08/14/2012 03:41 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

My Mother's Daughter

Written by Mary Grace Peak for

Last Sunday I visited my mother. She was in a great mood; her love permeated the room like warm sunshine. Her kind, supportive words gave me that happy feeling inside that reminds me how lucky I am to have such a great mom.

She kept telling me what a beautiful person I was, and I replied: "Of course I am. You are my mother and I am just like you!"

She looked at me with a confused look on her face and was quiet for a few seconds. I could tell she was searching her brain and grasping for a memory. Then she asked me, with innocence in her voice, "Am I really your mother?"

My mother was diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer's when I graduated from college. It is now so advanced that although she has met my 2-year-old daughter, Mia, several times, she will never remember her. I am grateful that she is still on this earth so that I can hug her and see her -- but she is not the same capable, strong woman she used to be.

My mother came to the U.S. from Floridia, a small town in Sicily, 42 years ago when she married my father, who had been living in the States since he was a teen. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for her to live in a strange country, far from family and unfamiliar with the language. She was very brave.

Even though she stayed home to raise my older sister and me, she was the embodiment of a working mom in every sense. She was always cleaning, cooking and taking care of her family. ALWAYS. She was the quintessential housewife and devoted mom. She was so meticulous a homemaker that she would even iron towels and our underwear -- but I digress.

I think of her and everything she taught me -- not only about life, but about motherhood -- every day. If ever there was a time I needed her most, this is it. To survive this mothering thing without her by my side, I always have her voice in my head -- talking in Italian, of course, since she never really did learn to speak English.

I even find myself saying the very same things to my husband and toddler that my mother would nag -- I mean instruct -- us to do for our own good. Here are some examples:

While reading, please imagine a five-foot tall woman with the strength of ten men following you around the house shouting at 20,000 decibels. You don't want to mess with Mama Lucia!

Stai quieta e mangia tua pasta!

Sit still and eat your pasta!

Non caminare scalza!
Stop walking around barefoot!

Mette la giacca!
Put on your jacket!

Attento per la face!
Literally this means watch out for that face, but she really meant "Put on some sunscreen dammit!"

I also find joy looking at photos of my sister and me growing up -- and comparing them to pictures of my daughter and her cousins today. I find myself amazed and amused at how my daughter makes the same funny, quirky facial expressions as my mom. Mia is also bossy and yells (or, I prefer to say, enthusiastically expresses her emotions) like my mom does.


My daughter, Mia, making a face that my mother used to make.

In fact, I don't really think of Mia as her granddaughter. She's more like... my mother's daughter. Our daughters are proof that life goes on. They possess the best that's in all of us and carry it through to the next generation.

Even though Mia is too young to understand, and my mom is unable to remember, they are two peas from the same pod. But my daughter will know her grandmother, because I will teach her all about our family and where she came from. And it is most comforting to already watch Mia, upon seeing a picture of her grandmother, point and say, "Nonna!"

To which I always reply, "Yes, that is your Nonna, and she loves you very, very much."


My sister and me as kids.

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