During final’s week, the University of Miami has some interesting traditions. On a plot of land near the library, they string hammocks between palm trees, just in case the library is full… or all the loungers at the pool have been taken up.
Really, this temporary amenity is just a perfect excuse for a midday siesta, but I never indulged. Instead I just walked right by them, acknowledging their existence but never actually settling into one because, to be honest, they kind of grossed me out, and I could never figure out why.
Before I continue, it should be known that this story is about my mother, not my college days (although that’s a good essay too). I can say many wonderful things about her, but I’ll start with this: My mother is the cleanest, most organized person I know, the type of woman who will happily clean her toilets every two days, goes through cases of Ziplock bags when packing because god forbid your socks or bras touch a sliver of outerwear, and has a place for every last bobby pin in the house—only you’re not allowed to know where it is, let alone touch it, because you’ll mess up the grand order of things.
When I was in the second grade, there was a lice outbreak in my school. To most moms, it was probably a minor annoyance—something else they had to worry about in addition to making lunch in the mornings and getting homework done at night. But to my mom? It was the equivalent of the first chapter of Deuteronomy, a sign that the world was ending, and these were the locusts coming to usher us into the afterlife.
She sat me down one day and explained that, if I ever got lice, she’d have to send me away to a camp in central Florida where they’d have to use toxic chemicals to rid me of the bugs and shave off all my hair. Of course, none of this is actually true. Of course, I totally believed her. As a result, I wore a ponytail to school for the next six years of my life, just to make sure the lice epidemic had been completely been cured. I’m pretty sure I had a receding hairline. It’s since grown back.
And so I spent years of my life making conscious efforts to dismantle her Listoline empire. Piles of clothing would routinely gather in select nooks around my room. Whatever I used adopted the home of the last place I used it even if it didn’t logically belong there. Meanwhile, my mom followed me around with a broom and a fit of frustration, always cleaning up my messes as she still does today. (Mom, I don’t say thank you enough).
Petty rebellion had become a part of who I was. “I will never become my mother,” I thought to myself and repeated to my friends as they pointed out the ways I was just like her—mostly just to bother me, mostly because it was true.
Fast forward to my final semester, junior year. I’m taking the “Hurry Cane,” our campus shuttle, to one of my classes and I look over to notice the hammocks. I’m mid-conversation with a friend and out of nowhere I spew out one phrase that would dismantle my rebellious efforts all these years: “Oh my god, I would never sit in one of those—they’re probably full of lice,” I blurted, quickly covering my mouth in a fit of shock. The deed was done, the deal was sealed. At that moment I knew and could deny it no more: I was becoming my mother.
Here’s the thing about growing up: there will come a day when we will all become our parents. We’ll develop those little habits they had that always annoyed us. We’ll spew out those dad jokes we were always embarrassed by. At a certain point, we’ll even start to dress like them (if you don’t believe me, look back at some of their vintage photos). It’s a spectrum; you’re either a carbon copy or a strikingly similar version.
I could sit here and say something like, “Becoming your parents is a blessing,” but I’ll spare you the Hallmark card. Instead, I relate becoming your parents to always having a funny little thorn in your side, one that annoys you at first, but eventually becomes this thing that reminds you that, no matter how far you run in life, you are a product of where you came from, and your parents are always with you, no matter where you go.
You can fight it. Lord knows I never picked up her neat streak, and there’s a chance in the future that my toilets will go un-Cloroxed for a few more days than they should. But the older and (somewhat) wiser I get, the less scared I am to become my mother. While I’m here struggling to clean my own socks and figure out what filter to put on an Instagram photo, she was already working towards building the life that I would one day get to enjoy. And if I can emulate just a piece of who she is, then I may be all right, lice and all.