Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Before she was Mom

A couple of months ago, around Mother's Day, I read an intriguing article in the New York Times on motherhood. It's called "Our Mothers As We Never Saw Them." The author shares her insights on one of her recent projects: asking women to send in photos of their mothers before they became their mothers.

I found the concept absolutely lovely. It's an insight into mother-daughter relationships, that, in many ways, says more about the daughters than the mothers. What do we, as daughters, admire in our mothers before they were our mothers? What do we see in them that we see in ourselves, whether it's a nose, a posture, or a certain sense of bravery? What do we want to take from those pictures? Where do the stories end and the myths begin?

[My mom, before she was my mom]

As Edan Lepucki (the article's author) so poignantly stated, "For daughters, these old photos of our mothers feel like both a chasm and a bridge. The woman in the picture is someone other than the woman we know. She is also exactly the person in the photo--still, right now. Finally, we see that the woman we've come to think of as Mom--whether she's nurturing, or disapproving, or thoughtful, or delusional, or pestering, or supportive, or sentimental--is also a mysterious, fun, brave, babe. She's been here all this time."

Today, on my mom's birthday, I decided to delve into the boxes of old photographs of my mom's early years. I wasn't sure how many pre-mom photos I would find (especially because my mom became a mom fairly young in life--she was married at 20 and then had me when she was 21), but I found a gold mine of elementary school, junior high, high school, and college photographs. In these pictures, she is usually Kiersti rather than Kiersten, and she sports 70s fashion and 80s hairstyles. She usually is playing some kind of sport outside, holding a younger sibling, or blowing out candles on a birthday cake.

My sisters gathered near me and then my mom, who told the stories behind the photographs.

"How old were you in this picture?"

"I didn't know that you caught a bunny."

"You look like you're going to die in this picture."

"That's because I did think I was going to die."

The pictures I found left me wanting to find even more.

[With a bunny she caught]

[As Oscar the Grouch for Halloween]


There is something tangible yet fragile in these pictures; mysterious and real. It feels at once that I should know the young woman in the pictures perfectly, from a combination of stories she's told us about herself and the woman I know now, but looking at the photos also brings a recognition that just as I don't fully know my mom now, there's no way I could ever fully know that young woman in the pictures.

But I love her, just the same. And want to incorporate her kindness, bravery, intelligence, love of sports and the outdoors, sass, compassion, and wisdom into my very bones.

I like to flatter myself that maybe, by some miracle of nature, nurture, and mitochondrial DNA, maybe more of her is in me than I sometimes realize. I certainly hope so.

Happy birthday, Mom. I love you.

1 comment:

  1. I love this! I read this article in the NYT as well and thought it was fascinating. Happy birthday to your wonderful mom!