My mother wants me to kill all the chipmunks in my yard.
My mother is a monster.
“I don’t give a damn that they’re cute,” she yelled at me from my back deck. “Kill them all.”
“But they’re my friends,” I said, tossing sunflower seeds to a small gang of chipmunks.
“They’re terrorists,” she said. “Get rid of them.” I live in a woodsy community and my yard is filled with wildlife. My mother doesn’t approve of any wildlife, except for ladybugs, which she gives a pass to because they share so many traits. On the surface, ladybugs and my mother are coolly elegant and cultured. But their good manners simply mask their vicious brand of practicality. Ladybugs eat aphids and other garden pests. My mother eats her own.
My parents drove up for the day to help me plant my garden. My mother is a master gardener whose life work has been transforming her yard into a mini-Tivoli. By contrast, I kill any plant unlucky enough to find its way into my yard. It’s not that I don’t have a green thumb. It’s just that I can’t be bothered to water, weed, or fertilize. I manage to take care of myself on a subsistence level. Why can’t plants do the same? I give them a place to live. What more do they want from me?
Our gardening skills are just one of the many things that differentiate me from my mother. She’s willowy, blonde and blue-eyed, and I look like I just hopped off the boat (steerage class) from Sicily. She’s obsessed with fashion, and I wish I had a job that required me to wear a uniform so I didn’t have to decide what to wear every day. My mother dressed me until I was a sophomore in high school. She still rues the day she lost control of my wardrobe.
And, so, it shocked the hell out of me when my mother announced that we’re exactly alike.
Here’s how it happened. We were in my backyard, arguing about my dirt.
“And here’s another thing you don’t want to hear,” she said. She prefaces most of her statements this way since everything she says is some type of criticism about how I live my life or the sorry condition of my hair. “Your dirt is terrible. Simply terrible.”
I looked down at the dirt in the flowerbed, which did look a bit anemic. But there was no way in hell I was going to concede that to her. I do not believe in appeasing my mother. It only encourages her.
“There’s nothing wrong with my dirt,” I said, defensively. Just as I was debating whether to storm into the house in protest, I heard someone call out to me from the driveway.
It was a candidate for my Congressional District. He walked into the backyard and handed me his literature. I glanced at it and saw the words “Conservative Republican” and “Family Values” blaring from the front of the flyer.
“Get the hell out of my yard,” I said, shooing him away with pruning sheers.
My mother leaned back in her deck chair and smiled smugly. Although my mother has rather shocking views on the death penalty and welfare reform, she’s been unwaveringly supportive of the gays and considers right-wingers morons.
“Here’s something else you don’t want to hear,” she said. “You’ve done everything possible not to be like me, but you’ve failed. We’re exactly alike. Neither one of us will tolerate pests in our yard.”
“Well, don’t get your hopes up about the chipmunks,” I said. “They’re staying.”