Gently I pulled myself out of bed, preparing for my morning walk. I never look at myself in the mirror that early, since I’m only interested in putting my clothes on the appropriate parts of my body, stretching out the aches and pains of sleep, and sticking a couple of barrettes in my hair to keep it out of my eyes. I do this last task by feel, because I leave off the light so that I don’t disturb my husband.
When I returned from my walk this morning, I glanced in the mirror and was stunned at what I saw. My mother was staring back at me. It wasn’t really her, but her image was reflected: silver graying hair streaked with age-defying colors, no make-up, blue eyes, Semitic nose, and soft wrinkles. There she was.
I wasn’t stunned to see how I’d aged, as much as I marveled at how nature allows us to pass on our visages from generation to generation. And for most of my years, I couldn’t see the resemblance between my mother and me (although that could have been attributed to my early attitudes about her). As I looked at the mirror I began to reminisce about my mother, who passed away several years ago. I contemplated our past together as she stared back at me.
Although most of my growing up years with my mother were strained, my mother and I reconciled some years before she died. I had been a difficult daughter, disappointed that she wasn’t the perfect mother. Eventually I realized she had done her best and after all, I didn’t turn out so bad. But suddenly looking at my mother’s smile opposite me, I realized the times I had unfairly held her responsible for a key decision of my life.
I had chosen, with my husband, not to have children; I was afraid I would “turn out like my mother.” How foolish. We were very different, my mother and I. She had led a very difficult life, fearful and guarded. Yet I had grown up with enough security that although introverted, I had the ability to open to others and bring them into my life. My mother and I discussed the idea of having friends. She had been emotionally wounded early and often through her life, so that she told me that having friends was too risky for her. I had been blessed to enjoy people (even as an introvert) to the degree that I was willing to risk friendship, its blessings and disappointments. We expressed our acceptance of each other’s choices and their consequences.
I’ve learned to live with our choice about not having children.
In spite of her aversion to risks, she was the one who most encouraged my desire to study in Israel for a year. She also started her own businesses and supported me when I began mine. She was (aside from my husband) my most enthusiastic cheerleader.
“Looking at my mother” this morning, I realized I had come a long way. First, aging can be a challenge, but I’ve tried to take it in stride. I live a healthy lifestyle. (You will, however, probably have to rip a chocolate chip cookie out of my dead, cold hands.) Although I rant at today’s politics, I’m basically optimistic, an attitude my mother couldn’t relate to; her life through her darkened prism required vigilance and caution.
But we learned to respect and appreciate our differences. We learned to laugh together, laugh at ourselves and at each other. We learned how to love each other, encourage each other and accept each other. Those, alone, were gifts we gave to one another.
One of the lasting images I have of her was the time my husband and I had gone to pick her up as she arrived at the airport. She was probably in her late ‘70s. We could see her from the distance approaching us down the wide terminal walk. She was a big woman, awkward, and she walked slowly, gently swaying, but I could see her tired smile, relieved that she had arrived safely and that we were waiting for her. When she reached us, her grin expanded and we gave each other gigantic hugs.
Now that was my mother.Published in