The first time I really felt like a mom was when I caught myself starting to act more like MY mom. Some of my favorite commercials are from Progressive, where young adults start behaving as if they are middle-aged. Ultimately, the commercials end with the tag line, “Progressive can’t protect you from becoming your parents, but we can protect your home and auto when you bundle through us.” Hilarious and so true.
I was 27 when I had my first baby, which seemed relatively young compared to most of my friends and colleagues. I felt ready — I had successfully flown through college and law school, got married, got a big-girl job, and bought a house, and after reading What To Expect cover-to-cover, I assumed I’d be a modern parenting expert. Turns out, I didn’t really know anything. It felt a lot like my first job as an attorney when you realize that despite three years of grueling coursework, you didn’t actually know what to do at your first court appearance.
With my first kid, I tried to maintain more of a “modern” mom vibe, trying not to give in to the stereotypes of yoga pants and Mommy and Me classes. Then, my second kid arrived, and I realized I didn’t have the time or energy to care about what kind of mom “persona” I was cultivating. And somewhere around then (and definitely by the time the third amigo arrived), I started slowly realizing that the Progressive commercials were coming true. I found myself saying and doing things that would cause my husband to look at me with one eyebrow lifted as if to say, “you’re really doing this?”
The most obvious sign was answering the two-year-old’s incessant questioning with the perennial favorite: “because I said so!” This is, of course, not a unique phrase to me or my parents but one employed by almost every parent in history. Still, it’s probably the one that first caused me to stop and take note (huh, that just happened).
Maybe the next few occurrences are similarly universal, but to me, it was as if my mom had temporarily inhabited my body. When I was in junior high school, I was a cheerleader and terrified of throwing a roundoff back handspring on the hardwood floor during a basketball game, despite years of tumbling and cheerleading classes. My mom would famously cringe and exclaim, “what do I have to show for all those years of gymnastics lessons???” I eventually attempted the trick, and then successfully performed it exactly one-time per game throughout my cheerleading career. Twenty years later, I also found myself sitting up in the observation deck at our local YMCA, shaking my head and wondering aloud to my fellow parents “after six months of lessons she STILL can’t do a cartwheel? You’ve got to be kidding me!”
Some of those traits are particularly life-saving, especially the one where my mom uses innocuous, everyday words instead of cussing. Her favorite? “Good Night!” Which is waaaaay more preferable than teaching your young son the “s” word while driving. I once found myself yelling out “fudge bucket!” when I stubbed my toe on the corner of the dresser. Don’t ask me why or what word I was attempting to replace (my best guess is some variant of the f-bomb).
Like my mom, and her mom, and probably even my great-great-grandma before me, I also elaborately plan out meals and parties. If you don’t write down your menu ahead of time, make notes and calculations of the amount of food and ingredients, double and triple-check it, write out the order of what can be prepared in advance versus what needs “game day” oven time, and what platters you intend to serve them on, how do you even throw a party?! And it almost goes without saying that there will always be more food than necessary (except for that one time my mom threw a party for our extended family and got the Chinese catering all the way home and unloaded before we discovered they had forgotten the rice. The cashew chicken and egg rolls were delicious, though).
I also have plastic storage totes full of decorations for every holiday imaginable and have become the type of person who has mini yard flags for every occasion. I also worry to myself (and often aloud) whether my children are “well-rounded” enough.
My last “I’m becoming my mother” holdout was wearing the ubiquitous fanny pack to an amusement park. The ultimate in tacky, right? But after we became season pass holders at Six Flags last year and discovered their no backpacks on rides policy, guess what? I’m also willingly borrowing a friend’s Minnie Mouse-themed fanny pack for our soon-to-be-rescheduled Disney vacation. And I’m not even mad about it.