentious bitches to re-teach us how to do those things, and do them fancier like.
The junior cotillion program involved homework assignments like interviewing a family member about table manners in their childhood home or calling your friend and announcing yourself before asking to speak with them so that the person who answers the phone call tell your friend who is calling. One assignment was to practice introducing yourself to new people. THAT ONE? That one was a nightmare straight off of Elm Street because I made the mistake of telling my mother what the assignment was, and from then until the next class, she would randomly pull the car over to the curb, point to a person standing under a tree in the park or a bunch of women walking down the sidewalk and say, "There: go introduce yourself to them. I'll be watching." Even after I'd completed the requisite three introductions as outlined in my assignment book, my mother continued to pull over and shove me out of the car to "practice."She made me do this more times than I care to remember, and each time it was pure torture. "Hello, my name is Catherine and my mother is insane. I'm so pleased to meet you."
She used to whistle at my sister and I if we were out of her sight in public. It was like her honing signal or something, and I guess I should give her props for figuring this one out because the moment I heard her signature bird-chirp, I'd go running to find and silence her before I died of shame in the paper towel aisle. Whatever the reason, she knew that we would hear her and speed back to where she was waiting for us, usually engaged in a conversation about breastfeeding techniques with a confused father toting a newborn. As an adult, I'm doubly irritated when she whistles for me in public. Once, when she and I were together with the shopping cart and Five Head was off on his own somewhere, she began whistling for him and something inside of me just snapped and I told her I'd had it with the whistling. I told her it was demeaning. I told her that Five Head is not a dog and should not be trained to come when whistled at, that she may as well start handing him Milk Bones if that was what she wanted. I told her I hate that stupid signature whistle, it sounds like a gay seagull. I told her never to whistle for me again. She listened to me, blinked a few times in rapid succession and then said, "Well it's better than yelling his name across the store," and that was the end of the conversation. The whistle lives on.
She drives with her knees. She picks her nose in a very specific way and deposits the fruit of her labor into a tissue. She coughs chronically, loudly, and doesn't realize it's happening. She over-uses words like "fresh fruit" and "grundies." She extols the benefits of consuming the daily recommend serving of vegetables. She is always tired, but never sleeps. She is a perpetual college student. She signs all her emails, "LYTTMAB!" which stands for "love you to the moon and back," and I wonder why she doesn't just pick a shorter farewell. Something she can actually type out so I don't have to translate when I'm drunk. She used to do a "scratch test" each night to determine whether or not my sister and I had actually brushed our teeth for two minutes as we were instructed to do and claimed we had done. We'd stand with giant false grins, teeth exposed while she scratched and scraped our molars, the back side of our front teeth we waited with knotted stomachs for her verdict: "Go brush again," or "Good job, now go to bed."
But nothing that she has ever done - not one of her embarrassing qualities - compares to the horror of the knowledge that I am turning into my mother. I drive with my knees and I talk to total strangers, strike up entire conversations about their shoes or the weather or how darling their children are. I smile at everyone and hold open doors and push the Open Door button on elevators and let people go ahead of me in line at the grocery store. I'm divorced. I force Gray to brush his teeth and floss his gums and make regular dental appointments. I tell him every night to brush his teeth. Every. Single. Night. I always put an extra piece or two of broccoli onto his plate once we're seated at the table because I know he will eat it with resignation. I do this because he needs his vegetables. I sign all of my emails, "XOXOXOXO" and I yell, "Babes?" when Gray and I are shopping together and he's wandered off to look at the video games. Again. Once, I even whistled at him but he didn't come because he didn't know to. He is staunchly not a dog. I vastly over-tip efficient waitresses and attentive bartenders and chatty beauticians. My skin is cursed with the same tendency to develop freckles and pink splotches and moles with each passing day over every square inch of my body. I use my chapstick as compulsively as she employs her free Clinique sample in plum and shimmering mauve. I'm still in college. Again.
I AM TURNING INTO MY MOTHER.
Now, please excuse me while I go cough loudly and unproductively and obliviously into a crowd of people who are already wary of me after earlier, in the frozen foods department, I announced, "Stouffer's really should make tuna fish casserole, don't you guys think?"