When I was a little girl I wore dress ups, played with baby dolls and emulated my mother. On hot summer evenings, I’d sit on the gentle sloping lawn, thick with clover flowers, and listen to my parents talk about the day’s events. While other moms wore make-up and teetered on high heels, mine never did. This morning as I slipped my feet into my new pair of wedges, the kind of shoes Mom used to wear, I took a nostalgic stroll.
I’m a freshman in high school. Mom and I wear each other’s clothes and swap purses. On Saturdays, we walk a mile to Cherokee Street, the six block shopping center with a variety of independently owned small variety and specialty stores. She forbids me to wear make-up like the other girls, but for the most part, Mom’s okay. She sits on my bed on Sunday mornings, and we talk like friends. She sure doesn’t act like a mom, I tell her. We enjoy one another’s company.
I’m a high school senior, and suddenly I don’t want to be anything like the woman I strongly resemble. Complete strangers stop us and comment that we look like sisters. The last thing I want to hear is, “You look just like your mother.” No matter how accurate the statement, there is a twenty year gap between us. I am my own person, seeking my own identity and independence. Soon, I plan to get married and start my own life. I cannot wait to get away from Mom’s restrictive rules.
I’m twenty-two, and Mom is forty-two. She walks a mile every other day to my house to adore and spoil her first granddaughter. They idolize one another. I enjoy Mom’s company again. I can do my own thing, wear make-up if I want. She’s always available to babysit at a moment’s notice. I feel blessed.
“Mom, why don’t you let me put make-up on you?” I beg until she finally gives in. I poof her bouffant hair, tint her lips, rouge her cheeks and smudge sky blue eye shadow across her lids. “There, let me see. You look beautiful,” I say. My puzzled expression makes her dash to the mirror.
“I look painted. This isn’t me,” she insists, but she leaves the make-up on to please me. As we sit across from one another dunking Danish – she always brings bakery goods – I can hardly bear to look into her face. One of her heavy eyelids sinks into the socket, and the blue eye shadow disappears into the fold. She looks like a clown with one bright, blue lid.
“You’re probably right, Mom, you look just great without make-up.” I reach for the cold cream.
Mom tells me that a little lipstick is good because as a woman ages it brightens her appearance. So I always wear lipstick, and Mom wears it only when she’s going out.
Mom tells me that a little lipstick is good because as a woman ages it brightens her appearance. So I always wear lipstick, and Mom wears it only when she’s going out. The other day she smiled at the neighbor with bright pink lips and no front teeth. She had forgotten her partial dental plate, and her mouth sunk in like a collapsed clay pot. I was totally embarrassed for her and myself. “I’ll never be like that!” I vowed. Mom is sixty; I am forty; my daughter is twenty, and her little girl is ripping wrapping paper off her first birthday presents. I overhear my daughter talking to my mom. “Gram, I adore you, but Mom drives me crazy! I hope I’m never like her.” I’m 55 and concerned as I stroll into Mom’s hospital room. What a place to celebrate her seventy-fifth birthday. I ask if she has a nail clipper, rummage through her purse, and discover a bottle of moisturizer and a razor wrapped in a paper towel. “What is this for?” I ask. She smiles self-consciously and taps above her top lip, rolls her eyes and says, “You just wait!”
No wonder her kisses often feel a bit abrasive. I shake my head and cringe. I hope I am never like Mom. She’s becoming a real embarrassment with her bristly lip, droopy lids, sometimes toothless grin and unfiltered comments.
She is surrounded by three generations singing happy birthday so loud the doctor pokes his head into her room and laughs at the sight of a birthday cake with candles ablaze. My sixteen year old granddaughter shares a confidence with Mom and me when her mother walks out of the room. “My mom doesn’t know anything! I can’t wait to go to college and get away from her!”
I chuckle and clean up the party mess. As I wash my hands, I look in the mirror and see that I bear a striking resemblance to my mother. I massage moisturizer into my facial creases and wonder when my eyelids got so heavy. I listen to the conversation in the room and smile when my daughter jokes, “Gram, we all have the same family traits: your sassy mouth and heavy eye lids.”
My sixteen year old granddaughter moans, “Mom, how embarrassing!” She utters the same phrase under her breath that has been repeated by four generations, “I hope I never act like you.”
I hug and kiss my children and grandchildren as they leave the hospital. After everyone departs, I walk over and plant a kiss on Mom’s wrinkled cheek and say, “I love you.” I expect her to reply with something sweet. Instead she says something profound. She taps her lip, points at mine and says, “Honey, my razor’s in my purse if you want to use it.” We laugh out loud.
Mom has always been a spunky, little, fun-loving woman who speaks her mind. I enter the hospital elevator, send up a silent prayer for her, rub the space above my top lip and chuckle.
Alone, I look at my reflection. Is that me or is that my mom? I see her in my mirror, and I hear her in my words. The age lines blur and I realize, I am becoming my mother.