Don’t You Forget About Me

Outside our two-bedroom duplex on 30th Street in Lakeview, one of several New Orleans neighborhoods where my mother and I made our fatherless homes, I once tried to enter through the side door and found it locked. I’d been playing under the carport with my Cabbage Patch Kid, Suzy Georgette, whose packaging promised she’d be my best friend. I hadn’t yet downgraded to Garbage Pail Kids, their perverted parody, whose cynicism better befitted the Gen X ethos of hating everything, including the things we loved. This neighborhood felt more humid than others, courtesy of that dirty gray water-blanket of Lake Pontchartrain pulled up tight to the neck of our city. I couldn’t take a step without slipping in the sweat inside my jelly shoes. Even my Cabbage Patch looked wilted. After I knocked for at least twenty seconds, my mother at last opened the door.

“Mom, why did you lock me out?”

“Oh, hello. Who are you?” My mother was chopping carrots at the cutting board next to the sink, focused, careful. I hated carrots. She hated cooking.

“What do you mean, Mom?

“Little girl, you seem very sweet, but you’re not my daughter.” She set down her knife and leaned against the counter, pulling a Virginia Slim from her gold lamé cigarette case. That case smelled sharp, like burnt metal, but my mother always managed to smell soft, like Chloe powder.

“You should go home now.” She looked directly into my eyes and exhaled. “Your real mother must be worried about you.”

Then she led me out the door again and shut it; I heard the click of the lock. I sat on the carport steps and wailed, “But you are my mother, right! Right?” Tugging at the sweaty bangs stuck to my forehead, literally pulling my hair out to make sure I existed, I wondered what was real in the world—was this a nightmare? My supposed best friend was no help. Finally, my mother opened the door again and reassured me of the truth I’d thought I’d always known: she was my real mother, and this was my home.

“Why did you believe me?” she said. “Honey, I was just kidding!”

Nothing to worry about here, it was just a game. Until the next time she decided to play it.


My mother’s “You’re Not My Daughter” game recently became a subject between me and my own four-year-old girl. I told her about it because I was afraid my inner imp would emerge just as my daughter was learning new and terrifying things about the world—the million global crises I’ve invited her into that neither of us can do much about. Maybe I’d tease her just as my mom teased me, to toughen her up. I also told her because, frankly, I wanted her to side with me over the injustice, the insanity of such a game.

Like mothers immemorial, I’ve spent a lot of time choosing which parts of my mother I’d adopt in my parenting, and which I’d renounce. “You’re Not My Daughter” proved a special case. The game instilled self-loathing for my dupability, and self-confidence to struggle honorably through adversity; both qualities have served me well. But I don’t want my daughter writing in her diary, as I did soon after my mother first played this game with me, “I. Hate. M-O-T-H-E-R,” where my rebuke took up several months of 1986’s daily pages. And yet, I don’t want my daughter’s personality to be so glutted with sweet, gummy love that she’ll have no sense of humor. If I couldn’t raise her in my hometown of New Orleans, she’d adopt its ethos. Laissez Le Bon Temps blabbedy-blah.

What I wasn’t expecting was my daughter’s own imp. Last spring as I drove her home from preschool, she asked what colleges were for (a question I’ve often asked myself). It’s a place you go, I told her, ideally away from your hometown, to become a better citizen, to learn how to learn, to study for the career and life you want. I graciously left out the part about descent into extraordinary debt from which she’d never climb. She wondered aloud if New York City had any colleges she could attend. We’d visited family there the year before and she loved it.

“Oh honey,” I said, “there’s tons! You can go to NYU, and then I can visit you in the city!”

“Actually,” she mused from her car seat, “I’m not sure if I’ll let you visit me.” I adjusted the rearview to see her face. She gazed contemplatively out the window.

“Why not?”

“I just think you should have to stay home while I’m in college and wait for me to visit you. When I feel like it.”

I readjusted the rearview back to the road, blinking away tears. If I were my mother, I’d say, “See if I invite you home for Thanksgiving, you little shit!” But I’m not. My fears were already coming true: my daughter would hate me someday, or be bored by or forget about me once she’d extracted every atom of love.

