Kelly Corrigan’s “Glitter and Glue” – now in paperback – is about who you admire and why, and how that changes over time. Read the conversation between her mom and children and see if you can recognize any of these generational differences in your own family!
A Conversation Among the Generations
July 26, 2014
Last summer, the girls and I visited my parents at Wooded Lane. On our last night (of possibly a few too many), we were told to meet in the TV room at 4:55 p.m. to watch a horse race, one of my mom’s favorite things to do, though after fifty-two years as my father’s wife, she has acclimated to all spectator sports (not to mention all sports commentary, e.g., ESPN’s Pardon the Interruption). “Our horse is number seven, Sierra Alpha,” Jammy explained, because Sierra Alpha was trained by her best friend’s grandson. Turns out, our horse ran a strong race to finish second. Things were looking up.
We moved to the kitchen table for drinks (the girls had the sugar-free cranberry juice my mother bought to placate me) and to play a few rounds of Rummikub. Claire, eleven, won repeatedly, while Georgia, nearly thirteen, pretended not to care. We switched then to King and Scum, a card game Tracy Tuttle and I learned from some Sigma Chi’s in college. Hanging over my head was an assignment from Jen Smith, my editor, God love her, who had asked me more than once if I might be able to capture a conversation with my mom to include in the back of the paperback. I explained to her that this sort of thing—introspecting about interpersonal relationships—ran a high risk of making my mom’s skin visibly slither, but alas, I love Jen Smith, not to mention my readers, so I tried. Here’s what happened:
Me [opening my laptop]: So, Ma, I gotta ask you a few questions before we leave tomorrow.
Jammy [ignoring me, talking only to the girls, referring to her black T-shirt that says grandmas gone wild in small rhinestones affixed by a professional grade BeDazzler]: I wore my diamonds tonight. Don’t you like my diamonds?
Claire: I love them. Jammy’s gone wild.
Me: Nice, Ma.
Georgia [looking up from her cell; frowning at my fingers as they skip around the keyboard]: Mom, you aren’t putting this all in your thing, are you?
Me: Yes, all of it. Okay, so Mom, what are some of the differences between my mothering style and yours?
Jammy [eyeballing my laptop]: I don’t use my computer 7/24.
Georgia [laughing]: Jammy, it’s 24/7!
Claire: 7/24! Jammy said 7/24—
Jammy: 24/7! Whatever. Just wait till you get old.
Me: So, yes, okay, well, other than computers and technology—
Jammy: And iPhones . . .
Me: And iPhones, yes. But all that’s my whole generation. What are some of the more specific differences between the way you and I parent?
Jammy [shuffling the deck, ready to be done with this nonsense]: I think you have more highs and lows than I had. I was more even-keeled. More down the middle. I think you’re very easy sometimes, and then at other times you get very worked up, more stressed, more agitated.
Me [deciding whether to push back or quietly take offense]: Okay, interesting. Duly noted. Moving on: Who do you think was more strict—you or me?
Georgia: Jammy is definitely more strict.
Jammy: Don’t say more strict, Georgia. It’s stricter.
Claire: Me too. I think Jammy is more strict.
Jammy: Stricter, Claire. For heaven’s sake, Kelly, do these girls learn grammar in school?
Georgia: We’re on vacation.
Jammy: Grammar never takes a vacation.
Me [ignoring the grammar talk, except to recall with a smile my backup idea for a title, Poetry and Prose]: Really girls? You don’t think I’m stricter?
Georgia [looking at me]: I’ve had Jammy as a grandmother and she’s way more stricter than you.
[My mother and I share a long, surprised look. Absurd, our expressions say in unison. Jammy is a fool for my girls, an absolute bleeding heart.]
Me: Compare me as a kid and the girls now. How was I different?
Jammy: They’re full of it, I’ll say that, but you were very opinionated. You let me know exactly what you thought about everything. Every. Little. Thing.
Greenie [having wandered over, now laughing in agreement]: You were very verbal, Lovey.
[We are all smiling now. I’m still “verbal.” An easy joke among my friends is that where any crowd gathers—a line at Target, say—I’m liable to flip over the nearest shopping basket and speak out on some issue that I’ve been working through, and I’m always working through some issue.]
Claire: I have a question. What’s the hardest part about being a mom?
Me: I hate not knowing what to do. There’s a lot of times that I don’t know what to do. I thought I was going to be more sure—
Jammy: More sure? Good grief. Surer.
Georgia: Oh my God, Jammy.
Jammy: God? Are we going to church? Are we praying now?
