Lorelai Gilmore is begging her teenage daughter to get her nose out of a book and go out for ice cream when my own daughter starts cackling.
"That's us!" she crows. "The ice cream is us!"
I'm startled. By the outburst in the middle of a TV show, yes, but also because the much lauded mother/daughter relationship of the Gilmore Girls isn't the one I want for us.
Lorelai and Rory are finish-each-other's-sentences, read-each-other's-minds type of best friends. I don't want that kind of pressure as a mom. Go back 11 years, and the relationship that's launched dozens of "what Lorelai Gilmore taught us about parenthood" articles was exactly what I wanted.
Heavily pregnant and suffering from hyperemesis gravidarum, a sort of morning sickness on steroids that landed me in an emergency room twice and on daily medication to function, I spent nights and weekends in bed with my collection of Gilmore Girls DVDs. I binge-watched them all to avoid thinking about how sick I felt. Though sonograms had failed to accurately determine the sex of my baby, I knew in my gut that I was carrying a girl. I was terrified. Lorelai Gilmore and her daughter slash sidekick made me feel better.
Lorelai and I couldn't be more different: I was a married adult who'd become pregnant on purpose. She'd become a teen mom after accidentally getting pregnant. I was raised in a lower middle-class home in a small town. She was raised with country club privilege.
These girls give her things I cannot.
Still, I saw parallels between myself and this daughter of an overbearing mother trying to do better for her own daughter. Technically, I still had a relationship with my own mother at the time (if you could call it that), but she hadn't spoken to me since learning I was pregnant.
Seeing a mother and daughter operating as much like best friends as a parent and child made it seem possible that I could do this thing called motherhood. I could raise a daughter and foster a healthy mother/daughter relationship. We didn't have to repeat the trauma of my own childhood—not the fights, not the periods of silence, not the feelings of never being good enough. We could forge a new path.
The Gilmore Girls became, if not a parenting manual, a way through.
My daughter is 11 now. She's old enough now for the show, and I recently decided to let her watch it with me. With the Netflix reboot on the horizon, I saw watching Lorelai and Rory together as the perfect bonding experience, leading up to a day when we can snuggle on the couch and devour the new shows together. My vision of the day the reboot hits Netflix was appropriately Gilmore-esque: Nail polish, junk food, us trading inside jokes and quoting past episodes.
Basically, I saw us watching together the way friends would.
But we aren't friends, my daughter and I, and watching the show with her, I realize I don't want us to be like Rory and Lorelai Gilmore anymore. Being her Lorelai wouldn't be fair to her.
I love her, and she loves me, and we have inside jokes and sometimes eat too much ice cream, our spoons clanking as they hit one another inside the same pint of Ben and Jerry's. As time yanks us forward into the tumult of the teen years, we have our good days and our not-so-good days. Sometimes I get angry, and she gets angry. (Parenting a tween is an imperfect art.) In those times, she turns to her friends, to a group of girls who reflect bits of my daughter back at her.
These girls give her things I cannot.
I can't be unbiased like a friend in my acceptance of her, nor can my expectations ever rise to the level of those who could bail tomorrow if she's too bossy or takes them for granted.
They give her the knowledge that there are people who love and accept her not because they spent nine miserable months throwing up to bring her here, or because of the shared blood coursing through their veins. They give her their unvarnished honesty and their high expectations.
On the Gilmore Girls, it was clear that Rory had other friends: Lane, Dean, Logan, even Paris. But they were always in the shadow of Lorelai, Rory's sun, moon and stars.
I can't be all of that to my daughter, because I'm her mother. Moms and dads are supposed to love their children, to laud their quirks and celebrate their successes. Friends do all that too, but they do it because they want to. I can't be unbiased like a friend in my acceptance of her, nor can my expectations ever rise to the level of those who could bail tomorrow if she's too bossy or takes them for granted.
Her friends can take on the worst bits of her, smoothing down some of her rougher edges and challenging her on her imperfections. They love her because of them at times, despite them at others.
They make her better because they can leave if they want to.
They can say the things parents can't always say or won't.
I want to be my daughter's mother. I need someone else to be her best friend.