“Sorry to hear that,” I said, my voice wavering. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Mom, oh my gosh, I’m kidding!” She giggled and kicked the back of my seat. “You don’t always have to believe me.”


Though I’m old enough by now to comfortably sit with most forms of rejection, I’m not sure I’m ready to handle my daughter’s version of “You’re Not My Mother.” I know the havoc these kinds of games can wreak. But it can’t just be Mom’s early teasing games that account for why I’m having more trouble communicating with her now than thirty-five years ago. No, for this I blame neither our personalities nor idiosyncrasies, but our generations.

While there’s some disagreement over the precise dates of my generational cohort, most social science researchers, including the Pew Research Center and Nielsen Media Research, now typically use the birth years between 1965 and 1980 to define Generation X. I was born in October of 1980, which according to this date range, makes me one of the youngest, therefore least cool members of my generation. Unfortunately, coolness and iconoclasm are what my generation is all about. Not only am I nearly left out of this group I’ve always wanted to belong to (and according to many Xers, having been born in the 80s manifestly designates me a Millennial), I was the first-born child in an immigrant family on my mother’s side. My brown skin coupled with having been raised by Ecuadorian women precludes me from the Whites, while my caca Spanish shuts me out of the Browns. My first-ever concert starred Julio Iglesias at the historic Saenger Theater; my second, at the monstrosity of the Louisiana Superdome, featured New Kids on the Block. A proud Gen Xer might laud the first for being so anti-mainstream that the performance wasn’t even in English, and eye-roll the second as a key component in the downfall of American society.

That maybe says it all about where I fall racially, generationally, and psychically. I’ve been disaffected from my peers for as long as I can remember, while simultaneously craving that disaffection. I didn’t pine for Nirvana till after Kurt died, and I didn’t discover Paul Westerberg and The Replacements till last month, but the quality of being left out of so many cultural aspects of Gen X while also having lived through them is, in its own way, very X. It’s definitely X to have felt as a child that I belonged nowhere, with no one, except for Suzy Georgette and my subsequent collection of Garbage Pail Kids, both of which I lost and mourned stoically during one of our moves.

The paradox in defining Generation X is that the X itself refers to an unknown variable, or a desire not to be defined. Jeff Gordinier, author of X Saves the World, exudes irony even in his title. He cites the single question on the Generation X Aptitude Test: do you want to change the world? If the very question makes you want to throw up in your mouth, congratulations! You’re part of the most forgotten generation in demographic history. And yet according to Gordinier, that’s actually Gen X’s greatest fear, being forgotten. He refers to our collective athazagoraphobia, and how it was built into our systems. The term refers not to just being ignored between the mammoth generations surrounding us—Boomers and Millennials—but also the act of forgetting itself: forgetting who we’ve been and who we wanted to be. Xers famously forgot their against-the-grain ideology when they realized there was money to be made through dot coms, a movement for which I was too young to sell out. But I’d like to think I wouldn’t have forgotten any ideals I’d demanded of myself, since I’ve always held that constant craving for self-definition and identification. Yet there’s nothing more uncool, or un-X, than that. I’m not sure if it derived from my mother’s early “forgetting” of me, but my whole life I’ve basically been asking the older kids of my generation, “Can I be part of your group?” The inevitable answer: um, no.

I’ve only recently recognized that the act of forgetting, or the quality of being forgettable, is crucial to “You’re Not My Daughter.” Whenever I’ve discussed the game, the onus has been on my mother as major inciter and player. But a question I’m finally asking myself is, why the hell did I fall for it? I’ve considered the following possibilities for my reaction:

1. When she pretended not to be my mother, it was pure rejection; she didn’t love me anymore. So, my neurotic hair-pulling and tears were justified. However, this scenario also makes me a victim and my mother a villain, two overly-simplistic identifiers I loathe. But with the next option…

2.I could play the hero. My mother had amnesia! She’d forgotten I was her daughter and I had to perform some feat to prove it to her…but what? Only with Baby-Sitters’ Club President Kristy-Thomas-like pluck would I prevail. But the true Gen X response would have included a third possibility…

3. Acceptance that my mother was a bored, lonely Boomer who needed to play this game more than even she knew, so I should just eye-roll it until she’s gotten her kicks.