Me [addressing Claire]: I thought I would be surer. But then, and this happens all the time, some situation will bubble up and I’ll be totally lost, or torn. Like you’ll ask to go to some concert, or for some expensive flat iron, and I don’t know whether to give it to you or not. I can’t even decide how late to let you stay up on a school night. And I don’t know how to teach you about money, like whether or not you should have an allowance, how many chores, how many bathing suits.
Georgia: More than one!
Me [suddenly really needing to get this out]: And I often don’t know what’s fair to expect of you, like whether I should punish you for losing your Stanford sweatshirt or forgetting to feed the dog . . . I mean, I lose things. I forget things.
[Georgia nods as if she’s been waiting for me to notice this for years.]
Me: I know I have to pick my battles—I get that—but I find it hard to figure out which ones to pick. [To my mom] You knew, Ma. You always knew. You were dead sure.
Jammy: No, I wasn’t. Never. [I am wide-eyed.] I pretended.
Greenie [looking at me]: She pretended. She pretended beautifully.
Me: Wow. I’m stunned.
Georgia: You don’t pretend, Mom. I can totally tell when you don’t know what to do.
Me [still staring at my mother]: You were bluffing?
Jammy: Very ladylike.
Georgia: Jammy, Claire burps 7/24.
Jammy: Very funny.
Georgia: One thing about you as a mom, Mom, you’re very open with us. You’re, like, emotionally open. I can read you. Like, I know when you say Dad and I are going to talk about it, that means you don’t know what to do.
Claire: And you’re very open to our ideas.
Georgia: Oh, I totally disagree.
Claire [to Georgia]: No, she negotiates. Like if we want a new lacrosse stick or an app, we can try to cut a deal.
Georgia: She’s a compromiser, I guess, sometimes. Except when the wall comes down—like when we wanted to watch Step Brothers, and then, no way, you are not open for business.
Claire: Yeah, you have two sides to you. Your right side and your left side. [Cracking up.]
Georgia: Oh my God, Claire.
Jammy: We certainly are praying a lot tonight, aren’t we?
Me [giving the hush-up wave to the girls]: Okay, Ma, did you ever think I would be a writer?
Jammy: Definitely. You loved to write. Even when you worked at United Way, I still thought you would be a writer. You were very expressive. You are very expressive. [Handing Georgia a few plates] Take this over, Sugar.
Georgia: One sec.
Jammy [feigning shock]: Excuse me? You know what I used to tell your mother: Obey instantly, without comment.
Georgia [taking the plates over to the sink]: More strict.
Claire [to Jammy]: Who is more difficult to take care of: us or your kids?
Jammy: Well, I can spoil you girls. With your mother and your uncles, I had to constantly say No. That’s the job. I was the glue.
[I’m nodding. Glitter and Glue was definitely the right title]
Jammy: Being a grandmother is wonderful. [Looking at me, bemused] Shame there’s only one way to get here. [To the girls] You are the glitter of our golden years.
Greenie: That’s what we say, Lovey: Our grandchildren are the glitter of our golden years.
Me: Is there anything I do that makes you think, Oh, she got that from me?
Jammy [flatly]: No. I can’t think of anything.
Jammy: Not my religion, you barely know who Barry Goldwater was, and you don’t play bridge.
Me: Don’t you think I got the whole girlfriend thing from you? The Pigeons . . .
Jammy [brightening]: Yes! There’s something. Definitely. When I see you with Betsy or Tracy or Michelle Constable, I think, She’s a Pigeon-in-Training.
Me: Anything else?
Me: Okay, so how were you different with me than with Booker and GT?
Jammy: I don’t know. I didn’t raise the three of you the same.
Me: Right. So how?
Jammy: I don’t know. You needed different things.
Me: Like . . . ?
Jammy: Oh I don’t know. [Waving me off] I don’t like these conversations. It’s like you watching Bill O’Reilly. I don’t make you watch Bill O’Reilly, do I?
Me: You’re not going to answer these questions, are you?
Jammy: Let’s just play cards. Can’t we just play cards?
I asked her the next morning if she was glad I turned out to be a writer. She said, “Sure, I guess.” Suddenly anxious, I asked her if she ever wished that I didn’t write Glitter and Glue. “Absolutely not. I love that book. I think it’s your best one.” I said, “Well, I would think so. I mean, it’s all about you.” But she assured me that her assessment had nothing whatsoever to do with her portrayal as a tireless maternal genius. She just thought my writing “had gotten a lot tighter.”
After a pause, her hands back in the sink, where there were dishes to be done, she said, “Now can this be over?”
Now this can be over, Ma. Except to include this final photo of a vivacious knockout in her prime, a frank and complicated woman I would have loved to have been seated next to that evening, to have known as a peer, so that maybe it wouldn’t have taken me forty years to appreciate her properly.