We are standing in a dressing room staring at the mirror. The object under scrutiny is a pair of jeans — expensive jeans.
“Bend!” the younger woman in the tight little cubicle — my daughter — commands the older woman — me. I do.
“Turn!” she commands.
I find myself trying to read her face for clues, or perhaps a verdict. But Nancy is already handing me the next pair. They are “boot-legs,” she explains with just a hint of condescension. I think of Prohibition. She thinks passé.
I am no jeans expert, but this daughter clearly is. She knows her brands, her cuts, the minimum essentials of fit. She leads — I humbly follow.
If somebody asked me to pinpoint the precise moment when I began learning about jeans — and life — from my daughters, I probably couldn’t do it. But I find myself turning to my three daughters for a road map to everything from where to go on the Internet to find an obscure line of poetry to how to introduce shitake mushrooms into a salad.
I used to attempt casualness when I found myself floundering, a bit lost in the world that seems to belong to their generation. Mine is talking more about our home health-care policies and IRAs than about the hottest movies.
I used to pretend I was just “grazing” in Jill, Amy and Nancy’s collective wisdom, because accepting this reversal felt humbling. Even embarrassing. Once, I was the queen of wisdom. I doled out the advice, and they took it, at least until they were adolescents.
The decades slipped away. Our daughters left us for campuses where we could occasionally glimpse their lives, but never fully know them. They fell in love. They traveled. They married. They had babies and careers.
My years of sweeping change seemed to end as theirs began.
The older I got, the more I was amazed at how little I knew about some of the things about which they knew so much. When I felt particularly stupid or naïve, I had to remind myself that these smart daughters of mine, all in their 40s now, were the beneficiaries of social movements — the sexual revolution and the women’s movement — that came along a tad too late for me.
I was a senior in college when I met and married the second man who asked me. The first danced well, but had no character, which I somehow sensed, even at age 20. The one I married had lots of it — and was an older man of 27. I went from college to marriage with no stops along the way.
Miraculously, we’re still together. And in those intervening years, I finally grew from girl to woman to person. But there were still so many gaps.
Not for our daughters, who lived in coed dorms, and married later, with more focus and with strong identities all their own.
So increasingly, I would find myself borrowing from Jill, Amy and Nancy’s enormous stashes of self-confidence and certainty.
“What would you do if so-and-so happened?” I would attempt as they got older, listening for their responses more keenly than I liked to admit. If we were on the phone, and they couldn’t see me, I’d even take notes.
I’m still playing catch-up. More recently, I’ve just come right out and asked for help. It’s easier and more honest than the pretense of nonchalance. I can’t tell whether it makes me seem appealingly vulnerable to my daughters, or just someone in need of tolerant sympathy.
But oh, what I’ve learned.
My daughters have taught me, without ever preaching, that life is an adventure, that even a woman who never played a single sport seriously because only boys did that still can learn the exhilaration of a fit body. They have demonstrated that it is possible to fit three weeks’ worth of clothes into one small suitcase.
They’ve insisted that I try bikini underwear, yoga and tofu. I flunked that last one.
My daughters have convinced me that women friends are to be cherished because, most of the time, they give unconditional love and support.
From these three strong, sure young women, I have learned to occasionally brush off my misgivings and wear something slightly outrageous, often from a thrift shop. My addiction to these places is a direct result of their initiation.
Most of all, I have been reminded by my daughters that these are not the nervous 1950s, when I was growing up.
Yes, their mother still struggles with the ghosts of those years. It’s still sometimes hard to get my footing in the ongoing process of learning about life.
The delicious surprise is that my daughters are such gloriously gifted teachers. ••
Writer Sally Friedman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org