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Dear Girls: On How We Measure Our Mothers


Dear Girls,

I’ve been missing my mom a lot lately. So often during my days I find myself staring off into oblivion, wishing I could talk to her about all the things that are running through my head. I don’t know if she would have any answers for me, not the ones I’m looking for anyway (I don’t think anyone has those), but I know that she knew me, and that with just a few words she would be able to see right into the depths of what it is I’m feeling these days. She would be able to tell me where I am, even if she couldn’t explain why.

I hope that I get to know you girls like that too. That I come to understand who you are deep, deep down, even if you are very different from who I am. But I know that even if the three of us end up on completely different paths, you’ll still look to me over and over throughout your lives. I will become the inevitable barometer against which you measure your actions.

Just as I do with my own mother, you will find yourself evaluating your choices against mine. My mother did this. My mother did not do that. My mother was this age when she did this. My mother always reacted this way when that happened. And there will be no right or wrong ways of being, just measurements. There will be a thousand things I do that you will disagree with, and another thousand that you will want to copy word for word. There will be parts of who I am that will make you shake your head and swear up and down to yourself that you will never, ever be. There will be other things about me that you will envy or try to emulate for all of your days to come.

I am more aware than ever that this is beginning to unfold, that the ties between the three of us are winding around one another, threading into a larger cord that stretches back through my mother and hers, and the women who came before them, each of us weaving ourselves into something that holds us together no matter who we become.

My mother was forty when I was born. She had been married twice before my father, but I was her first (and only) child. Becoming a mother changed (enhanced?) everything about who she was. Long after she was gone my father used to shake his head and wonder what would have become of her had he not met and married and created a child with her. He would chuckle with mild scorn in his voice about “that damn walk up apartment” she was living in in Manhattan, all of her weird artist friends, her debt and her flailing career choices.

At times I chuckled with him, shaking my head. My silly mom, I’d agree. But now I think about her, living her life in New York, just being whoever she was. If my father hadn’t come along, if I had never been born, that would have been okay too, I think. Because she knew how to love. She loved people and moments and places and food and art and music. She loved really simple things, she knew how to sink down into the essence of something, how to be within a thing. Some of my most favorite moments in my own life I attribute to her, if only because she taught me how to take them in, how to lean back in the seat of a convertible to look up at the night sky, how to be quiet with my ear to the grass, listening to the earth move, and how to see myself even when I’m alone.

I don’t know what I will teach the two of you, what lasting lessons I will impart, but I hope that they will be as profound as the ones my mother left me with. I am a complicated woman, I know. I have so many faults, so many impulses and fears and soft sides, so many hard sides too. You will run up against them over and over, and maybe with time you’ll smooth down all the edges of me, like waves against stones. You’ll loosen me, undo me, create me, just as I did with my own mother.

With all my heart,



  1. stunning

    Comment by antonia on February 7, 2013 at 11:12 am

  2. But do we always mythologize our parents? Some of us do, some of us do not – perhaps your experience of losing your mum at such a young age will make you different from your girls.

    Comment by Julia on February 7, 2013 at 1:29 pm

  3. This is as sweet as the girls in the picture. Your mom would have been proud of you and her grandkids.

    Comment by Aysu on February 7, 2013 at 7:09 pm

  4. Just found you (from etst) and i’m so glad. You speak to my heart and you speak from my heart since i’m 38, motherless for 20 years and a mother myself for the last 4 years having two girls (4y and 15m). I feel like you’re expressing my own thoughts and feelings. You are a great writer, so charismatic!

    Comment by Natasa on February 13, 2013 at 2:17 pm

  5. I just read your post finding my mother on Enjoying The Small Things. It just resonated with me. I too lost my mother at 19 and have grown into a woman since then. I just love that you say you have found her again as you have had your own children. I really look forward to that someday.

    Comment by Sam on February 14, 2013 at 11:19 am

  6. “You’ll loosen me, undo me, create me.” I like that line. A lot.

    This is beautiful.

    You will teach them how to be “brave, ambitious and hungry for the world…”


    Comment by Baby by the Sea on February 19, 2013 at 5:09 pm

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