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My Mother’s Daughter
I wrote two novels about mother-daughter relationships. But my real one is much more important than those
My whole life, people have told me I’m just like my mother. Trust me, it’s a compliment — even if some of the traits she’s passed down are things we’d both like to change about ourselves. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve been able to appreciate both our similarities and our differences.
We’re both creative, we both laugh a lot and we love hard. We’re sensitive and sentimental. We’re really good at making to-do lists, just not so good at checking things off of them. Our houses will (probably) always be cluttered, and there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for our friends or our family.
But we’re also pretty different.
Like most mothers of grown children, my mom thrives when she’s needed. Like most adult daughters, I love my independence. I’ve moved around a lot, having lived in nine different cities. Other than her four years away at college, my mom has always called St. Louis home. She loves to talk on the phone, I prefer to text. She likes cheesy TV shows…oh wait, I do, too.
We really are a lot alike — but I think it’s the push and pull between the ways we’re similar and the ways we’re different that make mother-daughter relationships so complex and complicated. And so irresistible.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately, especially since I accidentally wrote not one but two novels that are about the tension between mothers and daughters. That wasn’t an easy one to explain to my mom!
But it makes sense I would be drawn to writing about that special relationship, even if I wasn’t aware of it at the time.
Our mothers are often one of the first relationships we have. We bond with them before we’re born, and it’s through them that we learn to love and live. Of course, there are exceptions. Toxic relationships do exist, but for the most part, I like to believe that mothers and daughters are just two imperfect people who love each other, but aren’t always the best at showing it.
While I remind my mom often that this book isn’t “about” us, in some ways, that’s not completely true.
There’s a scene in You and Me and Us, my debut novel, where CeCe, the 14-year-old daughter, gets angry because of a look on her mom’s face. Alexis, her mom, hadn’t said a word. But her daughter saw the expression and thought she knew what it meant, what her mom was thinking. (Of course, she didn’t.)
I know I have been guilty of that — more recently than I’d like to admit. I can think of a time within this past year when I was shopping with my mom. I came out of the dressing room, apprehensive about whatever I was trying on. My mom hesitated. Or her mouth tilted slightly to one side. Maybe she furrowed a brow. Whatever it was, I decided that I knew what she was thinking, and I didn’t like it.
So I got upset. I like to think I wasn’t quite as huffy as CeCe gets in the novel (after all, I’m 41, not 14), but there’s a comfort level in the relationships we have with our mothers that lets us express the less-desirable parts of ourselves.
If I’d been shopping with a girlfriend, I might have been annoyed at her reaction, but I probably wouldn’t have called her out on it. But moms are safe. They saw us through everything from our terrible twos to the awkward teenage years as we made mistakes on the way to adulthood. Yet somehow, they still love us.
I think it’s the safety of that unique relationship that makes daughters feel okay with pushing back (or pushing away?) — because we know that our moms will love us anyway. After all, if I’m like my mom, that means she’s like me, too.
So if you happen to see my mom proudly holding my book out for everyone — and I do mean everyone — to see, know that she isn’t the mother in the book, and I’m not the daughter. But I still owe her a lot when it comes to the story.
After all, she’s the one who taught me how wonderful (and sometimes frustrating) a mother-daughter relationship can be.
Founder of the Every Damn Day Writers, Alison Hammer has been spinning words to tell stories since she learned how to talk. A graduate of the University of Florida and the Creative Circus in Atlanta, she lived in nine cities before settling down in Chicago, where she works as a VP creative director at an advertising agency. You & Me & Us is her first novel.