The inevitable has happened. The insidious process has reached its conclusion. The final step has been taken, and the journey is over. I can deny it no longer. I have become my mother!
Despite our self-righteous cries as young girls that we will never be like her, one day we look in the mirror, and there she is, peering back at us.
This should not be shocking. Certainly our own aging process was genetically designed to parallel hers. Mine started in my twenties with the appearance of the first prematurely gray hairs. Which, by the way, I used to pull out. But this only works for so long, unless you prefer bald spots to gray patches. So I stopped pulling and started dying.
Familiar patterns of lines and wrinkles begin to emerge. The threat of a double chin avoided with just a touch of liposuction. Recognizable facial expressions and gestures. You catch yourself in mid-sentence and realize that you are about to say something that is exactly what she would have said. Something you swore you would never say.
And the list of similarities goes on. But in my case, the ultimate surrender was The Beach!
Two blogs ago I attempted to evoke your sympathy by revealing my deprived childhood and how I never went to summer camp. But there was compensation in the form of weekend family trips to the ocean.
My father was in charge of the food. He would cook roast beef and make potato salad, and start the sandwich preparation early in the morning. Coolers and jugs and beach chairs, blankets, toys and towels would be loaded into the trunk of his latest used car.
This was accompanied by hats and shirts, and changes of clothing. Heaven forbid we should get a chill from wearing our wet bathing suits. (Weren’t bathing suits supposed to get wet?) We were embarking on a fifteen minute drive to Coney Island with enough gear to travel the Alcan Highway!
I was happy. My brother was happy. I think my father was happy. The only one who was miserable was my mother. My mother intensely disliked the beach!
Her attitude was a complete enigma to me. And so contrary to my own. I was thrilled to be at the beach. I loved the sense of freedom. I loved the sun, the gentle waves, collecting shells. I loved playing in the sand and burying my brother, wishing I didn’t have to dig him out.
My father seemed content. He swam, then relaxed and read the newspaper. And where was my mother while all of this was happening?
Where she always was during these forays. Covered from head to toe and sitting under an umbrella. Occasionally she could be coaxed to wade up to her knees, but after five minutes, she would scurry back to her hiding place.
There was nothing about the beach that pleased my mother. She hated the sun. She hated the feel of the sun lotion. She hated the sand. She had a special facial expression that she reserved for when some of it got in her food. Sort of a cross between seeing a dead animal with its guts hanging out and biting into a lemon.
Her favorite part of the day was when it was time to go home. Then she could get into a shower and wash away all the gritty unpleasantness.
Could this beach-hater be my real mother? I was convinced that I had been adopted.
When I reached adolescence, and could travel to the beach on my own with a group of friends, I think my mother ceremoniously burned her bathing suit.
My own romance with beaches did not end in childhood. Any opportunity to spread a blanket, I was there! Domestic beaches, foreign beaches, man-made beaches on a lake, it didn’t matter. Beach vacations were the best. Despite being enveloped in total inertia, you could still feel like you were doing something. You were at the beach!
When my children were young, I took them to the beach, and once again, the trunk of the car was packed to overflowing with stuff!
It was always my dream to own a house at the beach, which we did for 10 happy years. My own children now grown, I lived my fantasy of walking with my dogs every morning and watching them joyfully take on the challenge of the crashing waves. It was back to being easy. Dogs don’t require a lot of stuff!
Then my husband suggested moving to Florida. When I could finally speak again, I told him that one of my conditions was that we live near the beach. And so we did.
But gradually the universe began to shift.
Now on the beach, you will see a woman, covered in protective clothing, with hat and sunglasses, sitting under an umbrella. She does not appreciate the sun and has slathered herself in sun screen. She fears skin cancer and more brown spots. She might venture into the water for a quick swim, but feels safer under the shelter.
She hates how the sun screen causes the sand to stick to her skin. She tries to open a bottle of water and is annoyed that there is sand all over the cap. But for the sake of her husband, she endures. Finally he’s ready to leave, and she is once again happy.
This woman could be my mother. But it’s not. It’s me. The transformation is now complete.
Originally published July 16, 2014