Said/Unsaid by
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My mother suggested, cajoled, told me lots of things, many of which I reacted to by either doing or thinking (mostly thinking) the opposite. We are such opposites in personality: she quick, intuitive, scattered, I more deliberate and left brained; looks: she tiny, brown haired, olive skinned, I tall and fair; and experiences: she a child of immigrants, married at 20, and a mom, I a Baby Boomer, married at 34 and then divorced, no kids.

There are flashes of behaviors and preferences, most of them quirky, that I have which are just like my mother's.

She made pronouncements on the basis of her own background that were questionable to me. “Never get your ears pierced; you’ll look like you just came off the boat.” “You can’t date non-Jewish boys. That isn’t allowed in our house.” “Advertising isn’t a suitable career for you.” The result? I have pierced ears (thanks to my grandmother taking my side), went into advertising as my first career, and about half the men I’ve dated were not Jewish.

My actions were partly rebellion and partly realizing that the opposite of what I was told was right for me. Yet, as I think about what I couldn’t have been told, there are flashes of behaviors and preferences, most of them quirky, that I have which are just like my mother’s.

A short while back I found out that we both dislike Stern Grove, a concert venue in San Francisco–illogical, but we both feel that way. A couple of weeks ago my mother visited, and we took a walk to an open house in the neighborhood. We both immediately were bothered by having to walk directly into the dining room from the front door. What’s with that? We both love the Maisie Dobbs mystery novel series, and until recently each didn’t know the other had read these books.

Chalk it up to genetics, osmosis by living in the same home years ago. I suppose it makes sense that there is communication occurring beyond the verbal. This is worth exploring on this Mother’s Day.

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.

Characterizations: funny, moving, right on!, well written


  1. Khati Hendry says:

    It is funny how we turn onto our parents, regardless of how we rebelled. I catch myself as well. How lucky to still have your mother, with the time and experience to appreciate the differences and the connections. Happy Mother’s Day.

  2. Laurie Levy says:

    I think you are right about the things we pick up through osmosis from our mothers, Marian. There are many things my mother did that I swore I would do differently, but I ended up doing them just as she did.

  3. Thanx Mare for your take on and this complicated mother-child relationship.

    I also believe my mother and I had quite different personas, yet often I find myself saying or doing or thinking something, and suddenly I FEEL like I’m my mother!

  4. Suzy says:

    Wonderful story, Mare, both about the advice you rejected, and the discovery of similarities. I think my mother initially had the same reaction to pierced ears (“you’ll look like you just came off the boat”), but then my father convinced her to pierce HERS, because he wanted to buy her diamond earrings and didn’t want her to lose them. So then she and I got our ears pierced together.

    • Marian says:

      How cool that you and your mom got your ears pierced together, Suzy. My grandmother offered to pierce mine with a needle and cotton like they did in the old country, and that did the trick.

  5. John Shutkin says:

    As you and others have noted, there is obviously something to this whole genetics thing beyond eye color and male pattern baldness, and you have really nailed it. My father gave me very little advice (I wrote about that a few years ago), so there wasn’t much to disagree with him about, but I’ve always felt that I was not much like him — a better father, for example. And yet, I have increasingly noticed how much at least my speech patterns and mannerisms — and, yes, my writing style — are very much like I remember his to have been.

    One other apect of your story I particularly enjoyed, though implied rather than said, was that, despite your different views, your mother and you are still close and still communicate. Otherwise, of course, you probably wouldn’t even know how much you actually have in common.

    One final note. Yours and various other women’s stories on this prompt have reminded me of just how many girls in high school were told they should only date Jewish boys. Both my parents and I were completely agnostic about such things (indeed, found it to be objectionable), but I was nonetheless aware — as a nominally “nice Jewish boy” — of being the beneficiary of such an attitude in terms of the potential male dating pool.

    • Marian says:

      Thanks, John, and it was particularly hard for me as far as the dating went in high school, where there were only two Jewish boys in my entire class. You were in an enviable position from my point of view. But that’s another story … I feel fortunate that my mother and I have become good friends as adults, much better than we were as mother and daughter. Interesting about genetics, because although my father has been dead for many years, I see quirky similarities with him as well: enjoyment of the same foods, moderate claustrophobia, and similar writing styles. If I’d been male, I’d have pattern baldness, too.

  6. Betsy Pfau says:

    Your response to your mother, both negative and positive is so interesting, Mare. Much of it reminds me of my own experience (I still do not have pierced ears because my mother wouldn’t let me do it when my girlfriends were getting theirs pierced in 8th grade). We had violent fights about dating non-Jewish boys. I didn’t listen to her, but knew I had to marry one. The irony there is, my husband is non-practicing to the point where he and I come into conflict about it. So it really didn’t matter.

    But you seem to have found ways to connect and even appreciate her now, just as I appreciated my mother’s love of the arts. And that’s a good thing!

    • Marian says:

      We do have a lot in common, Betsy, with our mothers. I did marry a Jewish man, and my partner of 20 years is almost non-observant. With my mother, she was either great or horrible–A or F grades, nothing in between. I am grateful for her “A” qualities.

  7. Dave Ventre says:

    Nature vs nurture is an old and knotty question! I think most of what good I got from Mom (love of animals, hatred of bullies and mean people, supportive outlook toward “othered” people) can be chalked up to example rather than genetics. Also by example (and a crazy good sense of smell that I had until Covid) I learned to detest tobacco in all forms, as she was a massive cigarette addict and eventually they killed her. Which is good, because a predisposition for addiction runs like a nasty thread from her generation all the way back to Norway!

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