The Mama Curse

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Well, I hope you’re happy, Mom. That mama curse you put on me so long ago is now working overtime and I am, indeed, “paying for my raising.”

For those not familiar with this brand of maternal magic, let me explain. The “mama curse” is spewed out at an exasperating child when the mama is at her wit’s end. There are countless variations on it, but the gist of it goes like this: “One day I hope you have a child who acts exactly the way you’re acting right now! Then you’ll know how it feels.”

When my mom hexed me, I was young and just rolled my eyes in the charming way children sometimes do. Little did I know that a mama curse doesn’t kick in until decades later.

And now my frustrating chickens have come home to roost. I have three kids who, each in their own maddening way, act the way I did. It may be most evident in our daughter Kate, whose heightened response to seemingly trivial things is way too familiar.

When I was about 12 years old, my mother took me to the first of many appointments to see the orthodontist. I sat next to her in the waiting room as she filled out the new patient forms. On one of the forms, there was a question that asked, “Does your child display any of the following characteristics that we need to be aware of?” The possible answers were: Fear of dentist? Aggressive behavior? Overly sensitive?

Without hesitation, my mother checked the box next to “overly sensitive.” I was horrified and hurt – far more than any normal person would be offended by a question on a new patient form.

“What is THAT supposed to mean, Mom? I’m not too sensitive! I’ve never been too sensitive. What are you trying to say? Why would you say something like that about your own daughter? I can’t believe you would do that to me. Now the orthodontist is going to think I’m weird and I’ll be embarrassed and all his assistants will know, too.”

With tears welling up in my eyes and my heartbeat racing, I continued my whispered rant in the waiting room. At the end of it, Mom gave me “the look,” the one that tells you to cut it out now before you make her really mad. Then she said, “THAT is why I checked the box. THAT is what they mean by overly sensitive.”

Fast forward nearly three decades to today. I’m on a piano bench next to 5-year-old Kate who is practicing before her next lesson. Even though she’s doing remarkably well for her age, she is getting more and more upset because she has hit the wrong note three times.

I assure her it’s normal to hit wrong notes when you’re learning to play piano. But she’ll have none of it. Her inner perfectionist demands nothing short of Beethoven quality, and soon there are tears spilling down her cheeks. Then in a dramatic, overly sensitive fashion, she declares she will never, ever, ever learn to play piano because it’s too hard and she can’t do it.

Just like my mother did with me, I let Kate vent her frustration and cry her angry tears to get it out of her system. When she calms down and the world stops coming to an end, we begin again.

As the melody gets stronger, I can almost hear an echo of the mama curse ringing in my ears. And finally I understand just exactly how Mom felt.

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