We May Not be Fancy, but We’re Fun

My mom arrived in town tonight for a weekend of shopping, eating, and other mother-daughter shenanigans.

With nothing on T.V., we decided to watch a movie, and Mom picked A Perfect Murder, a dark and twisty 1998 film with Michael Douglas and Gwyneth Paltrow. It’s a great watch, if you’ve never seen it. But you probably won’t want to see it, because I’m about to ruin a huge aspect of the plot: Emily doesn’t die, you guys.

Paltrow’s character, Emily, comes from a very affluent family. After surviving her own attempted murder (and killing her attacker in self-defense), she goes to stay with her mother in a huge-ass mansion. And then the mother and daughter team put on their finest cardigans and headbands, and sit down to a comforting dinner – complete with fine china and silver serving dishes.

Because that’s what you do for someone who was nearly murdered. Obviously.

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A PERFECT MURDER, Gwyneth Paltrow, Constance Towers, 1998, (c)Warner Bros.

Taking in this scene with more than a little judgment, I turn to my Mom.

“Can you imagine you and I having a casual mother-daughter dinner where we eat off silver and china?” (And discuss the guy I just killed.)

Mom didn’t hesitate to answer. “Nope. No, I can’t.”

“We’re more of the eating-pizza-on-the-couch-in-our-yoga-pants variety of people, aren’t we?”

Mom nodded. “And the pizza came from Walmart.”

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Mommy Dearest

Given that my mother is at least partly responsible for the lovely yet disastrous adult I’ve become, it seemed fitting that my first real post be about her.

To me, it seems like there are two different types of moms. There are the Florence Henderson moms who prepare healthy snacks, limit the amount of television their kids watch, and participate in the PTA.

Then, there are the moms who seem to come straight out of gloomy Lifetime movies – moms who do hard drugs, or murder teenage girls so their own daughters can be on the cheerleading team. My mom is an interesting and confusing combination of both of these types.

Don’t argue with me, Mom. You know it’s true.

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When I was a child, my mom had all the makings of a good sitcom mom. She read to me every night, was involved in my school, and prohibited my brother and I from eating junk food as an after-school snack (much to our friends’ dismay). She attended every awards ceremony, sports game, and choir concert, and actually seemed to ENJOY those things – or was just really good at pretending, which counts for something.

But there’s also a slightly sketchier side to my mom. As relevant background information, you should know that we both share a fascination of big, lovely homes in wealthy neighborhoods. We like to drive past them and daydream about what our lives would be like if we lived in them. We pick out the ones we’d want to live in, sarcastically passing judgment on the slightly-less-grand places.

After having foot surgery a few years ago, I was bored out of my mind from sitting around all day, but was still not quite well enough to be out and about on my feet. My mother’s solution was to pack me up in the back seat of her car, shove a pillow under my bum foot, and set out driving down our street. I assumed we were going for a leisurely little drive, until she whipped out a neatly folded piece of paper with her perfect handwriting all over it. I asked her what it was.

“Just a few addresses,” she replied, casually waving her hand in the air. I found her play at nonchalance unsettling.

“Addresses…to what?”

Mom hesitated briefly, and then gave in. “To some of your doctors’ homes. We’re going to see what kinds of houses they live in! I bet your dermatologist lives in a really nice place.”

“Oh, my God!” I shouted, feeling both horrified and enthralled. I knew with certainty that this was a massive invasion of my physicians’ privacy, and I was virtuously creeped out on their behalf. And yet – I kind of wanted to see what type of mansion my dermatologist lived in.

I considered lecturing my Mom on what was wrong about this situation, but I am my sketchy mother’s daughter, and I wanted to see some damn houses.

And that’s what we did on a hot summer afternoon: we drove around the city and looked at my doctors’ homes, expressing awe over some of them, and disappointment over others. To be honest, it seemed like we were paying some of them quite a bit of money to be living in such dull, average-sized homes. We happily and ironically judged them a bit for that. It was a gloriously weird afternoon.

If you don’t think that story was particularly questionable, I was just easing you in. When my mom was a teen, she experimented with things that many teens experiment with, especially in the 1970s. Nothing she did was really that crazy, but she was seen as super rebellious in her family because her parents were pretty conservative. Therefore, Mom resolved to be way more understanding about that kind of stuff once her own kids entered adolescence.

I think my family was a bit baffled by adolescent me. I wasn’t perfectly innocent – I certainly did some things they didn’t know about (and still don’t, for the sake of their sanity and mine) – but most of my mischief was more dumb than outright rebellious or dangerous.

My friends and I were very close, and enjoyed doing different things together – going to the movies, playing mini-golf, or just chatting on AIM. (Aw, remember AIM?) We also loved driving out to the lake and sitting around a fire, where we’d roast marshmallows and talk about our futures. I know it sounds like a cheesy Disney movie, but I swear it’s true.

My parents, however, were convinced that something more sinister was going on during these lake trips, and that’s fair, because there usually is when you combine teenagers with bodies of water. One afternoon, as I prepared for another lake outing, my parents called me to the living room for a frank discussion about the dangers of alcohol. I listened solemnly and respectfully, and then informed them that my friends and I weren’t drinking. They exchanged doubtful glances and assured me that they wouldn’t be angry or disappointed – they just wanted me to admit to it so they could help me stay safe. I stuck with my original story.

My parents still didn’t buy it, but they could see that I wasn’t going to “fess up,” so they made me promise to call them if we drank too much to drive home. My friends heard that story and were jealous of the leniency I was experiencing, and I could agree that it was pretty progressive of them as parents.

But I found it hilarious that they just couldn’t fathom the idea that any teen (much less one raised by two formerly rebellious people) wouldn’t be out doing crazy stuff. It was like I was rebelling against them by not rebelling.

Not long after that conversation, I was with my mom in the car. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but somehow the subject of alcohol crept its way into the discussion. My mother again asked me if my friends and I were drinking, again assuring me that she wouldn’t be upset, and again reminding me that she had done the same things as a kid. I began to wonder if I had some sort of communication disorder that made it difficult for people to understand me. Nevertheless, I once again insisted that my weekend activities were (mostly) innocent.

Here’s where the sketchier, Lifetime-movie-version of my mom kicked in. She turned to me and reported, “Well, I just find it strange that y’all aren’t experimenting at all. That’s what your adolescence is for.”

There you have it, ladies and gentleman of the jury. My mother, the same woman who raised me to be a smart, responsible, considerate person, was judging me for NOT breaking the law. My mother. JUDGING me. It’s pretty bad when your own mother thinks you’re strange and uncool. In fact, it’s a wonder she didn’t put tequila in my baby bottles. Kidding, she would never do that. Or would she…

In all seriousness, my mother’s loyalty to me is fierce. She was my biggest cheerleader when I decided to attend graduate school, and even took on a second job to pay for my rent while I completed my program. If I call her to complain about a tense discussion with a coworker, or an argument with a friend, Mom makes all the appropriate noises of outrage on my behalf. She even likes to suggest witty (and somewhat hostile) remarks that I could make if the situation arises again. Even if I admit to being partly to blame for the argument, she chooses to focus on the other person’s mistakes. She is forever on Team Amanda, no matter what. In fact, I’m half convinced that if I called her and confessed to murder, she’d come up with a few reasons why the guy probably had it coming.