07/09/2013 07:27 am ET Updated Sep 08, 2013

FACE IT: So What If We Turn Into Our Mothers?


We have all said it: maybe when we notice our suddenly wrinkling skin or the brittling of the bones; or perhaps when we find ourselves using long-ago dreaded words in scolding out own children. I have turned into my mother. A friend recovering from recent surgery limped into her kitchen where her husband half jokingly remarked, 'you look like your mom.' Clearly, it was not meant as a compliment.

I contend it is time to turn this negative into a positive. I don't know about your mother, but mine added up to much more than the sum of her parts. Or perhaps I have come to understand her better, as I get older. Yes, we all made fun of her for freezing every drop of food rather than throwing it away, and driving 40 minutes out of her way to save 75 cents on an avocado. But she had been a Depression baby and those are memories that linger.

Mothers like ours often didn't go through college: mine always had a chip on her shoulder about it, and belittled her own smarts. But also like many of her generation, she had -- and imparted -- a kind of wisdom I have come to appreciate with the years. She was the one, for example, who tried to crack through my five and a half years of stubbornness and tell me I would be sorry if I didn't have a second child. Those words always rankled, and a few years later, I was lucky enough to do exactly that.

There were so many times she was the one there, so she was the one who had to spoon the medicine down. I recall yelling at her insensitivity when she suggested that a boyfriend who was then breaking my heart on a regular basis, would likely just end up a friend. It's not what I wanted to hear. But she was right. Father may have known more, but Mother usually knew best.

So many of our moms had a kind of forthrightness and candor that seems refreshingly quaint in these cautious, politically correct times. Some of their words tended to be tactless, even hurtful at times. I recall how my mom brought her soon to be granddaughter-in-law to tears when she and my nephew described the kind of wedding they were planning. My mother said it was far beyond their means. We all knew that was true, but she was the only one with the nerve to say so. I am often chided by family members these days as saying something that "your mother... or Grandma--would have said." And you know what? That is okay with me.

In the end, we inherit far more from our parents than what they put in the will. For the lucky ones, it may be great cheekbones that never slacken. For others, it may be thinning hair, the gum problems, the funny frankness. I certainly knew others loved my mother, but when a parent passes away, you really get it. I still recall when the rabbi -- and a close family friend -- came over to plan the memorial. Our family matter-of-factly started discussing details. It was the rabbi who grabbed our hands and said, 'slow down here...this is Grace we're talking about." And there was my close friend's little boy pulling me aside the day of the memorial to say -- in that powerfully simple kid-style -- "I'm sorry about your mom. She was a nice lady."

No, it doesn't take a funeral, at least I hope not. But it definitely takes time to appreciate our mothers in deep and profound ways. For so long, I always claimed that I was more like my father in his ambition and drive. Of course, when I was raising children and found myself repeating exactly what I had been told, I saw things from both sides now. It was my mother who did the bulk of the real work -- the kind they don't pay you for. She was the one whose voice I longed to hear every day after school, and even as she became frail and would bleed with every scrape, I still saw her as strong, playing tennis three times a week, grabbing my own children--she was in her late 70s when they came into the world -- and wrapping them in her arms.

I am well aware that many folks have mothers they truly don't want to emulate: those who were not nice ladies, who didn't have the energy or compassion to grandparent well, who couldn't find a way to age with grace. I pledge never again to say, "I have turned into my mother" unless I make it very clear that I am, in fact, bragging.

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