When I asked her why, quietly wondering whether he had broken an arm that morning and I just hadn’t noticed, she replied, “Because it’s a girl’s responsibility to make the beds.”
It took a few moments before I could stop laughing and tell her ‘no’. I have no memory of her reaction, but this is the earliest – and most emblematic – memory I have of the relationship I had with my mother through my childhood and adolescence. Right up until the age of 35 actually.
My mother and I have always struggled over beds. She finds great satisfaction in straightening the sheets as she’s still lying there, and then slipping out to finish the job. “You feel so good because you’ve already accomplished something. You can get on with the rest of your day, never worrying if your bed is made.”
She couldn’t understand how (1) the ghost of an unmade bed had never (ever) disturbed my thoughts and (2) that I just wanted to jump into the day and start doing things. As a teen, I would purposefully leave my bed unmade. As a small act of rebellion, yes, but one that I rationalized as “If she likes making beds so much then I’m doing her a favour by giving her one more!”
I always just accepted that the mother/daughter relationship was more complex than the mother/son one. But then I asked my chakra teacher and he offered a simple reply: “The problem is that between mother and daughter, there’s the mirror effect.”
I instantly visualized my mother and I, standing and facing the other, each with a mirror in our hands. Both of us shifting the angle and positioning of our individual mirrors, trying to find the perfect image of the other. And that’s when everything got a lot clearer.
My mother spent many years trying to recreate the adoring and idealized relationship she had with her own mother in Italy. Her attempts to make me into someone I wasn’t just angered me, a feeling compounded by the disappointment that she couldn’t accept me as is. I, on the other hand, wanted her to be more “Canadian”, more like the mothers of my friends. An attitude, which, understandably must have frustrated and angered her.
We were each seeking an ideal that did not exist. Pointing our mirror at the other, looking for one image among the endlessly repeating images that stretch into the far corners of the glass. Never noticing our own faces hovering near the top of the mirror facing us.
The goal, it now seems, is for mothers and daughters to stand together and look into the same mirror. To better admire the self and the other, to better celebrate the differences and similarities present. Think about your own mothers and daughters – have you been playing the mirror game?