Like Mother, Like Daughter
By Monica A. Andermann
Each morning I looked across the breakfast table at Mom. Was she really my mother? On the eve of my fifteenth year, I seemed to have so little in common with her. Mom liked vanilla ice cream, I liked chocolate; I painted my fingernails and wore eye shadow, Mom preferred “the natural look;” I liked to stay up late, Mom preferred an earlier bedtime. Were it not for our same unruly hair, I would have just assumed that she found me soon after birth in a wicker basket floating down the river like Moses. We were just so different. Really, I wondered, where did I come from?
There was one thing Mom and I did have in common, though, our love for travel. I couldn’t wait for the arrival of school field trips or youth group ski weekends, even though they never took me a fraction as far as Mom’s travels had taken her. My mother had called three different countries home by the time she was thirty, and her stories of all those faraway places fascinated me, especially exotic Brazil where her immediate family continued to live.
Each summer Mom would embark on a two week trip “home” to visit her mother and her brother and his family; relatives whom I’d not yet met. She had a whole bevy of friends there, too, with lyrical names like Bethania, TaniaMaria, and Sueli. Ah, the lure of it all – the tropical rainforest, the beaches, the mangoes hanging from the trees waiting for me to pluck! I so wanted to join her, to see firsthand what I only could imagine, but that was something else we couldn’t agree on. Mom said that I needed to remain behind to take care of the household and make sure my younger brother stayed out of trouble while Dad was at work. Begging was useless. I remember one marathon petitioning session that ended with some weeping and slamming of doors. Oh, that day I knew – just knew – that there had to have been a mix-up at the hospital on the day of my birth. The woman sitting across the breakfast table from me couldn’t possibly be my real mother.
Then one day in mid-July, Mom dropped her bombshell; this year I could join her. I was turning fifteen that August and since that birthday is of particular significance in the Latin-American culture, she felt I deserved a special gift: I could celebrate my birthday with her family in Brazil. “What do you think?” she asked, smiling.
“Finally,” I sighed coolly, “we’re agreeing on something.” Then I broke from the room like a racehorse at the starting gate and commenced packing.
Two weeks later I found myself sitting in the window seat of a jet, staring out at the blue gaslights of the runway. They flickered and flashed, and the jet began to taxi. Mom took my hand and in the same familiar tone she had used to usher me to my first day of school, she declared, “We’re ready to take off.”
By the next afternoon, I was meeting my mother’s family – my family. I almost gasped at the sight of them. Looking at my relatives was like watching my reflection in a carnival funhouse mirror; different heights and widths, yet somehow the same. And, with the exception of my uncle, we all had that trademark bushy brown hair. He was bald, with only a small tuft of hair at the crown of his head. Mom twirled the few strands around her index finger and, joking, suggested that a little blue bow might be just the right touch. My uncle took her teasing in stride, laughing himself, just like my own brother had when I dared him to wear one of Mom’s long blond wigs to the bus stop on the last day of school. Mom shared the story of how my brother accepted that dare, and we all laughed until we couldn’t breathe, finally stopping when the rumble of our hungry stomachs could be heard above the reveling. So, putting our collective bushy heads together, we decided on a dinner of pizza at a local restaurant. First, though, Mom stepped away to freshen up. She re-emerged minutes later with lips painted bright red. Mom wearing lipstick? I couldn’t believe it. And who do you think was the last guest out of the restaurant that evening, yapping away long after the owner had swept the floors and locked the shutters? Yup, it was Mom.
I looked at my mother again. I had never seen this side of her. As the following two weeks unfolded, many more facets of my mother revealed themselves with sparkling clarity. Those facets shone a lot like mine: the way Mom giggled with her girlfriends; how she could souvenir shop like it was an Olympic sport; how she saved a little bit of meat from dinner for the stray dog that lingered on the corner of my grandmother’s street. And one night, after some strained words between her and my grandmother, my heart ached as I saw tears well in Mom’s eyes.
Those two weeks were crammed with sightseeing, celebration, but most of all, discovery; not just discovery of another country, but discovery of my family, my mother, myself. As I sat next to Mom on the airplane again, I saw someone much different from the woman who ate breakfast across from me each morning. I saw a daughter, sister, aunt and friend. I saw the woman she was, and the woman I would one day be privileged to become. Thousands of miles from home, finally, I saw my mother. And in her face, I saw myself.
About this writer
- Monica A. Andermann his both an avid gardener and a writer. More of her personal essays can be found in several Chicken Soup for the Soul and A Cup of Comfort collections with additional credits widely published both online and in a variety of print media.