But I was only five years old when this game began, so my original theoretical framework was waaaaah. Under the 30th Street carport, whenever she’d banish me yet again, helpfully suggesting I go find my real mom, I learned to stop crying, because that only made the game last longer. Each occasion we played, I wondered if this time she was telling the truth. Maybe she’d taken me in the previous times out of pity and had only been pretending to be my mother. Or, was it possible that I’d forgotten who my real mother was? The whole thing was an enormous head trip. Eventually I reminded myself, as Axl Rose assured me a few years later with his cold November rain, that nothing lasts forever. To pass the time until my mother would admit I was her daughter, I made up little games for myself and Suzy Georgette, games I could actually win.

These days my mother feels guilty about having played it, but I suspect that’s because when she’s shared the story with friends and colleagues, they’ve found it appalling. “Jesus, Rosita,” they say. “I hope you’re paying for her therapy!”

She tries to explain herself. “I don’t know why I started it. I had no idea you’d react that way,” my mother said during my last visit with her. “But when you did…shit, your hysterics made me laugh.” Her defense included that she didn’t solely abuse me; she’d tried to spread it out evenly among her younger daughters as well.

“But they just rolled their eyes so hard when I pulled ‘You’re Not My Daughter.’ They’d go, ‘Whatever, Mom, you’re so stupid,’ and that’s when the game died. No one was as fun as you.” It’s another humiliation that my younger sisters, born eight and ten years after me, thus firmly-ensconced Millennials, are in this way much more Gen X than I am.


In this past year, we youngest Gen Xers turned forty, appropriately, in the middle of a global pandemic. Talk about being forgotten. Who, including me, could possibly give a shit about my aging milestone amid such mass, protracted devastation? Nevertheless, I persisted. But it didn’t help that my daughter’s birthday is the very day before mine, thus invalidating any proper celebration of my birth for, I expect, the rest of my life. After a two-week quarantine, we spent the weekend at my mother’s house on the Westbank of New Orleans, where my mother set up pink-unicorn decorations for my daughter, and a black-ballooned, over-the-hill theme for me.

The day ultimately fell apart because of a single word. My mother asked me to fill my daughter’s plastic unicorn party tray with an enormous bag of Mars Mini Chocolates. Given that only family was present, and we also had two giant cakes to eat, I filled the tray halfway. My mother chastised me for this. “Oh my gosh, you’re so useless.” Rather than defend myself, or address my hurt at her comment directly, I stomped around and slit my eyes whenever she spoke, which was code for, “apologize immediately.” Then the obsessive ruminations began. Was I actually useless? It’s true I can’t cook well or throw parties or do really anything women (humans?) are supposed to know how to do. Was the comment purely situational or did she mean something more? My mother happily overflowed the tray and, I’m guessing, forgot about our interaction before she unwrapped the first chocolate and popped it in her mouth.

Luckily, Mom’s birthday present of a handle of Maker’s Mark bourbon helped me slice through my thoughts. Measured another way, a handle holds thirty-nine shots, presumably one for each year I’ve squandered. It came with a personalized tumbler that read, “1980 Vintage – Aged to Perfection.” My mother would soon deeply regret both these gifts. Hours after unwrapping, I threw an epic fit over “useless” comparable only to the “You’re Not My Daughter” days. I cried, of course. I got my husband involved when I demanded he ask my mother to stop being mean to me. I jabbed my finger behind me, at the past, I guess. I distributed every old hurt I could think of like party favors for everyone to take with them as a memory of the day.

The morning after, I made my walk of shame to my mother’s bedroom and took back all my grievances. I blamed the pandemic, I blamed my newly-diagnosed perimenopausal status, I blamed it on the alcohol, and most importantly, I blamed my own sensitive character, the cause of many a family dramedy. “Let’s just forget about it,” I pleaded. And against my very nature, for a while, I did, too.

But nearly a year later, a question I’m finally asking myself is, why the hell did I throw this fit? Which expressions were drunken, weary pandemic tantrum, and which did I actually mean? Three statements I remember making in between sobs:

1. “I was so lonely as a child!”

