where the writers are
When Will Mom Shut Up?


Pancakes, I was thinking.


It’s the third day these foods preyed on my desires. 

Being an adult, I thought, maybe I’ll have pancakes or waffles for dinner. 

"No," my Mom in my head said.  “Pancakes and waffles aren’t for dinner,” she scolded.  She did this, again, even though I left home about ten thousand years ago. 

There remain many areas where I can’t shut Mom up.  She taught me to be a gentleman and to hold doors open for females, say those magic words, and things like that.  I became more democratic about holding doors open for everyone later, after I was feminized. 

She taught me to go out neatly dressed.  “You’re not going out dressed like that, are you?” she once asked me when I was a child.  Dressed like what? I wondered. What was wrong with how I was dressed? 

That voice stayed with me so that years later, one of my wife’s friends told her, “Your husband is always so neatly dressed.  How did you train him?”  Naturally, I attempted to rebel against my neat image after that but I couldn’t.  From mismatched clothes to worn and frayed clothes or holes in my clothes, I hear Mom asking, “You’re not going out dressed like that, are you?”

I hear her say, “Wash your face, brush your teeth, comb your hair, what is that on your face?”  It turned out to be my mustache, showing like a streak of dirt above my upper lip up when I was fourteen. 

I see the values in these things that she advised me but I still hear her advising me.

Food is the strongest area of her advice.  “Eat what you put on your plate.”  Yes, Mom.  “Don’t take more that you can eat.”  Yes, Mom.  “That’s perfectly good food. Eat it.  There are starving children in Ethiopia who would love to have that food.”  Yes, Mom, you’re right, Mom. 

Besides dinner, she also told me what not to eat for breakfast. I was going to have leftover birthday cake for breakfast once. “Michael, you can’t eat that for breakfast.”  Why?  “You need to eat a healthy breakfast.  It’s the most important meal of the day.” 

She was citing the Iowa studies.  Iowa was her home state, where she was born and raised.  They later figured out the Iowa breakfast studies were flawed.  That wouldn’t deter Mom, though.  No logic would deter her.  “How is this birthday cake worse than donuts for breakfast?” I asked.  “It isn’t, but you shouldn’t eat donuts for breakfast.”  “But we do.”  “Well, you shouldn’t eat cake.” 

And damn it, four decades later, I can’t eat leftover birthday cake for breakfast.

Now, though, when I go home, I fight back, challenging what she eats.  It was fun for a while but then she woke up and started eating healthier foods.  She gives me credit for changing her thinking.  I like to think I’ve become the voice in her head, like a voice of reason I often hear.  Regardless, I was amused and appalled when we went to some buffet during one visit with her.  She went right to the dessert section. 

“You’re eating dessert first?” I asked.  “You’re not even eating a salad?”

She looked guilty and embarrassed but she also laughed.  “No, I started eating dessert first.”

I could have chided her but I laughed and admired her thinking.  Then I went off for the salads. 

That’s what Mom wanted me to do.  And someday, maybe when I’m older, I’ll finally go to the dessert section first. 

If she’ll just shut up in my head.