I suspect I’m not alone when a glance in the mirror shocks me, because it’s my mother’s face looking back at me. Why does this unsettle me? My mom is a feisty woman. The first generation of her family to go to college, she became a teacher because that’s what her parents told her to be. She missed both the “swinging 60’s” sexual revolution and the “consciousness raising 70’s” because she was too busy working and raising her family. Both of my parents are part of the Silent Generation, children of parents who lived through the Depression and learned the best way to get along was to conform, work hard and strive for security above all else.
I’ve grappled with identity and transition all my life. Not that I’m confining this conversation to women, but I’ve found that as a group we spend a good portion of our energy managing physical change throughout our lives. We undergo many physical changes marked by our bodies: as we pass from girlhood into adulthood, from month to month, during and after pregnancy, and then, menopause. And I’m not even going to address the themes of body image and not-so-subtle pressures to maintain a standard of beauty bench-marked by youth.
We also manage emotional and psychological change as become workers, wives, partners, mothers, bosses, caregivers, empty-nesters, grandmothers, even widows. All of these changes occur over timelines that vary from woman-to-woman, and we look to our friends and elders for insight and reassurance that we’re not going through this alone (or to reassure us that we’re not crazy, weird or delusional). So after all this time and effort I put in working on my own issues, why wouldn’t I just look like an older, wiser version of myself? In my mind I picture my face at 21, but it’s just framed by grey hair and a couple of crinkles at the corners of my eyes and lips. I forget about the changes the years and environment have made to my skin, that gravity slowly pulls at my cheeks and chin(s). My own twenty-something daughter has taken to raking her hands through my hair to “see her future” in the pattern of its graying.
But just because I resemble my mother it doesn’t mean I AM my mother. We’ve both had different life experiences and outlooks. Is our shared biology destiny? Or is it a form of fear that shocks me? I’m fortunate that my mother is still here – so I can compare the arc of my aging to hers, but I’m struck by the realization that I’m just as limited by biology and time. Lately my mom speaks about her decreasing energy, and how limited she feels by her body and its aches. She is frustrated that everything just seems to take more time and effort, and I get it.
So I am face-to-face with what really scares me, and it isn’t that I’m turning into my mother, it’s that I’m watching the future — my future — unspool before me. The good news is my mom is independent and healthy, but there is still so much more I want to do, to create, to see, to work on. As a greedy child I thought my supply of sunny days was infinite, but as an adult I’ve learned that the amount of both sunny and rainy days is finite, and I want to make them all count. Which makes this blog all the more important to me – and grateful for the eyes who read it.