Mary Cassatt, Mother About to Wash Her Sleepy Child
Oscar Wilde once said, “All women become like their mothers.” It’s a fact of life, one I’ve thankfully been able to avoid. Growing up as a Soviet immigrant in the United States, I had a rough life. I couldn’t walk into my house without immediately being told to take my shoes off, even though none of my American friends had this rule in their homes. I couldn’t have a meal without being yelled at to eat over the table (nad stalom! Am I right?), while my American friends were allowed to eat on the couch in front of the TV. My mom never bought soda or potato chips, unless it was someone’s birthday. She dressed me in weird clothes from the thrift store, and didn’t buy me Nike Air shoes, or the black Adidas puffy coat that all the kids had. She never bought me a Jansport backpack, or took me shopping at Claire’s. In fact, other than my CD collection, I have no actual proof that I was a child of the 90s.
“I’ll never do this to my children,” I used to say.
My children will not practically raise themselves because their mother is too busy attending college classes and working full time. “I’ll never do this to my children,” I used to say.
My children will not look semi-homeless in thrift store clothes. I’ll never be the weird mom who stands to the side with the other few immigrant moms speaking a different language than all the cool, American moms. I’ll never pack healthy food in my children’s lunches. They will eat mayonnaise sandwiches, chips, and coke like all the American kids. I’ll never make my kids feel like the outsiders.
I’m proud to say that I did not, in any way, become like my mother. My children don’t have to take off their shoes when they walk into the house. They have to take them off before they walk into the house, for extra cleanliness that even my mom wasn’t aware existed. My children don’t have to sit straight and eat over the dining table. They have their own table, as they aren’t allowed to make a mess at the adult one. My children don’t have to wait until their birthday parties to get soda and potato chips. They know I would never allow those products to cross the threshold of my home. Their lunches aren’t just “healthy”, they are 100% organic, natural, homemade, mostly vegetarian, and sometimes vegan.
My children don’t look semi-homeless, they look 100% homeless, after spending all day playing outside barefoot amongst the palm trees of the Caribbean. You see, we’ve immigrated to Cancun, Mexico. My children aren’t practically raising themselves, they are definitely raising themselves, as I work to provide for their private school and extracurricular activities. My kids will never have to whine about buying expensive brand name clothes and shoes, because they know without asking that it’s not something I choose to spend money on.
And I’m not one of the weird moms at school standing on the side looking clueless. I’m the only weird mom standing on the side looking clueless. Not many American mothers choose to leave the comfort of the US to immigrate to Mexico with two small children.
No, I did not become like my mother. I did not move my children to a country on the other side of the world, and force them to learn English. We’ve only moved slightly south, and I’m forcing them to learn Spanish.
As it turns out, I don’t want my children to be 100% American. Or Russian. Or Mexican. My children are citizens of the world.
They will never thank me for the gift of being bilingual. They will never thank me for the gift of understanding people from different cultures, and the gift of being able to see multiple perspectives without harsh judgements. That’s ok. I never thanked my mother.
But I do believe that someone once said, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”