Becoming My Mother

I wrote this piece a few years ago, but it is still one of my favorite essays about one of my favorite people.

If you ever visit Burlington, Vermont, you'll find lots to see and do.  Walk along the sparkling water of Lake Champlain and visit the vibrant downtown. If you're a shopper, you'll find no shortage of options.  My favorite place to shop in the Burlington area is on Dorset Street. It's not the University Mall with its conglomeration of chain stores. Across the street from the mall, in a small plaza, is a thrift store called Replays.  For the six years I lived in the Green Mountain state, that was my go-to place for collecting unique pieces. Some of my best finds included a v-neck Banana Republic shift that is still my favorite little black dress, a charcoal gray blazer that could have been tailored especially for me, and a yellow fleece that became my security blanket for long winters. Once, though, Replays provided a serendipitous retail therapy experience that left me with a surprising realization.

One autumn, just a few months after my daughter was born, my mother came to visit. My mom just happens to be the queen of thrift store shopping and gladly accompanied me on a visit to Replays. We split up as we browsed through the store and I met her near the dressing rooms.  She went into one to try on a skirt, and re-emerged a few minutes later wearing a navy wool A-line piece that looked vaguely familiar.

“So what do you think?” she asked, spinning around.

I walked a little closer for a better look and then burst into giggles.

“What's so funny?” she asked.

“Well, it's a nice skirt, but it can get kind of itchy. I just donated that a few weeks ago,” I replied.

“You're kidding! That's like finding a needle in a haystack,” she said.

I wondered what that said about my own fashion choices as my mother, almost 30 years my senior, was collecting a piece of my former wardrobe. I stood beside her and looked in the full-length mirror.  I smiled at the reflection of three generations--my mother and I, with my daughter sleeping against my chest in a sling. I was struck by how alike my mother and I are in appearance: the same brown hair and similar oval faces, mine smooth, and hers showing the evidence of time with fine lines. The same petite frame and pear-shaped body. I thought about all the fashion lessons I'd learned from her over the years: that skirts and sundresses will always look better on our body type than shorts in summertime, that classic pieces are always better than fads, and the how-tos of finding high quality clothes at bargain prices. I thought briefly of that phrase becoming my mother.  But I realized that perhaps becoming more like my mother wouldn't be a terrible thing.

Since my daughter was born I've been able to fully appreciate all the sacrifices my mother made to raise four children.  She has always offered support, encouragement, and shown me unconditional love. Through the skinned knees of childhood, drama of adolescence, and the joys and disappointments of adulthood, she has been my biggest cheerleader. She chose to be a stay-at-home mom while my brothers and I were young, which meant pinching pennies for several years.  She started her teaching career later in life and has become a phenomenal educator, creating a classroom environment that shows the same dedication to her students that she has always shown her own children. I have learned so much from her both personally and professionally.

As I looked in the mirror that day I made a promise to my daughter to try to be as good a mother to her as my own has been.  I realized then that becoming my mother wasn't something to dread, but something to aspire to.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom, and thanks for everything.