Monday, July 14, 2008

Mommy and me

I caught a glimpse of my mother in a department store mirror the other day. There she was—her loose, energetic walk, her vaguely blissful expression, the distinctive tilt of her head.

It was me, of course.

Middle-aged women are supposed to be horrified when they see themselves morphing into their mothers, but I can’t say I mind it much. My mother is an attractive person. She’s in her seventies now, and she’s still lively and curious. She goes dancing every weekend with her boyfriend, who’s a bit younger than her. He’s got a few dozen acres of land out in the sticks, where the two of them have separate houses but a shared existence. They enjoy a menagerie of dogs, goats and chickens, and while neither of them has a lot of money, they’re happy and do as they please. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? I could do a lot worse than to end up like my mother.

Still, it was a shock to see her looking back at me in the mirror, because I’ve always been so certain that I’m nothing like my mother. Physically, we’re built on completely different models. We have the same dark eyes—and, alas, the same freckles—but there the resemblance ends. From my soft facial features to my long skinny feet, I am unmistakably my father’s child. Neither of us is a bombshell, but my mother has always been very attractive to men. Even now they follow her around like puppies. I have never had that problem, although actual puppies do seem to find me alluring.

In personality and temperament, we might as well be different species. My mother is charming, caring, a people pleaser who loves attention. She’s no doormat, but she’s prone to hero worship. I am a bookish introvert, soft-hearted but basically selfish, and (my father’s influence again) I’ve got an anti-authoritarian streak a mile wide. My mother is a natural mediator, whereas I am opinionated and argumentative. One of her favorite sayings is, “There’s always a happy medium.” You would have to hold a gun to my head to get me to say that.

Still, there’s obviously some powerful genetic inheritance from her that is beginning to show itself as I age. It’s strange to be reminded that characteristics we think of as profoundly our own—even something as individual as a facial expression—are built into our DNA; stranger still to think that they can be wired to hide themselves for decades, emerging when the organism hits just the right level of decay. Not that I’m complaining. As genetic time bombs go, a quirky walk beats the hell out of early-onset Alzheimer’s. Like I said, I’ll be happy to have an old age like my mother’s—and who knows? I may yet find out what it’s like to have men follow me around like puppies.

Peggy Shippen (wife of Benedict Arnold) and Daughter, Sir Thomas Lawrence (1790-1830). Image from Wikimedia Commons. There's an interesting old article about Arnold and Shippen here


chayaruchama said...

You LIE about the 'men' thing...
[Remember the mall boys, when you wear Pan ?]

It's soothing to make peace with the mother thing;I'm glad that you're comfortable with it.

This w/e, I had to attend a funeral, and someone from 42 years ago told me that I looked just like my mother- And sounded like her, too.

I reminded myself that- at that time- my mother was considered an Ava Gardner-like beauty...

[I don't think they realized how mentally ill she was then, notwithstanding compelling evidence...]

I took it with good grace.

I started out in life, physically resembling my father-
Now, I resemble my mother.
May GOD prevent me from comporting myself like either one of them !

BitterGrace said...

It's true about the followers of Pan, but that's just it--my mother doesn't need Pan. She can wear Tresor and they still come running. Go figure.

Trite as it sounds, I think being at peace with your parents takes you at least halfway to being at peace with yourself. Wherever you go, there they are, you know?

Anonymous said...

I think being at peace with your parents takes you at least halfway to being at peace with yourself.
...Not trite at all and very accurate.

As the years have gone on and I have come to accept everyone in my family for who they are, I find myself happier and I'm even coming to accept me for who I am (although there is still a long way to go).

Outwardly, I very much resemble my mother. Internally, I am a combination of my mother and father. As my mother and father are absolutely nothing alike, this is interesting to me.

In any event, what a great post!

Jen said...

Didn't mean to post anonymously. That was me above.:-)

Perfumeshrine said...

First of all, you're selling yourself short (is that the expression? Not sure). I have come to realize that you must be wonderfully attractive to canine and humanid forms of life both.

Secondly, your mother sounds adorable!

I have always (since a child) been told I look like my mum and take it as a compliment :-)

BitterGrace said...

Hi, Jen! "Internally, I am a combination of my mother and father. As my mother and father are absolutely nothing alike, this is interesting to me." Boy, does that ring a bell. My folks are also opposites. Though I am much more my father's daughter, the bit of my mother in me is in eternal conflict with him.

E, my mother is adorable! Extremely so. If I sell myself short, perhaps it's because she's set the bar very high. I think we both lucked out in the mother department. ;-)