When I was a teenager, just about everything about my mom drove me crazy. Her clothes. Her voice. Everything.
But the thing that drove me the craziest was also the pettiest: How loudly she chewed almonds.
I can still hear it. The crumbly crunching of her chewing — and fast because she always was on the run and doing a million things at once. Add to that, during World War II, she spent many months in an orphanage, and often, all she ate was nuts. So for her, almonds had a special history. And yet the chewing…
I thought it was irritating, disgusting. Triggering!
What I wouldn't give to hear my mother enjoying her almonds today.
I wasn’t a “bad” teenager. Aside from a few, messy one-off nights, I didn’t drink. I didn't smoke. I didn't sneak out, and I was a decent student. But like so many teenage girls, my relationship with my mom was rocky. Often, I couldn’t stand to be around her. Her presence just triggered me, and I let her know it.
My mom, lovingly known to all as “Bamba,” was an immigrant from eastern Europe. She was an artist who worked with wood and a chainsaw. She walked around in her messy art clothes and didn’t care what anyone thought about her. She even served roadkill at an important dinner function at our home and had no qualms about sharing that information. She was absolutely different, and when you’re a teenager, different is not good.
I was recently scrolling through my phone when I came across a black and white photo of myself (shown all the way above) that my mom took when I was around 15. I look annoyed. I was always annoyed with her in those days. Among my mother’s many amazing talents, she was an incredible photographer, and she knew exactly what angle every shot needed to look its best. Back then, it was all on film. You couldn’t take a million pictures and choose just one. But my mom knew how to make one shot that one in a million.
But looking back, especially now that I have two grown daughters of my own, I’m mortified by my teenage behavior.
Dr. Cheryl Green, a psychiatrist and author of the new book “Heal Your Daughter,” told me that the teen years can be extraordinarily difficult ones between daughters and mothers.
“At a certain point in girls’ development, usually somewhere between seventh and ninth grades, girls begin to differentiate themselves from their mothers,” said Dr. Green. “…They develop a driving need to create their own identities - to push back if you will – and to create a distance there, that wasn't there before, between themselves and their mothers … The more mothers try to traverse the inviolable line in the sand that many girls set up, the more pushback they sometimes get.”
Dr. Green added that almost magically, at an older age, this resentment often goes away and most girls seek to renegotiate the relationship from a more independent stance.
That was me to a T.
I often struggled to be nice to my mom. In my early adulthood, we would spend time at our house in Maine and she would want to work with me in the garden, or cook with me in the kitchen, or go on a walk. I was annoyed, withdrawn or on edge. Usually, my mom would ignore my bad attitude or give a sigh, almost like she was sorry for me. It was only in my late 20s and early 30s that my mom and I really bonded. I began to accept her for who she was, and genuinely cherished my relationship with her.
My perspective took an about face when my oldest daughter was about 4 years old. I snapped at my mom terribly, and little Emilie put one hand on her hip and her little finger into the air and said, “Be nice to Bamba! She’s going to die! And when she’s gone, you will be really, really sad!”
My daughter’s words stopped me in my tracks and I could see a slight smile on Bamba's face. I could see myself through my daughter’s eyes and remember thinking, “What is wrong with me?” From that moment, I stopped cold turkey.
I decided whatever Bamba does is perfect, and there was nothing for me to express but gratitude. It never happened again. Ever.
Bamba and I had several wonderful decades, spending time together, bonding through her art, enjoying our mutual love of animals, going on walks, going out on the boat, and just sharing our lives and love with each other. She even lived down the street from me for the last few years of her life.
Of course, there were rough moments, like her diagnosis of Parkinson’s and the passing of my dad. But we got through it, together, and as a result became closer than ever before. We laughed so much!
I want to tell the teen girls out there to let your moms hug you on Mother's Day. Please! And even though it may feel like the end of the world how annoying they are, they really, really, REALLY love you.
When you’re older, you will get it. And someday, when your mother passes, I bet you'll think back on those teenage years and question why you weren’t your kindest self. At the same time, you must understand that she loved you unconditionally — and every step of the way.
Experts say it's part of growing up. It's OK! In fact, not only is it OK, your mom is really proud of you. Yes, your feelings are understandable, and it would be good for you to try and push through to the good part earlier than I did. Or just be like me, and stop cold turkey. It is truly beautiful what can happen between a mother and a daughter.
And to the moms struggling with their teenage daughters, please know that this time is fleeting. I've learned to be patient with my own daughters and now realize those strong feelings do crest and our daughters (like me) eventually gain perspective. In fact, I’m holding on to hope on all of this!
This year, my girls have stepped up for me in ways I couldn't imagine years ago. And I am so grateful.
And when your daughters develop their own relationships, navigate their first careers, or decide to have kids, they’ll go through great highs and low lows – and they’ll begin to realize they need their moms a lot more than they thought. So, in the really tough moments, (especially if you feel like you have to walk on eggshells) know that your daughter also loves you so much, and she is likely still learning who she is and how to express herself.
I hope the young women out there learn this lesson faster than I did. I’m so grateful I had the decades with Bamba as an adult. I miss our walks. I miss gardening together. I miss the sound of her chainsaw buzzing. And yes, I miss the sound of her chewing her almonds.
If I could rewind to when my mom was taking that photo of me when I was an angsty teen, to the very moment when she told me to turn my head to the camera, I would have looked at her directly in the eye and said, “Thank you mom - I love you so much”