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February 21, 2010 | 12:47 p.m. CST
My mother is my best friend; it’s a close yet complicated relationship. Sometimes I’ll call wanting to talk to my mother the best friend, but my mother the mother will answer the phone instead. I get frustrated, we fight, and I let her win because she is, after all, my mother. I’ve never screamed at my mom that I hate her. That would be a lie anyway. I’ve never called her a bitch (to her face), but she has said it to me. Moments like that are when having my mother as my best friend are the most difficult.
I love my mother the best friend. Her name is Katie, but I call her Mom. We like to eat at Applebee’s and go see romantic comedies though I’m always tricking her into seeing indie flicks. She calls them my “weird movies,” but she’s made me watch so many long-forgotten movie musicals, I think we’re even. We order Chinese food before every award show and obsess together about General Hospital. She doesn’t like to try anyone else’s food at restaurants, but she always lets me try hers. We love Broadway musicals and American Idol. We gossip about our friends and family, and we love taking trips together.
I also love my mother the mother. Her name is Katie, but I call her Mommy on a good day and Mother on a bad one. She puts flannel sheets on my bed in the winter, and she knows the exact way I like my scrambled eggs. She buys me a new pair of slippers every year even though I’ve told her I don’t wear slippers. She comes into the dressing room with me when we go shopping and hangs up all my clothes after I try them on. She also tells me my face looks puffy and asks me if I’ve been drinking too much. She wonders whether I should take birth control in case I’m ever sexually assaulted, and she tells me she hates the perfume I’ve already been wearing for a year. She warns me against alcoholism when I go out two nights in a row, and she tells me not to pick up hitchhikers when I’m on the road. These are reminders only a mother would deliver.
My mother the best friend and my mother the mother don’t hurt my feelings often, but they did when they threw that “B word” at me. (I use “they” because when your mother and your best friend are the same person, you feel two peoples’ anger and disgust hurling toward you. It would make me feel powerless.) I was her little girl, her pretty girl, who she was hurting with the use of a single, angry word. I was also a brat who knew and still does know just what to say to hurt her in an argument. Chances are I was being a bitch each time, but I never said that to her. I didn’t understand how she could say it to me.
Although I avoid it, I know I am capable of calling a best friend a bitch. But never my mother. Best friends have aimed the word at me before, but it never bothered me as much as the handful of times my mother did it. I finally had to have one of those conversations with my mother in which I make it clear that I’m doing the talking and she’s doing the listening. It’s a strange role reversal that doesn’t happen too often in mother-daughter relationships. I told her how much it hurt for her to call me a bitch. She didn’t realize how unloved and disrespected it made me feel. She promised not to call me it again, and she hasn’t.
The few “B word” incidents we’ve had are probably the most dramatic moments of our otherwise sunny relationship. Having my mother as my best friend can mean double the pain sometimes, but more often it’s double the love. I know I am lucky to have such a strong maternal relationship. I never understood my freshman roommate who dreaded her weekly phone calls to family. I call my mother three or four times a day. I don’t use an iPod because I’m on the phone with her instead.
As daughters grow older, we have to make crucial decisions regarding our maternal relationships. These decisions can either make us closer to our mothers or ensure that our mothers will never be our best friends. For example, how much do we still confide in them? Caitlin, my best friend in grade school, didn’t even tell her mother when she started her period. My whole family knew when I got my first period; I made us late for Mass. Caitlin thought I told my mother too much, but I thought she told hers too little. I have a friend who doesn’t tell her mother when she goes out of town. Another friend once waited weeks to tell her mom she broke up with her boyfriend. Still another friend decided not to tell her mom she got into Harvard Law School. I find it bizarre they would tell their best friends these things and not their mothers.
I never had a rebellious phase. I generally do what I’m told even today. Mother knows best, but that doesn’t make me a pushover. Instead, it makes me someone who respects the advice of both my mother and my best friend. A mother’s love is unconditional (even when she uses the “B word”), which isn’t always the case with best friends. I can choose my friends, but I can’t choose my mother. Ours is an everlasting bond. If I don’t apologize and say I love her … well, I don’t really know what would happen because I always apologize and say I love her. She’s my mother, my best friend.