The Mother's Curse: Pass It On
Updated: May 7, 2021
As the brief day allocated to honour us maternal units approaches, I resuscitate this personal homage, a tidied version of which ran in the Globe and Mail a couple of years back. The editor being uneasy about the tone, on this sacred day of days, the hed was rather more laid-back:"I can’t tell my own kids ‘I told you so,’ so I’ve taken my wisdom to the streets." Uh-huh.
In a suburban Toronto baby store, where I am discovering that the cost of outfitting a newborn is about the same as sending the grown kid to university, I sidle up to the young couple with their $1200 orchid-tone Uppababy Vista stroller.
He is texting and elbow-pumping the stroller, from which issue ear-knifing screams, while she compares the $55 Grobag Kissing Rabbits sleep sack with the $65 Grobag Trundling Tractor version.
Perfect targets for The Mother's Curse. I move in close enough to glimpse, swathed in orchid blankie, a minute rage-puckered orchid-coloured face.
"Do you find, " I say to the father in my friendliest voice, raising it slightly to be heard, "that you now get what your mother meant when she said, 'One day, you'll know'?"
"Oh yeah, ha ha ha....." says the father, eyes flickering briefly from his screen. The mother looks as if she could punch me. "Gorgeous baby," I lie, and move off smartly. Feeling good. Feeling fine.
I used to say, "Remember The Mother's Curse?" But I found that was generating defensive panic: gasps, the father moving protectively in front of the mother. I learned to temper it, and now I can peaceably lay it on, everywhere.
On the mother trying to keep her daughters from running off in different directions. "Yeah. And wouldn't my mother love to see this...Ainsley! Ariana!..."
On the sari-clad grandma whose grown son is swooping his shrieking infant back and forth in its carrier.
"Oh yes, my son, now he does know what it means, oh yes!"--"And be sure to repeat it to the baby. It always comes true," I say. --"Oh yes, thank you, yes, have a fine day!"
I have evolved since the days I dreamed of myself as an imaginary action figure: a disciplining angel, meting out justice to child tyrants, and succor to a tyrannized public. A child would be imploding, a parent pleading, and there I'd be.
Step aside, ma'am. This is a job for... BratSmacker.
A then renowned Dining Out Lady had written a column deploring fine restaurants' intolerance for her toddlers. For little Mimi's races and tantrums under strangers' tables, wee Jason's game of unrolling all the toilet paper in the washrooms. She actually listed the fine restaurants that welcomed her darlings.
Step aside, maitres-d'. This is a job for...BratSmacker.
During years spent living in Italy, where a generation of young mothers went back to work and left their tots in the care of grandmas, the notion blossomed, from the day I saw a large toddler planted on the sidewalk, kicking his booted feet, scooching himself along the pavement and screeching like a banshee, while his tiny little old nonna, too small to heft him back into his stroller, stood wringing her ancient hands and sobbing, "Mamma mia, tesoro, ti prego, mamma mia..."
Lasci pure à me, signora...il Martello-Monello. Leave it to me, ma'am...the Hammer of Brats.
But that can get you arrested , especially today. Evoking The Mother's Curse, however, is legal, safe, and lethal: be it the memory of the simple "One day, you'll know;" or the more barbed "I only hope I'm around when your child gives you The Look/uses The Tone/ takes your heart out." My own mother's refinement was: "All I wish you is one like you. Because you're so charming. You're so intelligent. You're so easy to get along with. You know all the answers to so many questions. Just one--two would be too many."
But I was not going to be like her. And my charmed and charming child would obey lovingly, joyously. Cut to him fidgeting and dawdling, me nagging, him shooting me The Look one time too many. Imagine--I know any parent can--my horror at hearing my mother's voice issuing from my mouth, shrieking The Mother's Curse, with what was left of my vocal cords.
Okay, but why take it to the streets? It’s the waste – the waste of so much arduously earned wisdom. Because not only do you not dare utter to your adult children the “I told you so” that hovers on your lips: You pretty well have to button those lips forever. Your pearls must become dust in the wind. So now I strew them anonymously before new parents everywhere.
The wheel spins on. Your adult child, who was not going to be like you, is confronted by his/her own progeny. Repeats The Curse to them. Who in turn live to pass it on....and on, and on. For is not parenthood, basically, punishment for one's own childhood?
I am at the dining table with my son and his young son. The kid is fidgeting and dawdling over the last of his greens.
"Okay, buddy, one more bite, okay? You want dessert or not? Then finish that kale. In five...four...three..."
My son's eyes meet mine. "You're enjoying this, aren't you?"
"No, son, no, no no. No."
But I find myself thinking seditiously: Aw, leave the kid alone. He'll eat when he's hungry.
Good lord. Did I actually think that?
Step aside, ma'am. This is a job for...GrannyGrounder.