Pigtails and Pink Frilly Dresses

Mothers & Daughters

Mothers are curious creatures. Mine certainly is. She has a mysterious ability to annoy me to the point of uncontrollable exasperation. How does she do this? By resolutely, purposefully and determinedly butting in on my business at every opportunity. Admittedly, I might be partly to blame with my behaviour and my decisions. But really mum, I’m an adult now; let me live my own life in peace please, thank you very much!

After having yet another altercation with my mum the other day, I sat down and wondered, are all mothers like this, or is mine a special edition mum, a one-off? With the phrase “before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes” ringing in my ears, I tried to think about things from her perspective, why she always treats me like I’m still running around her home in a pink frilly dress with pig-tails in my hair. And here are a few conclusions that I came up with as I tried to unravel the mystery behind why I, as her daughter, still live in Neverland (not the ranch).

My Mum Just Can’t Let Go

Let’s face it, mums did some amazing things to make sure that we got to where we are today. Firstly, they had sex with our dads. Moving swiftly on, they carried us inside them for nine months, enduring all kinds of disconcerting things like morning sickness and backache, until finally, when we decided that we were ready, they – through a delirium of drugs, pain, anxiety and happiness – brought us into this world.

But my mum didn’t. She never went through this, as she was never able to conceive children. She chose to adopt.  I can barely understand the gravity of her situation. She was never able to experience the magic of making life and giving birth to a tiny person who is made up partly of you and partly of your husband. I feel she missed out on something truly important and magical to women: becoming a birth mother.

So whilst she looked after me as a child who, as harsh as it sounds, was never quite hers, our first true connection we had together was when I was very small. And I believe this is why she still sees me as a little girl, because the times when she tolerated things that would, even on a good day, make me want to spontaneously combust from stress and rage (like early morning wake-ups, relentless questions that are difficult to answer, bouts of energy that won’t seem to diminish, tantrums, first dates, that kind of malarkey) were what gave her purpose in life. This was when she must have realised that parenting is a special responsibility, regardless of whether the child is biologically yours or not. I can only imagine the challenge for anyone who adopts to try and forge that unique, organic relationship that mothers and daughters share when you have no biological connection to build upon.

So I think that this is why my mum always comes back to the times when I was running about her house in a pink frilly dress with pig-tails in my hair because these are the moments she truly treasures. These were the moments in which our mother-daughter relationship truly got started.

Momma Knows Best

If you’ve read my other piece about mother-daughter relationships, you’ll have a good understanding of what my mum is really like. She is what psychologists call a “difficult mother… I strongly believe that something she really enjoyed about being a mum was the way in which she could control me.

She will happily admit that because she’s older, she’s therefore wiser and she has admitted, on several occasions, that she likes being right. All the time. About absolutely everything. On the one hand, yes, all mums want to give their daughters advice and guidance because they see it as part of their duty. Protecting your child is like constantly being at Defcon 4. Mums don’t want us to get into trouble or suffer emotionally, because boy oh boy, are there lots of things out there in the big, wide world to be worried about and scared of. My mother, however, just likes to be large and in charge, simply because she can, and her advice, what she deems as being what’s best for me, isn’t always so.

Example:

When I was eight years old I lived with my parents in Germany. We were an Armed Forces family: both my parents were in the RAF. Like most families in the forces, we had to be stationed in a different base in a different country every three years. So my mum, having decided what was best for me, without actually talking to me about it, sent me away to boarding school in England. She thought the experience would build strong character, that I would receive a high quality education, that I would be protected from the upheaval of always moving, and that I would also be protected from the interest of boys.

She thought this would be the best for me. She was wrong. My eight years at that boarding school were some of the worst of my life. I remember that my mum and dad never even said goodbye to me. I was just left, a small, eight year old child on her own. I only seen my parents on Christmas or summer holidays.  I was constantly bullied by the other girls. I had sexual advances made to me by my music teacher. By the time I was 13, I was displaying signs of bipolar depression.

