I joined the game a little late, in that my teenage rebellion streak came at the age of 26, sneaking in somewhere between doing adult things like saving for retirement and buying cocktails that aren't poured on Dollar Tuesdays. While a lot of girls go through it because they want to kiss boys in cars or stay out to see the sun rise over rooftops (both valid reasons), I did it because of my wonderfully rocky relationship with my mother.
It all started with a nose ring. One day, I found myself bundled up and working in a coffee shop, eyeing the barista over the top of my laptop, unable to stop sending her flirty-like looks from my corner of the room. My eyes just couldn't stop wandering over the silver hoop in her nose. Sartorial crushes are a serious thing, and I felt myself melt like butter on toast over her style as she scribbled my name wrong with black marker on my cup, smiling at me like she knew what just happened. Fast-forward an hour and a half, and I'm sitting in a tattoo parlor with my hands nervously clasped together, a woman named Hershey holding a needle perilously close to my visage. She had 10 piercings in her face, a voice like honey and tea, and all my trust.
One short yelp later, I had myself a nose ring.
Now jump ahead three days to when I, the heroine of this story, was sitting at the breakfast table, trying to pay attention to the stories being traded over coffee and waffles. After 72 hours, my mom still hadn't noticed my nose ring. The anticipation was killing me. You see, I've always been a goodie-goodie at heart — the type of kid who never rocked the boat and hid behind her mom's legs when someone new came over. Growing up, the most rebellious thing I did was wear my frilly church socks on a Wednesday.
This pleased my Slavic mother immensely. Kids were meant to keep quiet and listen to their mothers, occasionally helping to till the soil and do the washing in the river, but never shaming their house by stepping out of line. I was all too pleased to follow tradition and be like that ... until I turned 26 and decided it was high time I had myself a teenage rebellion. As a grown woman, I was ready to freak my mom out with piercings and shimmying out of windows to go meet boys.
When my mom stopped mid-sentence at the breakfast table — right before handing me the maple syrup — I got a quick nervous thrill down my arms. I tensed, daring only to look at her out of the the side of my eye. Her eyes were narrowed, and they were focused on my nose. All at once, without a word, she got up, took my plate, and tipped its contents into the garbage.
If I wanted to eat, I could make my own waffles. Hers were only reserved for people without hoodlum holes in their faces. You would think I got a teardrop tattoo by my eye, and not a cute little stud in my nose. But while she stormed away upstairs, shouting about how everyone's losing their mind, I couldn't help but smile.
Don't get me wrong; my incessant need to follow the rule book still had me wringing my hands underneath the kitchen table nervously. But I couldn't quite swallow the smile trying to make its way across my face. While I knew my mom was going to hold this grudge and hold it long, I sort of loved our tension-riddled relationship when it came to my rebellious sense of style. Deep down, you see, I knew that her reaction stemmed not out of genuine anger, but out of the unspoken acknowledgment that I remind her of herself at 25.
Seeing herself in me troubles my mom, because she remembers exactly what she was up to at my age (i.e. running away to America from her farm to go follow a man she’d been dating only a month). I trade my savings every year for plane tickets, so it appears that we have more than a reckless sense of style in common. (I'm sure this makes her clutch her rosary beads all the tighter.)
I know that my mom was a weirdo style rebel when she was my age (I have the silver jumpsuit pictures to prove it), and I know that she’s only giving me a hard time because she loves playing her role as the mother hen. When she was 26, she was dyeing her hair a steely gray, smoking her eyes to '80s makeup proportions, and slipping on fishnet gloves to drink PBRs in underground dance halls. She wore bold-lined powersuits, strong-shoulder jackets, sizzling hot colors in magenta, and '80s teal — all the same things I do.
Knowing that we’re pretty much the same person just 25 years apart pleases me. It pleases me so much that I continue to taunt her with my overalls and nose rings. With every door she slams and with every threat that she'll send me back to the motherland to labor away my crazy, she's admitting that we're too similar for comfort. And that's quite a touching thing.
Images: Marlen Komar