Becoming My Mother

By Linda O'Connell

Becoming My Mother

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. 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.

About this writer

  • Linda O’ConnellLinda O’Connell is a seasoned preschool teacher and award-winning freelance writer from St. Louis, Missouri. Her prose and poetry have appeared in books, magazines and anthologies. As Linda waltzed through the decades, she discovered her age of elegance was in her forties, but she isn’t complaining. Life has been an adventure. Linda resides in the Midwest but her heart and soul hang out at the beach.

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31 Responses to “Becoming My Mother”

  1. Tammy says:

    Like the best mothers, this piece is the ideal mix of sentiment and honesty and humor and love. Nicely done.

  2. Bridget says:

    This made me think of the time Ryan came home from preschool and asked why I didn’t wear makeup and high heels like Miss Linda! haha!

  3. Linda’s poignant portrayal of generational push and pull made me smile. But I have a son, no daughters, so my child doesn’t have to worry about becoming me. In a way, that saddens me. I still remember Mama telling me and my sister that she hoped we’d grow up to have kids just like us. I never knew if that was supposed to be a blessing or a curse. Thanks, Sasee, for publishing this.

  4. Jayson says:

    Very touching. I felt as if i were there in the room with you and your family. So very beautifully written.

  5. Liz M says:

    Every passing day I look in the mirror and look more like my mother….she is a wonderful woman inside and out….this made me smile.

  6. I love this writer’s columns. This one about her mother captures it all: the shift from past tense to present – a true mark of her literary skills. The imagery, the detail, the deep emotional resonance are so effective and true. I found myself thinking, “How would I write about my own mother or, more to the point, my father?” I see it in the mirror, as does Linda.
    The internet is filled with wanna be writers. Linda, thankfully, is the real deal.

  7. Val says:

    I love the razor comment at the end! Well done. Makes me miss my mom.

  8. Tammy,
    Thank you. I so appreciate your comments.

  9. Gerry, I am so touched by your comments. So touched! Thank you.

  10. Val, my heart breaks for your loss, and yes, the razor bit was just my mom! Thank you for your comments.

  11. Delightful piece! Like saggy boobs and gray hair and poor memory, we have becoming our mohter to look forward to! Like it or not! Nice job bringing your mother to life on the page.

  12. The story really got to my heart. It is so true. It isn’t until we age that we realize that it is a compliment to be like our mother. I sure do miss nine.

  13. Theresa Sanders says:

    As we move through the seasons of our lives, we begin to realize that our parents’ rules and little idiosyncrasies weren’t nearly as restrictive or annoying as we thought them to be. This essay demonstrates so poignantly the mother/daughter bond in all its beautiful glory, and the touch of humor at the end leaves the reader smiling. Lovely words, Linda!

  14. Tracey says:

    You certainly have a way with words that draw the reader into the story. I can just see your little mom & you through the years. Every girl or woman can relate. I thoroughly enjoyed your story. Great writing skills!

  15. Diane Thompson says:

    Well written .Made me think of my spunky Aunt Virginia. 😉

  16. Erika Hoffman says:

    I could see all the passages, all the stages in life, all the epiphanies you had as you viewed your mom getting older, your own ageing, and your daughter’s. Very easy to picture. You’re a skilled writer.

  17. Yes, if we are lucky enough to get to the age you and I are, we DO get mustaches. And droopy eyelids. AND we get to see things come full circle when it comes to girls railing against their mothers.

    This was sweet and funny, Linda. Thanks for sharing your stories.

  18. Thanks for the gentle way of reassuring us that we women have this universal bond. Wanting to appreciate and respect our mothers while dreading the inevitable path we follow.

  19. Hope Clark says:

    NIcely done. Sure gives me pause.

  20. I’m glad I read this before heading to work, because now there’s time to fix my makeup. You made me cry big sloppy tears. I miss my mom so much, every day, and I saw myself in every word of your essay. The older I get, the more I see my mom in myself. At 16, this would have bothered me. At 55, I’m grateful for it.

  21. Rose Ann says:

    Ah, Linda, we could have been sisters! Every time I look in the mirror, I see bits and pieces of my mom. Her sayings automatically come out of my mouth and we both keep tweezers in drawers all over the house! Loved your story!

  22. Beautiful love story of generations past, present, and future. I can certainly identify with this story as I see my mother’s face more and more in the mirror.

  23. Lee O'Donnell says:

    I can relate to this story, I too can remember the image to follow in my mother’s footsteps, then not be like her at all. Now I see that I am my “mother’s daughter”. Thanks for the reminder, Linda, you say these things so well!!

  24. What a beautifully written piece. Absolutely love it.

  25. One afternoon not long after my mom died, I walked up the stairs to my parent’s house and Dad turned and saw me in the stairwell. I said “Hey!” and the look on his face–He thought Mom had come back from the dead and walked up the stairs for him. :-) We were–are–that much alike, my mom and me.

  26. My dear readers,
    Every single one of your comments have touched my heart. Thank you so much.

  27. Faye Adams says:

    A great write. I walked down the road, all the way through with you, relating at every point. I am now at the stage of looking in the mirror and saying, “Hello, Mom.”

  28. Pat says:

    Lovely story, Linda. I think we all carry something of our mother that becomes more evident to us as time passes.

  29. Linda, loved your story. From teenagers on we worry about becoming our mothers. Then one day we realize that’s a good thing. My daughter gave me this card for Mother’s Day: “Some daughters worry about turning into their moms. Me, I actually work at it.” Priceless!

  30. Sandi says:

    Delightful!

    I hope to be like your mom one day. :)

  31. Your comments mean so much. Thank you!

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