Mother’s Day was officially 2 Sundays ago but do you know what? I don’t care. My mother, Kyle, who I’ve told you about before, is MY GIRL and deserves more than one day. Besides, I’m just getting over being deathly ill and she was out of town– because that’s what badass mothers of grown children do.
My sister, Kendra and I have a hilarious relationship with our mother. She is, without a doubt, the boss of our family and according to my sister, the ambassador of a lifestyle and a forthcoming book, called Growing Up Grinnage.
Kendra is a hilarious writer and the following is part of an extraordinary speech she made at a Mother/Daughter tea. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
I remember waking up and feeling like my face was on fire. I remember feeling totally disoriented. I remember hearing snickering that sounded like my sister’s. I opened my eyes and saw my mother sitting on my bed. She was holding a strip of wax in her hand. Seemingly unmoved by my obvious pain, she calmly said, “I’m waxing your eyebrows. It’s for your own good.” As I stared at her in horror, she continued on to say, “I already did the right one, so you might as well just let me finish.”
I was 11. To give context to this story, which probably sounds a bit like child abuse, I was going on a trip to New York with my dance studio the following day and my mother claimed that she was trying to save me from my father’s genes which had given me a predisposition to having a uni-brow. Earlier that day, I refused her offer to tweeze and wax my eyebrows, so taking hold of the mantra, “mother knows best,” she overrode my refusal and waxed them when I couldn’t protest. To this day, whenever anyone brings up this story, she responds with a smile, eyes my now manicured eyebrows, and a simply says, “You’re welcome.”
My mother is one of a kind. She is one of those women that you see on the street and wonder, “What’s her story?” She exudes confidence, but is both humble and kind. She is a know-it-all and she is bossy. Though they have been together since they were fifteen, my father claims that she bullied him into getting married at age 24, by threatening to kick him out of their apartment. And by their apartment, I mean his apartment that he had let her move into after hers had been burglarized. Her thoughts on the matter? “It’s been 34 years. Get over it.”
My entire life has been largely defined by my interactions with my mother, who my first boss so aptly and simply dubbed “The Grinnage” (or at times more affectionately “The Kyle”).
As kid, I always wished that “The Grinnage” would be more like everyone else’s mom. I grew up in the super suburbs where my friends’ mothers wore crewneck sweatshirts that reflected the holiday of the season, along with tapered leg jeans, and leather Keds. I so desperately wished that my mother would sport these fashions, but instead, she showed up to my second grade classroom to fulfill her weekly duties as the class’ “Answer Mom” wearing bell bottoms (i.e. leggings with skirts on the bottoms of them) and a multi-colored sequined newsboy cap. I can still remember all of my classmates eagerly looking out of the window of our classroom as she approached, while I tried as best as I could to melt into my seat.
My mother was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY, went to a disco instead of going to prom, but willingly relocated her life to suburban Midlothian, VA so that my sister and I could attend strong public schools. That change in address was about as suburban mom as Kyle Grinnage was willing to get (although at one point she did drive a green Ford Windstar in order to accommodate all of the members of ballet carpool). This fact hasn’t changed as she showed up at my office of my first job wearing leather shorts. I, appropriately, was horrified.
My mother always made us take responsibility for our actions and our choices even when she was the one being punished. For example, in the second grade, I demanded that I be signed up to play soccer like all the other kids on my street. My mother told me she didn’t think it was a great idea, but I was stubborn and my father so desperately wanted one of us to participate in an activity that did not involve leotards or three hour recitals, so she acquiesced. However, I quickly realized that perhaps my mother’s reservations were not ill founded. No one ever told me that being a soccer player meant I had to run constantly throughout the entire game. I did not sign up for that. I signed up for the t-shirt with my name on the back and the sweet umbro shorts. I did not sign up for running. When I begged my mother around week three to let me quit, she raised her eyebrow and rocked my world with a swift and stern, “NO.” I was floored. She hated sports. I could not understand why she was punishing me. She made me play the whole season and even yelled at me from the sidelines when I would sit down in the middle of a game to make dandelion bracelets with my friend, Willis.
At the end of the season, I packed my cleats away, formally retired, and I’m pretty sure a part of my father died when my return to ballet class confirmed that he was not the father of athlete in the traditional sense of the word. It was not until many years later that my father revealed to me that as much as I hated going to soccer games on Saturday mornings and being outside in the elements, my mother hated it ten times more. She punished me and punished herself to teach me a lesson: Think things through because you always must make good on your commitments. I clearly took her lesson to heart because when a group of my college friends were looking for a final player for their intramural soccer team, I pretended I was deaf when they asked me.
When we were kids and even now, my mother always encouraged us to be ourselves and has tolerated and even embraced our personality changes and bouts of crazy, much like I’m sure your mothers have as well. When my sister, Kerri, became obsessed with the teenage rap duo Kriss Kross in the third grade and showed her fan pride by sporting a constant surly face and only wearing backwards pants and oversized t-shirts and sweatshirts raided from our father’s closet, my mother was the one who explained to both my sister’s teachers and my very concerned dad that Kerri was simply finding herself and we should all respect her personal expression. However, she reminded my sister that under no circumstances would she be allowed to express herself on the famous Grinnage family Christmas card.
Similarly, my mother tolerated me through my phase of Spice Girls, Hanson, and NSYNC teenie bopper obsession which unfortunately also coincided with the release of the movie Clueless. My mother gently, but ever so sternly reminded me that, “whateverrrr,” and “as if!,” were not appropriate responses anytime she spoke to me or asked me a question. I have always been tall and at age 10 I was also a little, as my mother would say, “round,” so when I began to cry in the dressing room at Limited Too because none of the Britney Spears plaid skirts fit me, she rocked me back and forth while I sobbed and then told me that this was my opportunity to be a trendsetter and put together an outfit that none of my classmates were daring enough to try. I wiped my eyes and nodded. The next day I showed up at school in black crushed velvet bell bottoms and a coordinating peasant top with gold piping that flattered my figure and covered my tummy. I was the talk of the fourth grade. Clover Hill Elementary had never seen anything like me. When I had gotten dressed that morning, my mom helped me do my hair, gave me a little lip gloss and then told me I looked really fly as she scooted me out the door to the bus. I felt like a million bucks. She made me feel good about myself in a way that no one but a mother can.
I’ve said all of this to really make this point: Moms are the best things that ever happened to the world. The mother you have been given may not always have been the mother you would have asked for if you were given the choice, but you were given the mother you have for a reason. You two fit together in a way that you will never fit with anyone else and that is the gift of this relationship. Moms love you, they frustrate you, they teach you life lessons, and when you don’t even notice it, they help you become women– the type of women, that they themselves are proud to know.