What a mom can learn from her daughters

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 pass&ea­cute;. 

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 pin­eg­ander@aol.com

You can reach at pinegander@aol.com.

comments powered by Disqus