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Will the Real Mommy Please Stand Up?

By Jean Reidy

bossy girlMy job is in jeopardy. Another woman wants to run my household and raise my kids. And there are days I would let her do just that - if only she were old enough to drive carpool.

But she's not. She's eleven. And she's my daughter.

A friend of mine says it's a stage. She says her daughter calls her on the cell phone to remind her to buy broccoli. I say it's no stage. It's a conspiracy by my family. A coup to overthrow me. You see, my daughter bakes better cookies.

Besides, she's been like this since birth. The shrieks her pediatrician labeled colic, I'm now sure were Catherine's first protests that things weren't up to snuff in the Mommy ranks.

And it didn't end there. By age two, she positioned herself as head of the household. "Mommy, feed baby," Catherine sirened, dragging me to her new baby sister just beginning to mutter in the crib. She's run the house ever since.

These days, while my two teenage sons tower over me at six foot plus, it's this four-and-a-half footer that makes me feel small. Instead of wearing the wide-eyed, carefree smile of youth, Catherine polices the house and family with a furrowed brow. A look I thought reserved only for mommies. Her reports are terse.

"Tim lost his retainer."

"Should Patrick be eating that?"

"Molly's touching your lipstick."

"Got your seatbelt on, Mom? What's the speed limit here? It says 35. You're doing 37...36...34...37...34. Is it OK to go under the speed limit? Why is your 'Empty' light on?"

With each report, her real message is loud and clear, "If you were half the mommy you should be, I wouldn't have to keep track of these things." Consequently, she's a self-appointed homework supervisor, piano practice administrator, teeth brushing drill sergeant, TV-time monitor and wardrobe inspector.

So when I bound down from my bedroom on casual days, in an ensemble coordinated from my son's outgrown jeans, my favorite flip-flops, college bookstore separates, and my husband's golf hats, I'm met with "You're wearing THAT today?" I catch myself before I instinctively answer, "Yes, Mom."

Catherine never takes a day off, even when the rest of us do. Before I've poured my fourth cup of coffee, and am only halfway through the Sunday paper, she'll ask, "What's the plan for today?"

I put her off. "We'll discuss it when I'm done reading the news."

She parries back. "Looks like the Target ad to me, mom."

I tell her I'm coupon clipping, as most responsible mothers do. She doesn't buy it. She knows the scissors were lost weeks ago and she's been adding them to my shopping list ever since.

Catherine owns a sewing machine, a craft box, and a cookbook collection. The worst part is, she uses them all regularly.

"Mom can I cook dinner," she asks as she climbs the counter to get down a cookbook.

"Not tonight," I say.

"Well, what are we having?" She's now glancing skeptically around the kitchen where no pots are simmering and the Tasty Taxi Takeout flyer is taped to the oven. She sighs.

Knowing I've been caught, I nervously feign a plan. As she pours through her cookbooks for the perfect dessert, I pour a jar of Ragu into a pan. I lie about using my Italian grandmother's spaghetti sauce recipe. When Catherine gathers the recyclables (they're cluttering the counter, she says) she stops to examine the sauce jar. She sniffs it and shakes her head. Someday, I'll learn to destroy the evidence of my incompetence.

On holidays she works overtime. Take Thanksgiving for example. I set the table the night before. She spends all Thanksgiving morning (while I'm watching the parades) huffily reworking what I've done. She folds napkins into rosettes, moves the salad forks to the outside, and exchanges fine crystal at the children's places (they might break them, she says) with more sensible plastic tumblers. When guests arrive, she stands post near the dining room, lest I dare take credit for her perfect appointments. Who me? OK. So I lied about the spaghetti sauce.

But every so often she tires of her responsibilities and let's me play mommy. That's when she hides dirty socks under the bed for me to find. Or sings into a hairbrush microphone for my applause. Or giggles to me about cute fifth grade boys. Or asks me to tuck her into bed at night. Her and Fluffy and Bear Bear. And rub her back. And sing an evening prayer. As she drifts off. The furrows softening on her brow. The face of my little girl.

My mom says she's just like me. And I suppose that if I did all that cooking, worrying and mothering before I reached twelve, it's no wonder it looks like I've retired early. Well, better close. Catherine says my computer time is up.

 

When she's not busy playing mommy, Jean Reidy writes from her home in Greenwood Village, Colorado. Visit her at www.jeanreidy.com .