As published in The Rye Record on January 27, 2012
Why is that when you turn 12 your mom becomes so embarrassing? She asks too many questions, wears that blouse in front of your friends and waves goodbye in the loudest possible way. I feel the collective pain of the 12-year-old community, because when I was that age my mom was so embarrassing. For starters, she looked about ten years younger than all the other moms, with Farrah Fawcett’s hair instead of Dorothy Hammil’s.
She wore her hair in pigtails, disco danced, and listened to my music while driving carpool. She butchered the words to Dr. Hook while boogying her shoulders from side to side. You can imagine my distress.
While my friends swooned over the fact that I had the coolest mom ever, I secretly fantasized about what it would be like to have one of the other, more muted moms. With their mom haircuts and cardigan sweaters, these moms seemed to know their place. They’d fall in line at pick up in sensibly colored station wagons, sporting nothing more fashionable or eye catching than maybe a little simulated wood paneling. My mom would appear in the line up in her powder blue and white Chevrolet Monte Carlo, like a Skittle in a bowl of almonds. Even as a kid I was fascinated by this car choice. I mean, weren’t station wagons standard issue? Not only was she driving a sedan, but it was a two-door, the kind where the person in the passenger seat had to get out and fold forward her whole seat any time anyone wanted to get in or out. To this day, I don’t think I know anyone with three kids and a two-door car. The Monte Carlo was fabulous and impractical, my mother personified.
Truth be told, there was never a day in my life that I did not fully appreciate the supreme awesomeness of my mom. These were my words at 12, and I have no better words today. She was beautiful and brilliant and funny and strong. From an early age, I saw her as a softer, hotter Statue of Liberty. She did plenty of mom things like cooking, sewing, and listening — just not out on the playground where everyone could see.
You’ll be glad to hear that since I’ve been a mom, I have not driven anything but a station wagon. One was silver, the next black. You would never notice me in the traffic circle. I am more fashion-neutral than fashion-forward, and I’ve been rockin’ the same pair of sensibly colored corduroys for years. Yet I have somehow managed to become infinitely more embarrassing than my mom in the most hideous possible ways. My 12-year-old self recoils at the sight of me. For starters, I’ve written a book that includes kissing. It’s actually not just kissing, but teenagers kissing. I am also incapable of keeping my mouth shut in the car. I’ve tried, but it’s like the hinges of my jaw don’t allow for it. Throw in a regular column in the local paper, a mad crush on a fictional vampire, and my own Facebook page, and I’d say I’ve outdone my mom by a factor of 10.
So what compels us to such outrageous behavior? Can’t the over-40 set just settle in and back off the scene? The truth is that 42 candles look a lot different now that the birthday cake is mine. I am the exact age that my mom was when I was 12, and I’m still just a kid. It’s not that I’m out to mortify my kids, but that I’m not as old as they think I am. Sure, I’ve been known to sing in the car to a couple of jazzy Top 40 tunes. But in my mind it’s still my music, not theirs. I mean Rihanna is closer to my age than she is to my kids’, right? (No need to correct my math, but thanks for paying attention.)
I think my mom understood that you just have to do what you want to do in life to be happy, and that you can’t always play to your critics. And if those critics are 12, you’re not going to win that battle anyway. Had she spent those years indoors, knitting in a nice beige cardigan, I would have been embarrassed by that too.
It’s been said that we are all destined to grow up to become our parents. In some ways we look at this fact with resignation, and in others with hope. From where I’m sitting, 42 is not “the new 30”; it’s the same old 42, just a little more embarrassing.