Catherine Ford Gets Personal

One year: A challenge for change


with one comment

I really don’t look like my mother. Indeed, I look more like my father’s sister than the Irish side of the family. But I swear I see my mother in the mirror out of the corner of my eye.

Actually, that’s a good thing. Thinking I am her in so many gestures and even beliefs makes me treasure her memory more. For all of the difficulties that naturally arise between mother and daughter and all the selfish, whiny books such relationships have spawned, our mother has left a storehouse of wonderful memories for all three of her children.

I know my relationship with my mother was vastly different than my sister’s with the same woman. My sister lives, I believe, much freer of Mother’s influence and much freer of any need for validation from her. In a way, I envy that. I truly wish I didn’t care: didn’t care what Mother thought, didn’t care what anyone thought, other that my own inner compass. And now, I care too much what my sister thinks. Of all the women in the world, she is the most dear to me and what she thinks matters. Maybe that’s more a reflection of me than her — having grown up wanting to see myself reflected back in the eyes of my mother, here I am at 65 still needing validation.

“For all of us raised in the current style of Western family life, the relationship with mother birthed us physically and emotionally, gave us our first experiences with love and need, disappointment and hurt,” write Luise Eichenbaum and Susie Orbach in Between Women: Love Envy and Competition in Women’s Friendships.

That emotional relationship with our mother, its legacy, “is etched in the deepest recesses of our hearts. It is the guide and foundation for our future relationship. It sets up needs, ways of being, ways of loving, expectations and hopes.”

Then there’s the adage that counsels prospective husbands to look to their lover’s mother to see what the future holds. And while that advice is clearly meant as a warning, there’s much truth in the thought. William Shakespeare said it better, though in his third sonnet: “Thou art thy mother’s glass and she in thee/ Calls back the lovely April of her prime.”

That mirror of our mother colours all of our relationships. Write Eichenbaum and Orbach: “The social context of the mother-daughter relationship is an important key to explaining not only the bittersweet nature of that relationship but its impact on adult women’s relationship. As we understand what could and could not happen for our mothers in their lifetime, as we understand what could and could not happen in our relationships with our mothers, we can begin to understand the forces operating in our current women-to-women relationships.”

I can already hear my mother’s snort of dismissal. Peggy Ford wasn’t much given to self-examination or reflection. For her, what was past is done and gone, what matters is only what’s in front of you in life. In a way, this too, is admirable. Maybe not exactly in the way that the 5th Century BCE philosopher Socrates believed —the unexamined life not being worth living — but the ability to lay the past to rest and move on. If my mother ever had regrets about the choices she made, they were rarely spoken.

I remember only two: her musing one day that she had wanted to be a doctor but there was no money in rural Ireland in the late 1930s for higher education, so she became a nurse instead and, much later, her chagrin that while she was the family “banker” and bill payer, her husband wouldn’t let her gamble on the real estate market.

There were many things to admire about Mother, but maybe the best was her absolute unflappability in a crisis. As my brother said at her funeral, she was the one person you’d want around in any crisis.

When my parents and our across-the-street neighbours went out one night in Edmonton to a formal ball and some deranged nutbar tried to commit suicide by throwing himself out of the window onto the sidewalk, the neighbor who was a surgeon and my mother, the wartime nurse, dashed outside to render medical assistance. She could have been in a hospital emergency ward rather than kneeling on a downtown sidewalk in a formal gown, blood everywhere, she was that cool.

Few diets ever focus on the mother-daughter relationship, ignoring the fact that how our mothers looked at food and their relationship with their own bodies and all the issues surrounding that is a psychological key to our own success.

In an recent issue of Women’s Health magazine, one of the cover “teasers” was the question: Will You Inherit Your Mother’s Body? The writer, Margaret Renkl, quotes Leann L, Birch, a professor of human development at Penn State University, who “has discovered that your mother’s attitude toward food has a powerful impact on the one you develop yourself.”

As for developing my mother’s body, the magazine offers the thought that you can’t “override a genetic disposition,” but you can fight like hell against it. I suspect, along with the writer, that in the end, nature wins against nurture.

After all, more than half a year, more than half-way through this campaign, I still don’t have a waist. Although I have managed — usually — to overcome the habit of wearing loose-fitting clothing, although I’m not quite at the point of tucking in each and every shirt

That, I know, I inherited from my mother who wasn’t ever fat, but dressed to disguise her impressive bosom which attracted way too much attention that she didn’t want.

I take heart from a silly and very funny book my sister received on her 60th birthday: Laugh Lines Are Beautiful and Other Age-Defying Truths, written by Leigh Anne Jasheway-Bryant. My favourite? “It’s stupid to hold in your stomach and your opinions for anyone.”

In second place: “It is possible to be too thin, too tan and too bitchy.”

But the most telling quote from the book is this one: “You’re only half as old as your mother was at your age.”

There are many reasons for this, including better childhood health and better available nutrition.

And adding to all that is he simple fact that come next year, the first Baby Boomers become senior citizens, turning 65. Grey power, indeed. From 2011 until 2029, millions of them will use their numerical power to rewrite what old age means.

I can’t wait.

NEXT: How I failed retirement


Written by Catherine Ford

June 29, 2010 at 9:58 am

Posted in Uncategorized

One Response

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  1. Love this – love you. Perhaps it’s because I have a sister who like yours can eschew maternal approval, while I still seek it. Perhaps it’s just because you write so tenderly of Peggy – the woman I only met once – but through your writing I feel I know.

    Jennifer Diakiw

    June 29, 2010 at 12:52 pm

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