Ever since my 2-1/2-year-old son pointed to a picture of my mother and said, “Mommie,” I have been aware that I have fallen into the inevitable and have become my mother.
I was not one of those teenagers who vowed never to be like my mother. My mother treated me with respect and allowed me to be my own individual. But now, as I grow older, and look around and see myself looking and acting more and more like her, I still find it disconcerting.
When I look at my face in the mirror, more and more it is my mother I see looking back. It is the angle of my chin, the motion of my hands.
Much of my life it has been, or at least I had wanted it to be, my father’s face, since he died when I was a child and I longed for some connection.
But now it is clearly my mother. Especially right after a shower when my hair is wet and off my face. I see my cheeks clearly. I see the darkness under my eyes. I see how much older I look. My mother has always been older than I was, obviously. And now, I see, that I too am older than I was.
I want to make very clear: it is not bad to look like my mother. My mother is lovely and accomplished. She raised me on her own and I think she did a really great job. She is quite beautiful and looks nowhere near her 62 years.
In fact, on her 60th birthday, right after I had my son, as we sat in a restaurant, our waiter got carried away with complimenting her on her birthday and actually said he thought I was the mother — not that we were sisters mind you — but mother and daughter. Granted, I had just had a baby who had been hospitalized for much of his short life. I was also still quite heavy, one of the few where nursing kept the weight on me. But my 60-year-old mother’s mother? Seriously?
Not caring that he was probably just scrounging for a good tip, I began to cry. The waiter, while trying to apologize, though, only drove home the point when he said, “but I really thought that.”
I have lost the weight and the worried frown some two years later, but often I still feel that vulnerable.
But looking older is not the only way that I feel I am becoming my mother. When I open my mouth and hear not only something she would say, but how she would say it, in tone and inflection, it strikes me. The historical and genetic implications are cool to me, but the social ones can be unsettling.
I have friends who complain about how irritating or annoying their moms can be. But when I see them together I actually think that their moms are cute and adorable, borderline eccentric maybe, but nothing that would cause their grown daughters to retreat to teenagedom — eye-rolling and loud sighing.
So when my own mom starts to bring these reactions out in me, as she has been known to do, I try to take a step back and think what would I think if she were someone else’s mom. And I probably would think she was fun, maybe a little kooky, but not outrageously irritating. I am not always successful at this, as I am sure she will tell you. Perhaps I am worried as I become more and more like her that my actions are not as endearing as hers.
What I think is challenging about this process is even if you like your mother, and wouldn’t mind turning into her, you spend your whole life creating your own identity only to sort of stumble into one that is already established.
But while I aim for us to be separate from each other, when I watch her with my son, I expect her to be an extension of me, to parent as I would. When she watches him, I snap easier than I should. I hover. I treat her like she is me and expect her to respond how I would, which is entirely unfair. But I am realizing, even though I may be her extension, she is not mine. Nor should she be.
She is the grandma. She is there to indulge him and fuss over him and stare at him and think everything he does is lovely and give into his whims and his whines.
She is grandma. And a very good grandma at that. I am the mom. She is not a second mom, not another version of me.
And even though my son points and says “Mommie” to her picture (a picture I may add where she is in her late 30’s as I am now), I know I am not just another version of her.
And even if I were, if that means being mistaken for my child’s child when I am 60 years old, well then, that doesn’t seem so bad.
Rachel Zients Schinderman lives in Santa Monica with her family. She can reached at Rachel@mommiebrain.com.