2. “I’m not sure you loved me!”

3. “I always felt so unseen!”

In sober retrospection, only one of those statements was real. When my mother “forgot” who I was thirty-five years ago, it was like she couldn’t see the actual me: her daughter. If even that identifier was in doubt, what hope did I have of being anything else? This line of questioning makes it clear how much I required constant positive reinforcement. Shit, I still do. I’m needy. I’ve always wanted my mother to tell me who and what I am, because I didn’t have the confidence to name it for myself. I needed her to sanction my very breath. Yet she was of the generation and disposition of needing me, in turn, to figure out how to breathe for myself. My mother shows love in the ways that I should yearn for, X-wise, but paradoxically reject. In motherly love and support, she’s much less pink unicorn decoration and much more black balloon. Like, she’s never been a big hugger, or told me I’m amazing, but she’d cut a bitch for me. When I was in college, she threatened an ex-boyfriend who was low-key stalking me that if he didn’t leave me alone, she’d tell the world he had a tiny dick. Though she couldn’t have known that, it was perhaps by virtue of being true that her threat worked; I never heard from him again. Her love was always present, even in the days of “You’re Not My Daughter.” My grandmother informed me years afterward that my first Cabbage Patch Kid, Suzy Georgette, the one I lost and eventually forgot about, had cost way more than my single mother could afford, but I’d forcefully underlined it on my Christmas list. At the K-Mart where she bought it, Mom nearly had to knock another mother’s teeth out to get the last one on the shelf.


Maybe I have such a hard time belonging in any of my roles—mother, daughter, Xer—not just because of my mother’s games, but because I don’t belong to a real generation at all. In 2014, writer Sarah Stankorb, born in the same year as me, promulgated in Good Magazine the term “Xennial,” a newly-invented generational cohort which explained why Americans born in the late 70s and early 80s feel like we don’t fit into our neighboring eras. Her article describes those born between 1975 and 1985 as a “micro-generation that serves as a bridge between the disaffection of Gen X and the blithe optimism of Millennials.” The first mutt generation in social science, it marries its surrounding groups into the ugliest portmanteau possible, but it pretty accurately describes my cultural personality. Being a Xennial should appeal to me, a displaced generation within a generation. Still, with the ferocity and singular focus of a Millennial, I insist I’m X. Like all theories that make sense but contradict all I believe to be true and holy, I’m ignoring this one. In fact, I’ve already forgotten about it.

What I can never forget, though I’ve tried, is the power that the games I played as a child still hold over me as an adult. And it’s not just my mother’s. Perhaps more than any other doctrine—the Golden Rule, the Ten Commandments, “You’re Not My Daughter”—it’s a game I invented for myself that has shaped my relationship to others, and fed my obsession with hierarchy and self-definition. The game: any person who was born any time before me, on October 12, 1980 at precisely 7:31 p.m., “beats” me. If they’re even a second older than me, they have the advantage. Even the worst people, like white nationalists or 80s B-film P.E. teachers. It’s not that I believe anyone older than me is a good or moral person, or anyone younger, a bad or lesser one; it’s just that I’ve created an arbitrary yet exacting system for appraisement, and I’m sticking to it. There’s no allowance in our collective selves for genius or ordinariness or depravity. The single criterion for having a slighter edge is whether or not the moment of a person’s birth comes before or after mine.

Under the foolproof paradigm of “But What’s Your Birth Date,” Elon Musk edges me out, but I beat Mark Zuckerberg. I also beat Kim Kardashian, because I was born three days before her in 1980. Kanye West was born the same year as my husband and three before me, so they both have the edge. More poignantly, the game grants an easy perspective on my successes and failures as a writer. For instance, if another writer at least one second older than me has great success, it’s because of this arbitrary (yet significant!) extra time alive. If any writer at least one second younger than me has great success (and these numbers are growing, growing, growing…), well, their success simply doesn’t mean as much. Because by virtue of my being born first, I understand something ephemeral about living on this earth that they cannot yet touch. They are, let’s face it, striving Millennials, while I am the elusive, unknown variable of X. Listen, I’m not proud of this notion. It’s simplistic, absurd, and adds nothing to my understanding of anything. Yet I cling to it like scripture someone else wrote for me and demanded I live by. But hey, other people do that, too. If this were my religion, and it kind of is, it would be callous to judge me too harshly for it.

