Janet Sheridan: Channeling my parents
October 14, 2010
Being childless, I've never watched my traits emerge in offspring, but I do see shadows of myself in my siblings: JL worries too much; Barbara doesn't return calls; and Carolyn never drives if someone else will.
These behaviors drive me bonkers — because I share them.
I don't know whether we inherited these traits from our parents or caught them from each other. I do know Mom and Dad bequeathed us their physical characteristics.
When I look in the mirror, I see Mom's face checking me out with Dad's eyes. I have her hips, nose, and vocal intonations; his height, ears, and gestures.
Like Dad, I dread dental appointments because of my problem-prone teeth; like Mom, I fret that my feet are too long to be ladylike.
While I accept the inevitability of my physical resemblance to my parents, I react with surprise when I display their behaviors, especially those I vowed to avoid when I was young, smug, and critical.
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My dad used to embarrass me by bursting into song at odd moments. I liked his melodious voice, but no one should sing, "Blood on the Saddle," while shopping at the supermarket or waiting in line at the bank. As he crooned, I pretended to be an orphan.
Several years later, I received a note from one of my fourth-grade students when I had the flu: "I hope you get well soon. I miss the sound of you singing all the time."
When people are upset, I wonder why they're throwing a hissy fit, a phrase of Dad's I never did understand. When happy or victorious, I trill his "yaw-ka-hooky-hooky!" People look at me.
My stomach use to knot with anxiety, and I judged Dad harshly when he flared into frustrated anger at things that didn't work: cars, cows, the IRS. Then, my entire life, when thwarted, I muttered his phrases and thumped offending objects: sewing machines, vacuums, my hair.
My mother pops up in me with even more frequency.
Like her, I lurk in back rooms and ignore the doorbell when I sense the caller is selling goods, doctrine, or a political candidate. As I cower, shame-faced, I remember Mom avoiding the salesman who sold Watkins products door-to-door.
A cloud of dust warned us when the persistent fellow entered our lane. Mom had little expendable cash. So, unless she needed vanilla, she corralled her children and subdued us while the poor fellow knocked and yoo-hooed.
At the time, I thought her behavior rude. Now, I, too, scurry out of sight.
Like my mother, I find it difficult to confront personal or emotional issues. Mom told funny stories about her courtship, marriage, and early years, but revealed nothing about her inner thoughts as she married a man of dubious background, lived in a mining camp, and buried a beloved toddler.
She addressed the puberty of her daughters by supplying us with the dog-eared book, "A Child Is Born," and instructions to read it. In the absence of any discourse with her about its mind-boggling revelations, we relied on our vivid imaginations and shared ignorance.
Rarely did she call us on lies we told to avoid her displeasure, though she must have seen through our deceits. What made me think she would believe the purplish mark on my neck was an infected mosquito bite?
I find the same reluctances in myself. I prefer to suffer in silence when hurt or wronged; and I find it difficult to share my private life. I guess it's Mom's fault that I can't get excited about Facebook.
I remember a high school teacher warning his class that the girls would marry someone like their father and the boys would choose someone like their mother, causing an anguished uproar of protest.
He didn't tell us we would grow into our parents over the years. I wonder how we would have responded to that bit of news.