Am I My Mother’s Daughter?

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What a monumentally historic day it was for women when Hillary Clinton accepted the nomination for President at the 2016 Democratic National Convention. She said,

“Standing here as my mother’s daughter, and my daughter’s mother, I’m so happy this day has come. When any barrier falls in America, for anyone, it clears the way for everyone.”

I can only reflect on being “my mother’s daughter” and not on “my daughter’s mother.” I am the mother of sons, but if Hillary had male offspring it would have been an historic day for them as well. Hillary is right that any breached barrier will benefit all, except perhaps for those who wish to retain, shore-up, or build fences to keep others from achieving their dreams.

My mother, Anne, didn’t have a middle name because her immigrant mother was too worn out to think of one. Anne was born in Boston, on June 26, 1908 and died October 17, 2003. My grandmother, Minnie, bore eleven children in America. Eight of them lived into adulthood. Anne was the third youngest and by the time she was old enough to remember, her mother had stopped taking care of her. Maybe it was because of the death of children and the daily struggle to put food on the table, but Minnie seemed to have broken apart. Her behavior was erratic and scary. She yelled at people without cause, fought stridently with her husband, and threw bottles at noisy cars. From a very young age, every Friday afternoon, Anne, with her younger sister took a ferry from East Boston to the West End where their very old, blind grandmother bathed them, washed their hair, cooked dinner, and baked cookies. She knew Minnie, wasn’t taking care of them.

When I was old enough to want to understand my mom’s history, I asked her how she managed to live through the menacing atmosphere at home. “I just ignored it,” she said. “If I let it get to me, I knew I would have gone crazy myself.”

That one sentence frames the persona that my mother carried with her throughout her life. Her personality was both realistic and practical. She saw with great clarity what was going around her, but she had the capacity to hover over difficulties and look for optimistic solutions. Everyone valued this. When there was a problem people came to her for help.

It wasn’t so much what my mother said to me about a good way of living. It was more what I saw her do. She embodied a set of values that I don’t think she would have been able to define herself. She just did what she did and I watched, listened, and absorbed her reactions into me.

My mother wanted to go to college and be a social worker. She was even accepted at Simmons College. But shortly before she graduated from high school (with honors) her father died and she had work to buy coal to heat the house. I have years of college and graduate school. But I feel intensely that my academic learning is far inferior to the basic, common-sense, intuitive knowledge that is within me. I definitely got this quality from her. My mom didn’t consciously pass this on, of course. She had no control over what would come out in the gene-pool mix. But I think I have it and it is what sustains me in all of the variations of my own life. It is my steadfast foundation.

I think I am my mother’s daughter, but that does not mean that I am a clone of her. She was unique, just as I am the only me. She certainly advocated for people she loved and for causes that she believed in, but she had to be selective on where she put her energy. Maybe I do these things too.

In many ways I am my mother’s daughter. But I am also my father’s daughter, my aunts’ and uncles’ niece. I am my siblings’ sibling. I’m my sons’ mother and mother-in-law to their wives. I am my grandchildren’s grandma, and I am my friends’ friend. All of these relationships have shaped me and continue to influence how I see and do things. I have incorporated pieces of all of them into me.

The passage of time informs the idea of being my mother’s daughter. As she aged and I aged along with her, we both changed. I grew in understanding and knowledge as she declined physically and mentally. She provided a model for aging and dying that I hope to replicate. She put all her affairs in order, made good decisions such as not driving anymore, and moving to be closer to me so I didn’t have to drive back and forth to take care of her. Once she made those major changes, she was content to enjoy some social family times, and then gradually just let the clock tick out. That’s what I want to do. So, maybe mom, I am your daughter.

 

Comments

  1. Fran Korten

    September 4, 2016

    Marion,
    What a beautiful essay. Thanks for sharing so fully. I certainly see that practical mother in you — and it is showing up quite wonderfully in your series of essays. And you — just like your mother — are someone many of us can look to for practical wisdom.
    Fran

  2. Marian Knapp

    September 4, 2016

    Thanks Fran. I am humbled by your comments. Marian

  3. Sharon Calender

    September 7, 2016

    Marian,
    What a beautiful piece. As I have gotten older, I have heard myself say, I am my Mother’s Daughter. But like you, I see my grandmother who as far as I was concerned was a gem. Her ability to love unconditionally truly transcended to me. I,too am the mother of sons, but I see me in my sons in the positive way they treat people and through their kindness. Thanks for sharing, for the thoughts and keep them coming.

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About Marian

Marian Leah Knapp, Ph.D., wants to start a new conversation about “aging with intent.” Much of what is written about elders is from the point of view of physicians, psychiatrists, gerontologists, and adult children. In her roles as author, columnist, speaker and elder activist, Marian is reporting from the front lines.
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