When Did I Turn Into My Grandmother? by Jean Marie Keenan-Johnston
This thought has come to mind often in recent weeks. I keep catching myself saying or thinking things that sound just like the opinions and reactions of my grandmother, or even my mother’s comments at time during my childhood, things I told myself growing up I’d never be heard saying, things I thought were too old-fashioned for me to ever repeat. It’s not a surprise to hear myself sounding like them in some ways. It’s certainly not a new experience to hear myself say things my parents used to say to us kids. My daughters are four and six, and I can’t count how many times I have shared criticisms, redirections, and explanations while being disciplined that match almost word for word the dialogue I heard from my parents the many times they had to discipline me (or my brother and sister). I can’t count how many times it’s happened because I’m sure it’s happened a lot during their short lives as my children! I gave up counting when I realized it was happening a lot more than I ever expected! Even after promising myself during my entire adolescence I wouldn’t be caught dead mimicking those lines, it was bound to happen. It was just a matter of time before destiny would be created by following my own upbringing.
But I’m talking about something else…the revelation I’m speaking of tonight comes more from my observations of the people and the world around me and how messed up things can be. Just tonight, a person who turned out to be a young man behind the wheel of a sports car sped alongside me while I was running an errand with my children. I was on the road with a speed limit of 40 miles per hour, and I’ll admit, I wasn’t “exactly” doing the speed limit, but at the same time I wasn’t a speed demon either. (Just to clarify, I religiously only go a few miles over, especially when I have my children with me…I don’t want to put any ideas into anyone’s heads like I’m racing around the roads of Bucks County!) Anyway, I’m certain he could have clocked in at 60 miles per hour at least! The words that came out of my mouth definitely echoed things I’ve heard my mother say while behind the wheel dealing with the other drivers on the road who don’t seem to care about the safety of others. And that wasn’t the first time in recent weeks I caught myself reminiscing this way. A few days ago I was sitting waiting for my oldest to finish dance class talking with the other moms who were sitting around me. The woman sitting across the aisle from me was discussing a movie that quite frankly sounded like a total waste of money from just the sounds of the plot (if you could call it that). She then went on to say how much of the script included various words I’d rather not hear as often during a conversation as she was describing…the “f” word, the “s” word, a few expletives describing different females and others pertaining to males. From the sound of it, the movie she was saw had more curse words than not. I think her exact words were “every second or third word would have been bleeped out if it was censored.” Within seconds I was hearing myself say, “I’m definitely not the most prudish person I know, and I feel like I’m my grandmother talking right now, but I don’t understand WHY movies HAVE to have all that bad language in them! I certainly don’t find it entertaining!” The seconds after that last word left my mouth, I felt a combination between pride that I don’t approve of that vocabulary and a wince like I was wondering if they would think I was being a bit silly to speak out so passionately about something like that.
Sometimes I know being a parent is what stirs these opinions within me. Just moments ago I saw a car commercial I’ve seen quite often lately, and every time I see it I get angry that it’s on TV at times when my children can see it. Part of what makes me angry is that I’m extremely happy that my girls, as young as they are, are happy to watch shows on the Food Network, The Cooking Channel or HGTV with their mom…they love these shows SO much that they yell out their favorites when I give them a choice…but it’s irritating because even with such innocent “adult” TV comes exposure to commercials like this one. Maybe you’ve seen it…it’s for a rather expensive luxury car, if I’m not mistaken. In the beginning, a very attractive woman is literally making out with an equally attractive man on the sidewalk alongside an empty city road at night. I can’t tell you any other parts of the commercial except that it ends with a line about lust, which the advertisers are somehow relating to the purchase of this luxury car. I’ve seen the ad during daytime as well as evening hours when my children were awake, and I’m certain I don’t know much about the commercial because the minute my attention catches the “loving” couple on the street, my mind shifts to either changing the channel or watching my girls to make sure they’re not paying attention (or preparing to distract them for the few minutes needed until the commercial is over). I’m pretty sure that before I had children of my own to worry about a commercial like this wouldn’t have caused me to think twice. If it did bother me, I would have just taken a bathroom break or left the room for a drink or snack from the kitchen. Now I can’t take it that lightly or I might be answering questions I’m not ready to answer or I might miss an important opportunity to grab the remote and dodge that bullet. But it does anger me that it’s playing when they’re awake to see it, even if the scene that bothers me is only a matter of seconds long. Those few seconds can provide “public displays of affection” I’d rather not expose them to if I can avoid it…and there with it come those same memories of my grandmother…I can hear my grandmother in my head talking to the TV as if they can hear her inside it, “Oh God, what is she doing? What is SHE THINKING?!?”
The most TV we watched with my grandparents was when they stayed with the three of us when my parents went away. There weren’t that many occasions when they stayed with us, but there were enough that we learned my grandparents’ ways, certain qualities we wouldn’t pick up on during a shorter visit or a family dinner, quite as well. Growing up, I was a bit embarrassed when my grandparents or my parents came out with these remarks in front of friends of mine. Wanting to “look cool” in front of my friends, I didn’t want such old-fashioned statement to be heard in my presence. Now at age 43, I have much more mixed reactions when I hear myself saying these same things they said in front of me. I guess a little part of me still worries about how others will perceive me (as I felt that little twinge of worry when talking about the movie the other night.) when I open my own mouth. But I’m happy that it’s such a tiny part feeling like that. It feels good to know that the stronger voice within me is the louder, stronger voice that speaks out against the wrongs of the world. I’m even happier that I’m sharing those values with my children the way my grandparents and parents shared them with me to help me become the responsible parent I am today. At ages 4 and 6, I hope I’m still a few years away from them being embarrassed by Mommy sounding too “old-fashioned”. In the meantime, as I await those years when they want to distance themselves in as many ways as possible, I’ll keep sharing my observations of the wrongs in our world with my children and explaining why people can make better choices, and maybe they’ll pay enough attention at this young age that when they’re adults my words will ring out from within their memories too, just like my grandparents’ and parents’ do from within mine.