“She's the spitting image of you,” said the lady behind the counter as she handed my daughter a sack full of candy with one hand, and me a fistful of change with the other.
I just smiled as I stashed the cash, but I could feel the tiny little room in the tourist-town trinket shop shrink into an uncomfortable silence.
Ittybit remained quiet, too. Though, something was different in her silence. Her face showed not just the pre-teen annoyance of being noticed at all – an always futile attempt to hide embarrassment – but also an embarrassment that has started maturing into a wound.
I knew that expression. I've worn it myself. It was merely a pink tinge on peachy flesh, but it burns like raw scrapes on thin skin.
She does NOT want to look like me. She doesn't want to dress like me … or talk like me … or make any of the same decisions I have made in my lifetime … ever.
As hurtful any of those thoughts as can be. … we've all had them.
And I suppose, all it really amounts to is that she wants to be herself: which, I try to explain, is really just the mirror image of the person she sees in photographs. ... If it's an image at all.
Our frail egos … wanting to be different … and the same, only uniquely so.
This isn't a proud feeling, though it is filled with pride. We love our parents and grandparents, we may feel safe looking into comfortable faces and secure leaning into their ample embraces -- but we don't want to look like them with their flabby folds and their furry moles.
We just can't help ourselves. And who am I to blame her?
She doesn't want to look like me – a 40-something matron with frown-lines and unnaturally colored hair – any more than I want to resemble my mother – a 70-something stroke patient with a crooked smile.
Moreover, who are we to blame them for noting a resemblance?
Don't we all fall into that same trap? On the surface, the words mean nothing. Just noise to interrupt the silence. Just throwaway sentiments we inflate in our minds to epic proportions.
I don't know why small talk often has big implications. But it does seem to be just the tip of an iceberg that has the potential to sink our foundering ships. Small talk is the reason the internet exists at all; to put all possible slights (not caused by dinner-table politics) in listicle form as a cautionary tale for all who have ever Googled in the past or who will ever Google in the future, whatever the search engine name.
Ten things you should never say to a new mother …
Ten things you should never say to an adolescent …
Ten things you should never say ever again to anyone …
Ten things you can add to the ten things we subtracted last time you were here …
Of course … until you find yourself among strangers, and ice must be broken … what else is there besides taking note of the weather and other random observations, such as: “Well, I can tell that you two are definitely related, you look like the spitting image of each other.”
“Spitting image. That's just gross,” she growls in deflection once we've left the store.
“You don't really look like me,” I tell her in reassurance, the same way my mother told me. “We have long hair and light skin and we walked in here together. The mind draws those conclusions, not the eyes.
“But next time maybe we should try an experiment. Next time, YOU should buy the candy and I'LL eat the candy. Let's see if they think you're the mom and I'm the kid.”
“That would probably just make me spitting mad.”