I first played this game with myself while sitting under the 30th Street carport wondering if my mother was actually my mother. “But What’s Your Birth Date” countered well against “You’re Not My Daughter” because my game had a clear winner and loser, and any victory or defeat was totally out of my control. Not only that, but it was a game I always won, even if I was younger than my rival, since no one but me ever knew we were playing it. When a family moved in next door to us on 30th, I was excited to learn they had a daughter about my age. But how old, exactly? This was the first question I asked Melissa. Not her age, but her birthdate. January, 1981. It was my first victory, after the one over Suzy Georgette, who was “born” in 1983.

Thirty-five years since my game’s inception, it’s still one I play privately, constantly, during conversations with acquaintances who assume I’m having normal thoughts, or that I’m listening to them. When I first meet someone, I tactfully slip in a question about their age, often by asking when they graduated high school. If we graduated in the same year, I get nervous because I know I’m in contention, and then I must ferret out their season of birth. Because I was born in the fall, I always pray for winter. All this birthdate work takes some mental acuity, time I could have spent solving my other personal issues or even changing the world, if I were interested in that sort of thing. But paramount in my mind, always, is whether or not I have the pointless edge.

As perversely superficial as my game is, I love playing it. And it’s only fair to thank my mother for that. “You’re Not My Daughter” needed supplanting by play of my own creation. My mother’s game taught me to question my identity early on, and that my identity was malleable. Was I my mother’s daughter? What does it mean to be such a thing? Am I X, or Xennial, and to what degree do these designations make me me? My mom’s response to all this analysis, I’m sure, would be to tease me for trying too hard to make meaning out of everything; to this critique, I’d give her shit for not analyzing enough. Her newest favorite taunt compares me to Alexander Hamilton: “Why do you assume / you’re the smartest in the room?” Shows what she knows. According to “But What’s Your Birth Date,” a game I’ve never shared with her, since she was born first, she has the edge.

I don’t intend to play any of these games with my daughter. As my mother has suggested, no matter what I’ll do, I’ll find ways to torture my girl. My mother says, “Watch. She’ll come to you in thirty years and complain, ‘Why didn’t you play ‘You’re Not My Daughter’ with me? That means you didn’t love me enough!’” And she may be right. But I’m starting to think this wasn’t just a game my mother individually played with me. It seems representational, one that allowed us to define who we were against each other, one generation to the next. Her generational purview has been, in relation to her children: in moments, I’ll intentionally forget about you to better remember myself, and I’ll always leave some parts of that self locked away, and this will grant you the freedom to make something totally original out of the unknown variable that is you. Because of her “forgetting,” I started writing that I hated her, then editing those diary entries later to say I loved her, and I haven’t stopped writing since. Because of her “forgetting,” I could never forget myself. Her games resulted in what I can only call accidental good parenting. I’m not sure there’s any other kind.

What I want for my daughter, one of the youngest members of Gen Z, is to invent her own games and form her own theories, as deep or erroneously shallow as my own. Then we’ll have competing theories to argue over, and we’ll always have something to talk about, always more atoms of love to share. Plus, I can take private comfort that no matter what she says or believes or discovers, she won’t have the edge. I will. Because she was born after me.

BROOKE CHAMPAGNE was born and raised in New Orleans and now writes and teaches in Tuscaloosa at the University of Alabama. She was awarded the inaugural William Bradley Prize for the Essay for her piece 'Exercises,' which was published in The Normal School and listed as Notable in Best American Essays 2019, and was a finalist for the 2019 Lamar York Prize in Nonfiction for her essay “Bugginess,” published in The Chattahoochee Review. Her writing has appeared in many print and online journals, most recently in Under the Sun,  Barrelhouse, and Essay Daily. She is at work on her first collection of personal essays entitled Nola Face, and her memoir about her Ecuadorian grandmother, Lala.