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Mother never said that there would come a time when Spanx and control-top pantyhose would be my best friends. Trusted close-knit companions you can rely on. My mother failed to tell me I would embrace the push-up bra I cursed in my twenties, since it left red welts on my skin, with enthusiasm in my fifties when everything goes south. I never saw Mother naked. Never saw her blemishes and wounds of experience. I have scars. The back of my hand reminds me sixteen-year-old girls are more comfortable with a potato peeler than a paring knife. The faint discolouration on my ankle showcases my first attempt at shaving my legs. Mother never enlightened me on waxing. Her idea of waxing was a can of lemon scented furniture polish – ideal for keeping the dining table shiny. No, Mother never promised personal grooming would get easier with age.
I curse the age spots. As a child, I embraced my freckles. A connect-the-dots story, Mother said. Her fingertips brushing against my cheek made me giggle. I’d bury my head in her shoulder. A whiff of her Evening in Paris perfume was comforting. Today, I scold myself for baking in the sun during my twenties. Once upon a time, society envied golden girls for their beachy exuberance, their tan lines were badges of honor. Mom never suggested a sunscreen with a high SPF rating. I lathered baby oil with carefree abandon. My daughter wouldn’t dare skinny dip in a vat of oil, baiting the Sun God to burn baby burn!
I wear progressive lenses, a tell-tale sign of maturity. Women my age resist squinting lest our peering be mistaken for a cougar-like glare. Channeling my mom-voice, I direct the adolescent grocery boy to my car. He sees an older woman with yogurt tubs, bags of granola and ripe bananas. I see army supplies, intending to battle with my fluctuating weight. The specialty toothpaste is designed to lighten the agony of sensitive teeth. He’s too young to deduce the box of pantyliners in my cart is incriminating evidence of my easing into menopause. I’m too old to be embarrassed by personal grooming products.
As a woman, I want respect, with my years of experience valued as wisdom. Yet I constantly camouflage. Monthly hair salon visits hide my roots. I’m seduced by promises to conceal my wrinkles and astonished the drug mart legally sells snake oil. More lotions and potions sit displayed on my nightstand than are found in the school chemistry lab. Give me time and I’ll create a spike in Proctor & Gamble shares. We respect, even nurture, the aging of wine and cheese. Yet you won’t find me tattooing my date of birth on this old crate. I’ve lived. Survived the terrible twos, endured teenage angst, and trudged through mountains of adulthood. Financial woes, career challenges, and family drama are all etched in my creases and folds. The support of loved ones boosted my immune system.
Mother failed to mention mishaps and mayhem bring your personality to life. A surgery scar is an emblem of family togetherness, when everyone, little kids included, helped around the house while I recuperated in bed. There were family vacations where we laughed so hard that we should have taken some Depends. Smile lines are easily read by a skilled fortune teller. Remembering the stumbles of my youth, I look back and laugh. Applying for positions I wasn’t qualified for led to long-term employment. Going outside my comfort zone broadened my skill sets. Learning on the job I didn’t age, I matured. Capabilities were stretched. Responsibilities gained. A career wasn’t defined by the number of years worked. I balked at the word “senior” in my job title. When a role shriveled up, I dusted off the interview clothing and put my best foot forward. Defeat was not an option. Male colleagues are often graded as distinguished as they aged. A woman is seen as being well preserved. Why are we stacked differently on the shelf?
Time is a precious commodity. I’ve passed the route marker where the road ahead offers more funerals than weddings. Traditions and customs suggest we maintain a rosy complexion, the casket on display. No amount of rouge can return us to our youth. I held my mother’s hand during my father’s funeral. Our chests of memories are deemed more valuable than the contents of our jewelry boxes. I’ve offered her aged bones a boost when climbing into my family van. Despite her advanced age, she is sturdy. Fragility isn’t to be confused with helplessness.
Mom’s a first-generation immigrant who navigated the cultural differences of a new frontier. Her first year in Canada came with no how-to-manual. It never occurred to me that cooking a Thanksgiving turkey was such an ordeal. Mom told me a neighbor came to her home and gave her step-by-step instructions. Without her help, Mother admitted, that she’d have cooked that bird with a bag of giblets inside. Dressing fowl was as foreign as purchasing a winter coat, but she adapted. Weathering the frost of Alberta, she embraced new traditions. Mom never hid her heritage, age, or her eagerness to try something new. I shared my first dish of frog legs with my mother. When my own teenage daughter had the opportunity to taste the item, I encouraged her.
“Go ahead, take a bite,” I said. “You might discover you like the flavor. Maybe it’s not for everyone, but my girl channeled her adventurous side. Truth be told, the froggy appetizer tastes just like chicken.
My mother failed to tell me that the weight of childhood teasing is tough to shed. Taunts and ridicule nestled beside love handles. As an adult, I’ve learned to balance when someone kicks me in the shins. I propel myself forward, springing back up like the kiddie inflatable punching bag. Mom never spoke of my exclusion from the cheerleading squad because the white uniform looked different on a brown girl. She skipped the explanation why the neighbors hesitated to let me hang out in their daughter’s playhouse, merely suggesting that I’d understand when I got older. I’m older now, yet I fail to understand.
I’ve inherited arthritis, alongside the aches and pains of teenage adolescence. When picked last for the dodgeball team, I crawled into bed and pulled the covers over my head. Every joint hurt, even my heart ached. No cure found in the Farmer’s Almanac. My mother had travelled across the world, with four young children, not knowing the landscape, the currency, or the customs. If she could survive without friends, so could I. She told me that growing pains came with adolescence. It might hurt at the time but I’d forget all about dodgeball when I was older. Resilience is congealed in our bone marrow.
Exposure to the world expands my mind. Yet mother forgot to point out that we shrink as we age. Perhaps not enough to be cast in our own TLC television program, or in Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, but sufficiently smaller that we see the world from a different perspective. Energy depleted, I concede I don’t have the fight in me to bark at the salesclerk who asks where I’m from. I’ve heard the question so often that it feels routine, much like someone asking whether I’m paying withdebit or credit card. Do salesclerks quiz the second-generation fraulein from Germany or the mademoiselle from France? Their creamy complexion is several shades lighter than my own. My aged ears suggest judgment by something other than my shopping habits. Mother’s parenting words encourage politeness. I resist the urge to have a cougar fight at the checkout stand, among the Made In India accessories.
Mother encouraged good posture. Stand tall she advised. Looking back, I realize she was resisting more than my juvenile slouches. She was giving me a push. I suspect my teenage swagger thought my flared jeans were cool. Yet Mom’s notes about good presentation remained in style much longer than those threadbare flares.
I’ve embraced my mum jeans, my hips reminding me that I earned my curves. My children are the best accessories investment I made. I avoid telling my daughter what she should or shouldn’t wear. She’s far more sophisticated than I ever was at her age. Confident in her body image, she’s without need for her mother’s advice. Three generations of women displayed, our choices repositioned and recycled, adapted and repurposed. Mother never told me it would take fifty years to be comfortable in my own skin. She forgot to mention style is about personal choice. The threads we wear are an extension of our creativity, our character. Regardless of what we choose to mask or hide, the wrinkles of experience, the creases of laughter, and the comfort of our past can be worn with panache. Mother should have told me – there’s nothing more attractive than a confident woman.