In 1984, my mom died. She was 50 and I was 19. She had breast cancer. Let me back up a minute to tell you why she died. We were a bohemian, hippie family living in Topanga, California. We were vegans (that included no white sugar or white flour) and only organic food. We didn’t own a TV. When my mom got sick, she never saw a doctor, not trusting “Western” medicine. Instead, she tried to heal her disease with herbs. It didn’t work. She died at home.
For a long time, I rejected my upbringing. It was austere and strict. As a teenager, I ate Cheetos and candy whenever I could. These days, I’m not a vegan, I don’t always eat organic. I try to raise my kids, 7 and 10 years old, with the word “balance” as my guiding principle. We eat healthy food, but we also eat Cheerios and white rice. We go to the doctor and the dentist and I don’t freak out if the school serves cookies for a birthday celebration.
Lately an interesting thing has happened. I find myself trying to break down barriers I’ve put up against the way I was raised. Now that I’m a mom, I find myself drawn to some of the principles my mom instilled in me. Rather than hating and wholly rejecting what she taught me, I find myself questioning some of the ideas to see if they have relevance for my kids today. Maybe it’s my subconscious way of trying to stay connected to my mom.
In her groundbreaking book Motherless Mothers, Hope Edelman writes, “It’s as if they (women) need to connect with their mothers in order to feel they have mothering skills.” She goes on to ask, “What does it mean to connect with one’s mother, especially twenty years after she died?” That explains everything.
Sometimes, when I’m in the grocery store, I’ll automatically pick up organic produce. Since when have I ever cared about eating organic? I find myself thinking about living a more eco-friendly lifestyle. My mom used to compost. I’m not there yet, but I have been giving a lot more thought to green living. She was devoted to yoga and meditation. I can’t sit still long enough for either.
But, perhaps the biggest homage to my mom: we’re moving to the rustic hills of LA, after years in the flats. Again, this is so reminiscent of my childhood in Topanga. Could I really be incorporating the lifestyle my mom taught me into my family’s life? The education and habits I once criticized and mocked? Once in a while, when I’m grocery shopping, reaching for organic carrots, I catch my breath as tears well up in my eyes. I’m reminded of my mom and her insistence on eating only the freshest, locally grown produce.
Of course, I customize the things she taught me to fit my family. I’m far less strict about white flour, dairy and white sugar than my mom was. These days there are a lot more options for healthy food. Back then, tasteless tofu, stinky wheat-grass juice, cardboard-like wheat bread and dowdy whole-wheat pasta were about it for health foods. Now we have Raw Agave non-dairy ice cream and vegan donut holes from Whole Foods. I’m addicted!
Leave it to the powerful influence of our mothers to guide us when we become moms, even if they are no longer with us. I want (and need) a connection to her. This may be an incredibly meaningful, lasting way I secure that connection.
The fact that I’m emulating my mom is a testament to her amazing spirit. She is the first person who taught me about healthy living and I plan to honor her mothering in my own way. I love the connection I feel to her when I incorporate more healthful ways of eating into my family’s life. This is the legacy I am passing on to my kids. I’m adding new relevance to family traditions. Even if those traditions are non-traditional.
I think my mom would be very proud.
QUESTION: What is something that you do as a mother that emulates the habits or traits of your own mother?
CHALLENGE: Break down the barriers of certain ways we were raised and change them into motivation to do better.