Going to boarding school did mean that I came out with some good grades and a nice accent-free speech.  (Even Americans can understand me quite clearly.)  Speaking to my husband about sending me to boarding school, my mum proudly exclaimed, “Well, at least she doesn’t have a nasty Yorkshire twang in her voice any more. I knew going to that school would do her good.”

Thanks, mum, you sure know what’s best.

My Mum Grew Up In A Different Era

So yes, my mum might be “older and wiser” she’s got a head start on me of about 20 years. That could be seen as a different age altogether. My mum grew up in the 1960s. I grew up in the naughties. There’s no contest which era had the better technology. I know how cell phones work, what the internet is and how to use it safely. My mum doesn’t. She doesn’t even own a cell phone, and she’s only started using e-mail this year so she can talk to me now that I don’t live in in the same country as her.

She seems to forget that everything is readily available at our fingertips. One of her quirks, despite having heard of Google Maps and having seen a Sat-Nav in action in her own husband’s car, is to give me and my husband directions to their house EVERY time we visit them. They have lived at the same property for seven years.

At the halfway stage of EVERY visit she ALWAYS calls us, asking us where we are and why we are late. My husband, on answering the phone, takes great delight in blaming me for our lateness. (This is only a small consolation for talking to my mother.) He rolls his eyes and mouths: “She’s giving me directions… AGAIN!” It gets so bad my husband winds down his window, sticks the phone out and shouts “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you! The reception is really poor. If you can hear me, we’ll see you in an hour”. Then he prays she won’t call again.

My Mum Is Surprised That I Can Do Things

My mum always seems genuinely surprised that I can do things all on my own. I remember her reaction when I passed my driving test: it was one of shock and awe as she quietly tore up a cheque she had written out to pay for more driving lessons. I also remember telling her that I’d got a job as a store manager, straight out of University. I can only speculate what her reaction was because we were speaking on the phone at the time, but I imagine it was the kind of look you inadvertently have on your face when you’re constipated and need to go use the bathroom. Her reply was “Why on earth did they give you that job? You can barely organise and look after yourself, let alone a whole store and staff!”

Thanks for believing in me, ma!

I Don’t Give My Mum Reasons To Prove That I’ve Grown Up

Sometimes, I make really, really bad decisions, it’s true. So when I call my mum in tears because that rat-bastard just left me for my co-worker and took my dogs, or that I need to borrow money to pay off a boat load of debts, or that I need her to solve a quandary that I can’t seem to unravel, I automatically revert back to that little girl in a pink frilly dress with pigtails in her hair. I am pretty certain my mum is counting down the hours to the day I e-mail her, begging her to send me money for airfare so that I can come home, with or without my husband. I can picture it now: the smile on her face as she responds, “Didn’t I tell you it was a bad idea to just up and leave? Didn’t I warn you that going to another country with no job, no money and no clue was a terrible idea? I told you so, didn’t I? But you didn’t listen because you don’t like it when I’m right. And I’m always right.”

In reality, I do owe a lot to my mum. She has the right to make sure I’m okay. I shouldn’t misinterpret her love and advice as fault-finding and generally being a busy-body bitch. (Even if by providing me her wise words, she makes me want to explode.)  Let’s face it, being a daughter doesn’t make you a child; it just means that you are the treasured offspring of a woman who just wants what’s best for you. That will never change. Maybe I should cut my mum some slack; she just wants to be a part of my life. I will always be her baby girl. The baby girl in pigtails and pink frilly dresses that reminds her not only of her purpose in life, but also of some of the happiest memories she’s got.

Dani Allsopp
About Dani Allsopp
Dani Allsopp is a bohemian chick whose passions include writing, painting, photography and gardening. She is also a seasoned traveler who not long ago moved to Spain with her eccentric husband and their daft dog. In her free time she enjoys bargain hunting in second hand shops, watching films and baking. Her literary hero is Terry Pratchett.

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