My mother was born in the fifties, and always taught how to be an appropriate young lady. Me, I’ve always considered the fifties to be a neo-Victorian age. So many rules. Women didn’t leave home without their hats, and their shoes had to match their purses. Family and husbands were the most celebrated things. Boring.
But growing up in the nineties, she was still trying to push these ideals on me and my sister, her two daughters. My half brother, her eldest, had already left home, the angry child of a green beret. So me and my sister were her chance to start anew and do it right. We weren’t girls—we were Young Ladies, and it was her solemn duty to teach us the Appropriate Ways to behave.
My sister, who’s two years older, was lucky. She got to go to public kindergarten. But, when my time came, I was not sent to school. Instead, my mother sat me and my sister down one day, and gave us a spelling test.
I was five years old. I had no idea of the concept of a test, and blinked in confusion as my mother handed us sheets of paper and pencils and started a stop watch. And she named off the first word—the.
Sitting there, frozen, I was still hopelessly confused as the seconds ticked by, and Mom called out another word. Then I noticed that my sister, sitting in the chair next to me, was writing them down, so I looked over at her paper, hoping I could glean the secret of this weird thing called a spelling test from her.
Of course, that’s when Mom yelled at me, thinking I was trying to cheat.
That was only the beginning. Except Mom had this horrible habit of forgetting about our schooling, believing that we should be able to keep a set schedule, ourselves. But how many young kids will willingly sit down and do school work when they’re left unsupervised? No, much of that time was used to develop my creative side, making up games that my sister and I would play, writing the stories before I’d ever thought of being a writer.
But on some awful days, Mom would crack down, forcing our noses into the incredibly boring Pathway Readers (lots of good morals, but lacking an interesting plot)—which were her main focus. Because she didn’t just want us to learn how to read, she wanted us to learn Amish values: girls wear dresses and work in the kitchen and house, boys get to work outside and be rambunctious. Her only other real concern (besides our religious education—we didn’t get enough on Sundays, apparently) was Math, which was only focused on every now and again, with an annoyed explanation of subtraction here, and a yell of “Do the workbook!” there. If we really didn’t get it, she’d send us to our Former Math Major dad—who is good at math, but was never able to teach it.
There was also music. We were started on learning to play a recorder. That didn’t last very long.
Oh, and because we weren’t getting and PE at home, Mother enrolled us in ballet and tap classes, overriding my quiet objections that I’d rather take Tae Kwon Do, because my delicate bone structure would never be able to handle it.
And how could I forget knitting and sewing! Mother, taking us with her to knitting classes. Buying us yarn and needles and all the things a beginning seamstress needs. She’d show us patterns of pioneer dresses and tell us how one day we were going to wear dresses like those every day, complete with aprons.
Our drama classes came every summer, when we participated in the local historical pageant, where Mom took great joy in making us several of the dresses she dreamed about.
If we were lucky, or if we fulfilled Mom’s varying expectations for the day, we got to learn from Dad when he got home from work. He’d teach us about computers, and let us watch him play computer games. He’d quiz us about geography, with a big map of the world on his bedroom wall, until we knew almost all of the countries and their capitals, as well as all fifty states and theirs. We got to watch him fix cars and do yard work, if Mom didn’t want us kept inside. And every Christmas, we got to help him repair and put up Christmas lights. When Mom was away, he was also the music tutor, teaching us the beauty of classic rock.
Before Mom began this insane indoctrination, I’d been lucky enough to see outside that box. My grandmother was a huge fan of action movies, so when we went to her house, I’d sit in the living room with my parents and grandparents and watch such movies as Speed with a mouth open in awe. Sure, I didn’t understand them, but they were still awesome! On TV, I’d get to watch Spider-Man and Batman taking out bad guys by the dozen. Also, I saw a lot of Xena, Warrior Princess. The action genre, it’s fair to say, was my first teacher. And those values would not be uprooted by Mom’s traditionalist fantasies.
Still, she persisted. My most humiliating experiences as a child were when she would force us to go in public on a regular day in our church clothes. Once, we had to go to the city dressed like this, because we were going, of all places, to a computer store. Another time, at a church activity, I remember arguing with Mom hopelessly how none of the other girls would be wearing dresses. But those pleas fell on deaf ears. My sister embraced the experience with a bubbly smile, telling me it would be fine, and it was fun to get dressed up. In the picture of the three of us they took at that activity, my sister is on one side, beaming. Mom is in the middle, a calm smile on her face, an arm around each of her young ladies. I sat on the right hand, my face a portrait of misery.
But eventually, Mom started to give way, between me, my sister, and my dad—mostly because she couldn’t stop us. She decided that nail polish didn’t make us look trashy. She allowed our normal clothes to be those dingy camping clothes—jeans and t-shirts. And after years and years of rebuffing my sister’s requests, she allowed us to pierce our ears.
It took the persuasion of my overbearing aunt, though, to finally break through the worst of those bars, and get us into public school, where I rejoiced when I discovered that division was possible.
Here is the story of my mom’s failure. She tried to turn me into a lovely young lady of good worth and quality—a treasure for my future husband. Well, I’m not. I’m a half-goth metalhead who spends my summers working at a scout camp, my Octobers at a haunted house, and my winters at a ski resort. I wear men’s clothes unapologetically, and will not lower my eyes from anyone’s gaze. I don’t speak in half-truths and riddles, and I can be very loud. I play violent video games. I watch those evil horror movies. I drive too fast. I rock climb and snowboard. I can burp on queue. I tell my friends to get their minds out of the gutter so mine can float by.
How’s that for ladylike, Mama?