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I Am Not My Mother

“Your mother is one helluva maven,” my Great Aunt Marion said in 1974, standing with the help of a cane in our dining room, glowering at the patterned wallpaper my mother had hung by herself. Competitive to the bitter end is how I’d describe most of the women in my mother’s family.

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“Muriel the Maven,” was written in 2-foot letters on a banner welcoming people to my mother’s 40th birthday party. “Maven,” may as well have been tattooed on my mother’s ass since growing up, since it’s what everyone called her whenever she left a room.

It’s a Yiddish word meaning, more or less, expert. I didn’t know any Yiddish growing up (which worked well for my parents since it meant they could talk about grown up stuff around my sister and I. My husband and I use Spanish in this way with our boys, or at least we did until this summer when the older one installed a language-learning app on his phone.)

But by the time I was 8, I had my own definition of maven: perfect at all things homemaking-related. My mother cooked all the meals pre-Trader Joe’s, sewed some of our clothes from McCall’s dressmaking patterns and yes, hung the wallpaper. She never hired a decorator or took a cooking class that I know of, she just set her mind on a household task and achieved it.

On the minus side, she wasn’t much in to “feelings” — yours, mine or anyone’s — and she was never punctual to any function, and by function I mean any time she was supposed to be anywhere. You could tell the day of the week and time by my parents’ fighting, which started like clockwork Saturday at 6 and peaked at 7:30, when my father’s eyeballs would start to pop out of his head like the popular comic of the day, Marty Feldman. Muriel the maven was big on entrances, entrances that are all the more anticipated when one arrives late.

Maybe as my mother’s personality disappears before my eyes, it’s time for me to let go of my fear of becoming the worst parts of her and appreciate what she did bring to my life.

Nevertheless, the woman knew how to make a home.

I was reminded of this last night, touring my new friend’s house. It’s one of those fantastically cozy homes with cookie jars that match the wallpaper, fresh cut flowers in the bathroom and a clown-themed family room. A clown-themed family room! Apparently because of my disappointment about my mother’s disinterest in all things emotional and her lateness issue, I made the choice years ago to be nothing like her. As a wife and mother myself now, sleeping on sheets that we got as a wedding gift 13 years ago (don’t worry, they’re old, not dirty) and having unmatched towels and cutlery, it seems I threw the “domestic-skills” baby out with the bathwater, so to speak.


I don’t think about this much until I find myself in the company of women, like my new friend, who know their way around a Bed, Bath and Beyond, or ladies who can spend an hour talking about a couch. I don’t begrudge them their recliner conversation. I mostly feel inadequate because after, “We bought our couch at Crate and Barrel and we’ve been very happy with it for, gosh, almost 10 years now,” I look around at their blank, unimpressed faces, blush and stuff my face with their tastefully presented snacks.

But last night was different. I actually like this woman a lot. I walked in and talked honestly about missing my mother — not that she’s gone, but that she is slowly fading now, her brain being eaten by Alzheimer’s. My new friend prepared a three course meal in assorted All-Clad pans, stirring this and whisking that with grace, while also listening attentively, sharing her own experience and even managing to make me laugh. She proved it’s possible to be able to sauté and also have compassion.

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Maybe it’s time to rethink my anti-domestication mindset. Maybe as my mother’s personality disappears before my eyes, it’s time for me to let go of my fear of becoming the worst parts of her and appreciate what she did bring to my life.

After all, how hard can it be to wallpaper?

Photo by Getty Images

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