Sunday, September 06, 2009


I am absolutely fascinated with the way brains work. Looking at that shiny, lumpy grey blob that sits behind our faces, it is difficult to imagine the astonishing things that happen because of it. The electrical connections that are made that allow us to make our legs move and our throats create intelligible sounds come from this lump.  The signals that originate here direct our every action and reaction to everything around us.

Not only do our brains work nearly 24 hours a day, they are plastic. That is, changeable.  Far from being simple filing cabinets, they sort and assimilate the information we collect and occasionally alter our patterns of behavior because of this information.  

Lying on my bedroom floor yesterday, I worked on stretching my muscles to finesse out some of the stiffness that came along with the beginning of the school year.  My gaze drifted up the wall to several framed pieces of art that were wedding gifts from friends and family.  One in particular features a phrase my mother wrote in calligraphy, surrounded by pressed flowers from her garden.

"The key to a happy marriage is to fall in love many times with the same person."

She recorded the date of our wedding and framed it in a lovely gold frame. 

I love the sentiment. I adore the time she spent getting the lettering just right and pressing the flowers.  I am touched by the meticulous framing job.

The art? It is not me. I don't do "golden" or flowery.  I prefer simple and unadorned.  My mother's house is filled with antiques and countryfied touches. She's got signs and old moonshine jugs cluttered around the woodstove in the corner of the family room. Every window sports homemade checkered curtains that are reminiscent of (and probably actually are) picnic tablecloths.  Her house is cute and cluttered and comfortable. Her yard surprises you with its funky touches, a sign offering peaches for sale, clematis climbing up an old screen door, and a fountain crafted from an old metal watering can.  It is lovely and so, well, her.  I love to visit it. If I had to live there, I'd go nuts in a day.

As I lay on the floor gazing at the frame on my bedroom wall I pondered the ways in which I've become more like my mother over the years.  No matter how hard I've tried or how much I deny it I know that I've uttered the exact same phrases to my children that came out of my own mother's mouth.  

As a child, my mom sewed most of my clothing.  There are family albums full of photos of my sister (despite the fact that she is three years younger) and I sporting matching Hollie Hobby-inspired dresses.  We had homemade cotton shorts and seersucker blouses thanks to Mom.  When I got into elementary school, Mom used to take me to the fabric store to help choose the fabrics for my clothes and, while I don't recall being embarrassed that my mother sewed my clothing, there were clear moments where her taste in patterns and styles clashed with mine like the British and the IRA.  Growing up in the 70s, I was subjected to wearing culottes and macrame vests. My mom was so excited. I was mortified.  

Our fashion tastes only grew farther apart as I got older and I suppose that that is an expected part of growing up and developing your own individual personality.  To this day she shows up for visits in clothes I know she has chosen carefully, as much for her sense of fashion as comfort and the fact that they were a bargain.  Clothes that she is very happy with. Clothes that I wouldn't be caught dead in.  I don't say this to disrespect my mother. I fully respect her right to have her own opinions about her clothing and I am not at all embarrassed to be seen in public with her. I just don't want to be her.

So as I lay on the floor, pondering the art she chose for my wedding day I wondered whether I would ever suddenly wake up to discover that I've become her.  As I watch various friends gradually become more and more like their own mothers, it sets me to thinking.  I have seen my mother-in-law, a woman who used to get unbelievably frustrated with her own mother, become so much like her in her own mannerisms and opinions that it is frightening.  I have no intention of letting her know this because I'm certain it would drive her to distraction.  But will there be a point at which I become my mother as well? Is it inevitable.  Do our brains go along merrily for a certain period of time and then, at some tipping point decipherable only to our individual control centers, BLURP, one wrinkle folds out, forcing a new wrinkle to be created and, there you have it: I have become my mother?  Is there a physical change in my brain or is it simply a neurochemical or electrical difference that makes me suddenly behave more like the woman who has made me crazy all my life?  Or is it that the change has been happening slowly and gradually since the day I was born and it is only at this tipping point that I become aware of it?

Beyond that, if there is some abrupt physical change, if I meditate on it can I stop it? Or become mentally aware at the precise moment that my brain matter goes BLURP and a profound shift occurs?  Will I suddenly look at that frame hanging on my wall and love it from that day forward?

Maybe it's time I got up from the floor...


Deb Shucka said...

I don't think it's inevitable that you become your mom, at least emotionally. I can't say the same for physically - my mom's hands and ears and feet live on my body, and I have no idea how or when they showed up.

Carrie Wilson Link said...

Ditto, Deb. I think with consciousness you can differentiate, but the physical? Forget about that one.

chris said...

Whatever happened to macrame?

Scott from Oregon said...

My brain isn't plastic. It's acrylic.

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