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My Mother’s Daughter

Last night we had friends over for dinner and as I was preparing the meal I thought a lot about my mother and how much I might and might not be like her.

On the surface I think I’m very much like her. I’m tall and confident, friendly and engaging. I like to entertain and think of myself as someone who can find something to talk about with just about anyone. I love to throw parties and host dinners and I like to celebrate things and I never stop thinking about how to incorporate good wine and food and friends into every situation. All of these are attributes I always admired about my mother and are ones that I now find myself in possession of.

But last night as I was preparing the meal I planned to serve to our friends I couldn’t help but think about the negative image of that picture and about all the things that make me different from her. I happened across that realization at 7:25 when our guests were due to arrive at 7:30 and I had just finished prepping and preparing absolutely everything.

I stood in the kitchen for a moment making a mental checklist. The goat cheese/tapenade terrine with sliced baguettes was in the oven all ready to be pulled out and presented as hors d’oeuvres, the gratin was also in the oven bubbling away merrily, the tomatoes were sliced and sea-salted and saran-wrapped in the fridge, the asparagus washed, the halibut still marinating but ready to go on the grill, and the individual chocolate souffles for dessert already premade. I’d even gone for a 4 mile run, taken a shower, fixed my hair and put on a pretty shirt. All since coming home from work 2 hours earlier.

It was an odd sensation and one that was amiss from the image I hold in my head of my mother before a dinner party. Not that I think I have to be like her exactly but after she died and I was in my early twenties living in New York I held so fiercely onto the image of her. I clung to whatever figure of her I was able to resurrect in my head and I tried desperately to become that thing so that I could never truly lose her.

But I think, try as I might, and I even stopped trying after a while, I never could have completely become my mother. And if I had succeeded then come 7:25pm last night I would have been standing, not in my neat and orderly pre-prepared kitchen, but rather in the midst of a charmingly chaotic meal planning mess. The asparagus would have been half-washed in the sink, potatoes still needing to go in the oven, whole tomatoes would have been lolling about on the counter and I would have been up to my elbows in lemons attempting to marinate the fish at the last minute. Hors d’oeuvres would not have been attempted until after the guests had arrived and dessert would not have been premade or even thought of yet.

But strangely enough, I feel certain that somehow the same meal would have appeared on the table last night. And I take comfort in knowing that.


  1. All we ever really want as parents is for our children to exceed our own accomplishments in life, Claire. Your mother would have been delighted at your prowess, and in some way her chaotic approach framed the abilities you now have to do it all so smoothly.
    But I have to say…that 4 mile run and a shower on top of everything else? C’mon!

    Comment by Carroll on June 18, 2008 at 2:44 pm

  2. Sounds too familiar to me. I too am overly organized and obsessed with perfection in presentation. My mother on the other hand is chaotic and messy and not prepared, but according to my husband, she still kicks my ass at making eggs…damn!

    Comment by antonia Nelson on June 18, 2008 at 8:22 pm

  3. I tried to impose my work habits on my daughter when she was in her last stressful two years at high school. To plan her time for assignments and homework, to collect information and do rough copies in plenty of time and have it finished well before due, with me at her shoulder to help and guide.
    It didn’t happen. She was working in a busy diner 3 nights and 1 full day, she spent most of the week sleeping at friends pads on sofas or 4 to a bed, she was partying hard on non-work nights. She came home at weekends to eat , sleep, and do laundry. In two years I never saw her do a single bit of the school workload I knew they were piling on her. Each parent/teacher night I would go along in trepidation to find she had handed in all assignments and got excellent grades.
    ‘How do you do it Josie’ I asked. ‘I work well under pressure and knock them out in the last two hours’ she said. She works in a sea of chaos but for her it is productive.
    I have long since abandoned attempts to reform her style. I can only admire the results she gets from her chaos

    Comment by Paul on June 19, 2008 at 12:47 am

  4. Paul, that’s a lovely comment about your daughter. Thank you for sharing it.
    Thanks Carroll for your unending upbeat encouragement!
    Antonia, you make me wonder if I was always going to be this way after all…

    Comment by Claire Bidwell Smith on June 19, 2008 at 8:09 am

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