Anita Renfroe makes every mother feel normal, and for that, I am absurdly grateful. Her Mom Song, featuring lyrics she’s written, set to the William Tell Overture, is racing around the world via the Internet and YouTube now, with over a million viewers and counting.
When my nine-year-old brought a box of blue hair dye to me in Rite-Aid, I took it from her, looked skeptically at the box, and handed it back to her.
“Put this right back where you found it, darling,” I said. Reaching for the box next to it, I explained: “Your hair is much too dark for this to work. You need to bleach your hair out first. Otherwise the blue won’t show.”
I consider myself a – mostly – typical mother. But later, strolling down 82nd St., she attracted attention. One little girl pointed, and stage whispered, “Mama, that girl has blue hair.”
I began to wonder. Who pays attention to anything in New York City?
Blue hair. Big deal. My older daughter, at eleven, sports a rather unnatural shade of red. I’ve been letting them create their own personas since they were old enough to want their own looks.
My nine-year-old still can’t quite match her clothes reliably. Any blue in her closet: print, plaid, Pucci – combines with any other. It’s truly dazzling, but delightful.
It works: she’s always had to beat back the admirers. Not one kid in her class razzed her for the blue do, either.
As Mother’s Day approaches, it occurs to me: there’s no autopilot, but like pregnancy, despite attempts at control, this is a natural process, ongoing before we hopped into the generational stream, continuing long after we jump out.
Take pregnancy: you certainly can’t ignore it. Eat right, keep in shape (wait, hang on, that’s kind of funny), lay off alcohol and caffeine, sleep when you can (until the last furlough when sleep is impossible, because of the torpedo trying to fight its way out), and obsess over your stack of gestational books. (“What To Expect When You’re Carting Around 25 Pounds of A Kicking Stranger.”)
Still, pregnancy marches on; nature takes its course. The laissez-faire pregnant people seem to do just as well as the uptight ones do. Honestly, babies are lucky we’re not in charge of the whole complicated mess.
Same with mothering. We’re sort of wired for it. Anita Renfroe is a writer and comedian – certainly not your average mom – and yet her lyrics resonate with every living mother on the planet, typical or not.
My kids’ dad looked at me last night when I said: “I’m a typical mom,” as though I’d said: “I’m an anteater,” with an indulgent look over the top of his eyeglasses.
“Um,” he started, flailing for tact, “ya think? No.”
Having sworn a vow to avoid “Because I say so,” I have gone to near-ridiculous lengths to explain things to my kids, and to allow them freedom of choice whenever possible. Don’t want the cough medicine? Okay, cough all night. Don’t want the Tylenol? Unless your fever’s out of control, okay – suffer.
But when one of them had pneumonia, and needed antibiotics, I accessed the Internet, a medical encyclopedia and a small sketchbook to show her exactly how the lungs, the alveoli and the bronchioles were filling up with fluid and she would drown in her own mucus if she didn’t cave in and swallow the tasty bubble gum liquid.
Still, I say – more frequently than I care to admit, but hey, if Anita Renfroe can do it, then so can I: “Because I said so, that’s why.”
I have also said: “If Alexis/Rachel/Sierra jumped off the Empire State Building, would you?”
Of course, the response was: “Was she bungee-jumping? Then maybe.”
I have said: “Pick up this pigsty.”
“Don’t give me that face.”
“Who do you think you’re talking to?”
“I said no.”
“Do you know how lucky you are?”
“No one appreciates a darn thing I do around here.”
“Try cleaning toilets, then get back to me about how tough you have it.”
“Of course I’m not your friend. I’m your mother. That’s better.”
“No, you can’t call me Elizabeth.”
I have had that shuddering experience of hearing my own mother’s words come out of my mouth; words I never thought I’d say.
Once, my friend saw me beating potatoes with an electric beater. “No masher?” she said. I showed her my bent masher; she laughed, and exited the kitchen, wine glass in hand.
My mother came into the kitchen next. “Beaters?” she asked, innocently. My entire body stiffened.
“What’s wrong with beaters?” I asked defensively.
Years later, my older daughter, having just learned to scramble eggs, was at the stove.
“You know, you might have better luck with a different spatula,” I suggested.
“What’s wrong with this spatula?” she asked, defensively.
I flashed back to my own mother, and thought of all the words flowing in the generational stream, of the power a mother has over a daughter. Those words we have wired into us, that we pass onto our daughters and sons have enormous power – to hurt, to heal; to encourage or to dismay.
“You know what?” I backpedaled. “Actually, you’re doing great. They smell good – would you mind making some for me?”
She brightened up. “Sure,” she said, with the same excitement you save for a question like, “Want to go to Great Adventure?”
Best breakfast I ever ate. Full of love, life, and the history of a hundred thousand mothers and children.
Thanks, Anita Renfroe, for telling us that story in less than three minutes.
View this delightful video: