Mother’s hand-me-downs

pinky swearRemember all those times we swore we’d never be like our mothers? We were serious, too. We even made pinky finger swears with our best friends.

The bad news is that the older we get, the more like our mothers we become. (The good news is that we don’t live in ancient Japan where we’d have to cut off that finger for breaking the swear.)

As we age, we even begin to look like her.  The familial bone structure, without added collagen or Botox injections, faces us in the mirror. The downturn of our mouth or lift of our left brow when we’re annoyed is a twin of her expression. Omigod, we groan. I’m turning into Mother!

Such times are times to pause and reflect, not reject. Let me tell you a story to illustrate what I mean.

About a half-dozen years ago, when my mother was still living, I remember getting in a fight with her. She was criticizing something I was doing or a choice I had made—I don’t really remember exactly what it was she said, but I was so furious that I left the room and headed upstairs. I thought seriously about packing and going back to Houston, but decided I’d just go to sleep and drive home the next morning. No way I was going to stay around and listen to her berate me. (Can you visualize my stamping my foot?)

The next morning my mother woke me by stroking my hair and saying, “I’m sorry about last night. I want you to know, that wasn’t me criticizing you—that was my mother’s voice. She was so critical. Can you forgive me?” For the record, my response was: “Yes, of course.”

That’s when I began to realize we inherit more than our mother’s looks. We inherit their attitudes and values, and it is imperative that we reflect on those attitudes and values. Only then can we embrace them as our own, or release them so they don’t control our thinking.

My grandmother had many attitudes and values worth passing on. She believed in education. She taught third grade, and she cashed in her teacher retirement to pay for my mother’s last year in college. She believed in God and although she was baptized a Baptist, she followed her husband into the Church of Christ. She believed in showing a stoic character in public and grieving in private, which meant no funeral hysterics or emotional outbursts in public meetings. She believed in dressing well. An expert seamstress, she made her own and my mother’s clothes by copying haute couture outfits from high fashion magazines.

My mother embraced these same values. She was a lifelong educator, going from public school teacher to university professor to Texas prison school superintendent. She and my dad paid for my brothers’ and my undergraduate degrees, and she paid for study abroad excursions for three grandsons. She believed in God and felt especially close to the Holy Spirit. She left her Church of Christ upbringing to join the Catholic Church when she married my father. She had an iron will that earned her the respect of men and woman alike, but she was equally known for her kindness. She seldom sewed, but she had a keen eye for fashion and knew how to invest in classic clothes. Heads turned when she walked in the room.

She also inherited her mother’s sharp tongue. Did I? Much as I’d like to say no, my very close friends, my son, and my sweetie will tell you, “Sometimes.” Which is their way of saying yes, but in a nice way because they love me and know I’m trying to stop being critical of others.

I pinky swear I am!