In this column, Kristen Mulrooney writes letters to famous mothers from literature, TV, and film whom she finds herself relating to on a different level now that she’s a mom herself.
I come to you today on my hands and knees, begging for advice. I will give you anything in exchange for a couple of morsels of wisdom. What do you want in return? A skinny scarf? A cherry Danish? Coffee? Do you want a coffee? I can get you some coffee.
I’m writing to you, Lorelai Gilmore, because you and I have something in common. No, I wasn’t a teen mom, and my parents weren’t rich, and this might make you choke on your Jujubes, but I don’t even like to talk that much.
What I am is a woman who doesn’t have a relationship with my mother, and I am raising daughters. I am an under-mothered mother raising daughters, and I need you to tell me how to do that.
What does it mean to be under-mothered? Honestly, for me it wasn’t even like a “blah, no wire hangers!” thing. Let’s just say I didn’t get enough hugs growing up, and I didn’t get enough grace in my difficult teenage years, and by the time I reached adulthood, there was no maternal relationship in my life. You know.
You definitely know, but even though you didn’t grow up with the warmest maternal presence, you went on and found perfect harmony in being both a friend to your daughter and a mother to her. You’re like the Nadia Comăneci of Stars Hollow, effortlessly mastering the balance beam of motherhood, tens across the board.
I didn’t overthink things like this after my oldest, my son, was born. Motherhood is simple! All I have to do is love this beautiful little boy; the rest will take care of itself. Right? I give him plenty of hugs, and he magically skips over the Jess Mariano phase? Easy.
Of course, I don’t want to give too many hugs, because then he risks being trapped in a Kirk phase for eternity. Gah.
Okay, but then cut to Baby #2: the nurses shout “It’s a girl!” like we’re in an episode of I Love Lucy, and the doctor lights his cigar, and they place a gorgeous, tiny baby in my arms. So many beautiful thoughts could have crossed my mind then, so many deep, profound thoughts about love, life, and womanhood.
Instead, my first thought was, “Oh no, I bet she’s going to have my unibrow.”
Am I okay? Why would I think that? That’s the most absurd first thought a mother could have when meeting her brand-new daughter… or is it? Because if you think about it, it’s not really about the eyebrows. It’s about the impossible balance of raising a girl in this world. That’s the complicated part. I have to find the exact right window to teach this baby how to pluck her eyebrows, and I have no frame of reference, because nobody ever taught me how to pluck my eyebrows. It can’t be too early, because I don’t want to call negative attention to a feature she has no negative feelings about. It can’t be too late, because people will start making fun of her unibrow by fourth grade, fifth grade at the latest. Ask me how I know.
My girls are four and six now, and sometimes they ask me why I shave my legs. And like, I don’t know? What do I even tell them? Because of society. Because of the male gaze. Because I don’t want to look like one of Maurice Sendak’s Wild Things. None of those seem like the right answer. “I just like how it feels,” I answer breezily, which may or may not be a lie, because who knows if I actually like it or if I’m just a drone following the rules of unfair beauty expectations?
Anyway, this letter isn’t supposed to be about me passing my Hairy Girl DNA down to my children. The hair-removal conundrum indicates a bigger problem that I need you to sort out for me: How do I build a beautiful, trusting relationship with my daughters when I don’t know what a good mother-daughter relationship is supposed to feel like? How do I raise these little girls into teenagers who want to stay in and watch a movie with me on a Saturday night? Also, and this is off-topic, but how do I find jeans like yours? That fit is incredible.
Here’s what people like us do: we overcompensate. Anytime a mother-daughter bonding opportunity arises, I jump on it and make it my entire personality. Oh, my four-year-old likes to play with makeup? Love that for her, hope the teachers don’t judge me when she shows up to preschool with a full contour she copied from the tutorial we found on Kids YouTube. Oh, my six-year-old expressed an interest in Taylor Swift’s music? Cool, we’re Swifties now; guess I’m selling my blood plasma for concert tickets. Even you’ve overcompensated in your own way, Lorelai. I mean I run a sugar-friendly household too, but your daughter is probably only a few mini marshmallows away from needing an insulin pump.
Rory’s egregious lack of nutrition aside, you’re a masterclass in the art of mother-daughter relationships. Not to go all Rear Window on you, but I’m watching. I’m studying you. I’m taking notes. My biggest takeaway so far is that you accept your daughter for who she is: her own separate human being who—and this is important—has nothing to do with your emotional baggage. You accept that as a human being on this earth, she is going to make mistakes. When she makes those mistakes, you forgive her without judgment and give her a big old hug.
It’s those hugs, man. The hugs are key. I think the crux of it is really that simple. I will give all my kids as many hugs as they’ll take, Eternal Kirk Phase be damned.
Okay, I think I have this under control. I will have more questions as we get closer to those teenage first-boyfriend years, so please write back, and we can be cute little pen pals just like… just like… oh my god, I can’t think of a reference for that. Never mind, just text me. Or call me. Or let’s meet at Luke’s, and I’ll buy you that coffee I promised. We can steal some pie.
As for the unibrow, it might not even be a problem, because the world has rightfully moved on from the apocalyptic age of pencil-thin eyebrows.
But it’s not really about the eyebrows anyway.