I always found it a little humbling to know that when my children were small they regarded me and my husband — their parents — as all-knowing and all-powerful. It’s a little unnerving to think I could have this much influence over another human being, but that was just the nature of it. Little people are so utterly dependent upon the big people’s vast knowledge base, vital resources, and constant assistance in so many, many ways, that they automatically elevate the big people to an exalted status. How, pray tell, could it not be so? I recall that even after the big people explained to me the abstract notion of a divine being who pre-existed matter and time, my parents still retained a larger than life position as the masters of my universe.
An illustration of this dynamic: I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world. Not just pretty, but the most beautiful. In fact, she proved this irrefutably one evening as she left with my dad for a meeting at the school. My brothers and I were playing on the floor in our upstairs bedroom, when she appeared at the doorway to announce that our sitter had arrived and that they would be leaving shortly. I looked up from my toys and my jaw dropped.
She was wearing a pumpkin orange thin-wale corduroy shirtwaist dress with a full circle skirt that came down to her mid-calf. The short sleeves sported deep cuffs and the collar stood up at a jaunty angle. Bright lipstick, black clip-on earrings, a wide belt and pumps in black patent leather, with seamed nylon stockings to complete the ensemble. My eyes locked on this image, hoping to take in the full sum of her loveliness before she would turn and disappear down the stairs.
“Mommy, you look beautiful,” I murmured dreamily. In that moment, I actually pitied other children whose mothers, while undeniably loving and kind, couldn’t begin to match her glamour and elegance. That I can describe every detail of the vision to this day speaks to its huge impact on me. And so it was that I spent my early childhood years aspiring to become like her: the Queen of Loveliness.
Then adolescence hit.
What is it about that stage of life that deposits a film on the sterling images we previously held of our parents? They’re the very same people. With the very same behaviors and attitudes. Even the same DNA. But they become tarnished without them having to do a single thing — it just happens. What a bummer.
As an illustration of this dynamic: my mom had this notion that I should grow up with a modicum of elegance myself, so she took it upon herself to coach me on the finer points of etiquette and deportment. I am sad to report that I grew weary of this type of attention after I was no longer a little girl. Weary to the point of chafing. One time she made a discreet gesture in the Kroger store — right next to the celery display in the produce aisle — to remind me to correct my sagging posture. I was mortified and not at all pleased. It had suddenly become clear that somehow, along the way from five to thirteen, my fixation on her larger-than-life status had waned.
For a few years I would struggle with conflicted feelings: I still admired and loved her very much and desperately needed her instruction and wisdom, but I also had a strong compulsion to make my own mark and to not need her. In my immaturity I thought that being myself meant I couldn’t be like her. Regrettably, I pulled away and deliberately chose styles and self-expressions that were pretty far from what she would have chosen, even when it meant creating extra hassle for myself. This pattern persisted until I got married and set up a household of my own. It was at this point that the trajectory began to turn, ultimately 180 degrees (although the arc was pretty wide). Over the years she would gradually, but consistently, reclaim every inch of her lofty stature in my eyes.
Today my heart beats in perfect synchronicity with my five-year-old heart of yesteryear: my mom still reigns as the Queen of Loveliness.