Have You Become Your Mother?


When my mother had been widowed about three years, we took her on a tour of a residential development for active seniors near where we lived in New York. She was visiting from her home in Michigan, and our plan was to get her to move. From our point of view, she was rattling around all alone in a three-bedroom house, and she rarely got a chance to see the grandchildren. We thought she’d jump at the opportunity to sell her property and not only settle into a community with people her own age but also be a short drive from her family.

Wrong. She politely but firmly refused and I couldn’t understand why. Now, though, I totally get it. I’m a single ThirdAger myself, and although I adore my grandchildren, I don’t want to uproot myself to move from New York to Phoenix. Looking back, I realize that my mother had roots of her own. Her routine then was very different from mine now, but only in the particulars. She belonged to church groups and a dating club called Mature Minglers. (Seriously!) I take ballet classes and get together with my friends for dinner or day trips to the country — Manhattan-speak for the suburbs. My mom loved her multigenerational neighborhood with the little kids across the street and the young couple next door and the empty nesters down the block. I love my multigenerational apartment building with that same cast of characters plus others such as the live-in superintendent who takes care of my cats when I’m away, the Japanese family across the hall that invites me over for parties, and the charming centenarian who still walks her own dog and loves to chat.

Pondering those realizations, I started thinking about other ways in which, to my surprise, I now appreciate what my mother felt and did when she was the age I am now. She hardly cooked at all after so many years of making proper meals when she was bringing me up. Instead, she ate out a lot or popped a Lean Cuisine into the microwave. I do that these days, too. She became an opera buff and listened to Milton Cross faithfully on the radio. I walk to Lincoln Center to the opera. She read voraciously, all those books she had been meaning to read for so long. Mine are on my Kindle, but that’s the only difference.

Also, she didn’t want Christmas presents to lug back home in her suitcase and then clutter up her living space. I would pout because I liked picking out and wrapping presents for her and I hated the idea of her being the only one who wouldn’t have something under the tree. One year I ignored her wishes and bought her an Elizabeth Taylor fragrance gift set because she had always been star struck. She thanked me graciously on Christmas morning but asked me the next day if I could return it. She said she’d rather donate the money to the church.