Updated: Jul 29, 2019
Not long ago, I mentioned to my younger and only sister that I was aging exactly like our mother. I seemed a clone of her older self with the same lines above my upper lip, the laugh lines etched in each cheek, the triceps that had lost their tone and jiggled like jelly. ("It must be jelly 'cause jam don't shake like that.")
I remember vowing that my arms would never look like hers. But here they are--a spitting image. (So much for all that weight lifting I did in my forties.)
"I wish I were aging like mom," my sister said. I could hear the disappointment. "It seems that I inherited dad's DNA."
My dad, blonde and blue-eyed, an avid golfer and a non-believer in sun screen, suffered the consequences: scaly patches of red that covered his arms, neck, and face and deeply-etched wrinkles that carved his face into what resembled a marbleized piece of meat. I'd warned my sister to cover up in the sun, but she never listened. I was, after all, the bossy older sister who didn't know a damn thing--except maybe how to get good grades.
This whole business about mothers and daughters and how we daughters, whether we like it or not, become so much like our mothers as we age, is at once a no brainer but also a source of mystery. I'm not just talking about how we look but how we think and act and see the world and our place in it.
Every time I say, "Things always work out for the best", I channel my mother. Looking back, I question how she could put her faith in the future when she'd lost her son to suicide and outlived him by some three decades. Still, that belief in good outcomes bolsters me and helps me support friends and family who hit a brick wall.
Every time I say, "Happy, healthy," I am channeling my mother. This was her greeting every Rosh Hashanah. Yes, it's a nice thing to say, but I might go with "Have a great year" or " "Let's hope this year is better than the last," or just plain "Happy New Year."
My mother was a maker of lists. Every morning, still in her sleeveless cotton nightgown, she'd stand not sit at the kitchen counter and, in her printing that must have garnered an "A" in penmanship, made her "To Do" list for the day. As the day progressed, she'd cross out items she'd successfully completed. By evening, all that remained was a series of items with neat lines through every last one of them.
It's no surprise then that, up until recently, I was a list maker, too. I was organized, committed to accomplishing every item on that list. This gave me a sense of well-being and a keen sense of responsibility.
But after decades of making, checking, and completing lists, I have given up the ghost. Yes, I usually jot down what I hope to get done but give myself a lot of slack. It's okay that I let some things slide for another day or week. I'm not irresponsible or a screw up: I know things will eventually get done in their own time. And this understanding cuts down on my stress level big time. (Even looking for a missing earring or a book can be put on hold. I'll wear a different pair of babbles or read another book.)
My mother tried every diet out there: Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, South Beach, Nutrisystem, Macrobiotic (Boy, did she cheat on that one!), Slim Fast, Paleo (Actually, I think this diet became popular after her death), and on it went. My mother was never happy about her weight. Her stomach was too fat; her breasts too large. Her hips and thighs belonged to a woman half her size which is why her pants were two sizes smaller than the tops. Being on a diet gave her a sense of false control because she could never muster the self-control to stick with a change in eating habits for very long. Her late-night trips to the freezer for non-fat ice cream or her forays into a cabinet for just a few chips or crackers were legendary in our household and a source of clean fun.
If you've read my blogs, you'll know that I, too, have a poor body image so that, even when I've dumped a few pounds and have been to dance and yoga classes several times a week for months, I am still not satisfied. The question is: Why can't I (a lot of women) take pleasure in what is fine and beautiful about myself (ourselves)? According to Nancy Friday, author of My Mother/My Self first published in 1977:
We never get over our worries about our waists and weight," writes Friday, "because they are not the real, unmentionable, and unthinkable root of our concern. Complaining about our skin, our calves, distracts our attention from that other area mother would never mention . . . We say it is our breasts, our thighs, that are ugly; we fear it is our vagina.
Yikes! I didn't see that one coming. And I'd have to reread all 413 pages of Friday's book to form an opinion on all of this sex stuff. My opinion, albeit rather simple, is that our mothers set the tone for how we feel about our bodies. If mothers are comfortable with the way they look and comfortable about expressing their sexuality, chances are good that we will follow suit. If mothers like mine are never happy with their appearance and constantly complain about their fate, chances are good that we will rue the day when we went from the freedom of childhood to the self-consciousness of adolescence--actually, today, we're talking about pre-adolescence. The twelve and thirteen-year-olds I see look years older; still, they have the life experiences and coping skills of young girls. (If only you could have been with me when I volunteered for an after-school program at one of the local middle schools. Girls wore tight jeans with the proverbial cell phone in a back pocket, makeup, form-fitting sweaters, and a swagger that took my breath away. I sure didn't look like that when I was in middle school--junior high as it was known back in the day. How do these girls get out of the house? What's with their parents, anyway?)
Back to our mothers and how, when we age, we become more and more like them. To tell you the truth, my mom, with all of her imperfections, was supportive of my choices (except for my first husband) and provided a sense of security and self-confidence. When all is said and done, I'm lucky to be a lot like her.