I want to be Elizabeth when I grow up. That’s what my daughter used to tell me when she was 13.
Elizabeth is my friend. She has a very glamorous job in the entertainment industry. She dates all types of men, from firemen to lawyers.
Elizabeth, on the other hand, envies our friend Caity. Caity is a stay-at-home mom with two tween girls, a mortgage payment, a pool man and a gardener. When we eat at Caity’s, we eat five-course meals. Her daughters wear designer outfits. She has a sunny kitchen where we sit and drink coffee while we solve the world’s problems.
Now, Caity wants to be me. She wants to be a working mom. She wants to have her own money. She wants to have martini lunches and important meetings with obnoxious businessmen. She wants to be able to put a frozen dinner in the oven and not feel guilty.
Me? Sometimes, I wish I could go back to being a teenager and start all over again.
And so it goes. Ever since God gave some women large breasts and others long legs, ever since he made curly and straight hair, women have wanted to be who they’re not and have wanted what they don’t have. It’s always better over there. In that tax bracket. At that restaurant. In that dress. With that hairstyle. In the arms of that man.
So how do we become the women we are and not always the women we want to be?
Well, Elizabeth’s mother is a successful journalist. She travels around the country leading a glamorous life. She divorced early and raised Elizabeth on her own. Caity’s mother never worked a day in her life. She has a sunny kitchen where her neighbors gather to drink coffee and solve the world’s problems. My mother went to work when I was 12. She taught me many domestic skills, some of which I actually use. And I always made sure I wore underwear when carpooling the kids to school in the morning. God forbid I should get into an accident wearing only a robe.
We listen to our mothers’ words. We learn from their actions. I watched as my mother waited on my father. I listened to her voice, her attitude, her way of keeping small secrets to herself. I watched her kiss my father goodnight, and I remember her words that couples should never go to bed angry.
We learn many things, but we also learn that things change. As the decades move forward—some sensuous and sultry, some feisty and rebellious—we take what we can use and discard the rest. We incorporate the things we believe into our lives.
In the ’20s, women got the right to vote. In the ’40s, we were thrust into the workplace. In the ’50s, we were put back into the home, but with a new sense of pride and accomplishment. In the ’60s, we burned our bras. The ’70s brought us into the office with a fighting attitude and the desire to be treated as equals. In the ’80s, we climbed the corporate ladder and became super-moms. The ’90s found us once again fighting for a basic right: The right to do with our bodies what we choose. And in this new millennium, we are going to be the leaders, the ones who make the laws.
As women change, their daughters change and their daughters in turn. But it’s a slow process. How many of us recognize a bit of their grandmothers in their daughter? A bit of their mother in themselves?
“I don’t want to be like you,” my daughter used to say as she worked her thick bushy hair—which looks just like mine—into a ponytail. Standing side by side looking in the mirror, she also has my eyes and my smile, and she watches herself in the mirror with my expression. No, she doesn’t want to be like me, but can she help it? I often watch her point her finger at her children and repeats my words, words which once were my mother’s, and her mother’s before that.
Of course, the vernacular changes: Neat became groovy, and then cool, and bitchin’ and bad and now LOL and OMG. But we’re all saying the same thing. We’re trying to teach our daughters how to live and trying to make the world a place where they can live as fully realized human beings.
My daughter has the spirit of the ’60s, the self-assurance of the ’80s and the consciousness of this new century. She’s a great deal like me. But also very different.
Just like me and my mom.