I don’t think I’m a typical Jewish mother.
I don’t cook very much — actually, next to nothing. As I’ve been aging, I’ve been doing so in the same home where I’ve lived for the past 33 years. I’ve made no attempt to move closer to either of my two children. I’ve always been independent. But I didn’t realize until very recently how important independence is.
My daughter was just here for a long weekend. We’ve made short visits to each other over decades; when I go to her, I feel like I’m walking on eggshells. And this time, as always when we’re on each other’s turf, we fight.
So why does this happen? Is it a normal part of the Jewish mother/daughter relationship? Maybe because she hasn’t been a typical Jewish mother, either. She has two sons, but became a widowed single parent before the older of them had even graduated from high school.
I know she has recurring thoughts that she didn’t do everything she should have for those children, because I have the same guilt about what I did, and didn’t do, for her and her older brother. Maybe Jewish mothering is always fraught with regrets. Maybe her eggshells feel to her here as fragile as mine do there. …
So we had a three-day visit during our beautiful early spring. I planned many things for us to do together: Walking the downtown arts district to see the varied architecture. Having lunches of our choice from the food trucks at Klyde Warren Park. Shopping at Central Market (a special treat for someone who lives in central Illinois, the home of Aldi’s!), and exploring NorthPark Mall (a special treat for someone to whom Kohl’s is big-time!). The Chili Cook-off. Tea at the Arboretum, with plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of Dallas Blooms. And even though I’ve never been a cook, and she’s used to that, I managed to turn out one passable supper, featuring delicious hamantaschen (baked by my Sisterhood sisters, not me!), for a post-Purim dessert treat.
I used to bake hamantaschen, package them up and send them to my children. But I hated every minute of the process; baking has never appealed to me any more than cooking.
I was only nine when I made my first pie “from scratch”; after I saw it disappear 10 minutes into dessert, I knew it was also my last — I wanted to put my energy into things that would live longer than that. I have the kind of visual memory that lets me put myself back into key situations of my past and see them again exactly as they were, so I can recall watching my mother take a pan of cookies out of the oven and saying to myself, “When I grow up, I don’t want to stay home and bake cookies. I want to go out and do things!”
And I can recall, just as clearly, that my daughter was about that same age when she said to me — as I rushed to leave home after a thrown-together supper so that I could cover a story — “When I grow up, I don’t want to go out to meetings. I want to stay home and bake cookies!”
Maybe that’s why we fight — because being such opposites actually makes us very much alike. Even as a working mother, she has always found time to bake those cookies. And even when I was a stay-at-home mom, I found opportunities to go after outside stories. Maybe those inside-outs keep us from understanding each other when they should really make it easier to do so.
I guess a Jewish mother never stops being a Jewish daughter, and a Jewish daughter grows into being a Jewish mother, and both fight for their elusive freedom from each other when it’s not what either really wants. I’ll try to keep all that in mind for our next get-together.