Mothers and daughters


Thanksgiving 2002.  Grace was one month old.  Three generations, who share the same middle name.  The red hair clearly didn’t translate.  Also, Grace seems displeased by Thanksgiving.

My fascination with and investment in the mother-daughter relationship is well documented.  Just last week I wrote about it for Brain, Child.  This is a long-standing interest of mine.  If I’m honest, the ferocity with which I wished for a daughter when I was pregnant sometimes scared me.  It also shocks a lot of people that we chose not to find out the gender of our baby (either time).  And then Grace arrived – somehow brutally slowly (40 hours of back labor) and instantaneously – and suddenly I had a daughter, my frantic wishes were answered, and I became the fulcrum, a daughter to a mother and also a mother to a daughter.

One of my most vivid memories of those first blurry and difficult weeks of motherhood was of an afternoon when Mum came over to sit with Grace so that I could nap.  I lay in my darkened bedroom, knowing that my infant daughter slept above me and my mother cooked in the kitchen below me.  Matrilineage flanked me in a concrete, visceral way and I remember feeling warmed by it, firmly aware of my place in the line of women that I came from and had, now, birthed and contributed to.

Mothers and daughters and daughters and mothers and the women out of whose soil we grow.

While I don’t write about her that often, my mother is truly extraordinary and I am fortunate to live only a mile away from her now.  Last fall I said that “one of my mother’s many gifts is her immediate and expansive warmth, the genuine way she welcomes everyone into her life.  She has always attracted people to her, and, like a sun, is surrounded by more orbiting planets than I can count.”  I aspire to be the kind of relaxed, loving, outgoing, the-more-the-merrier kind of mother that Mum was and continues to be.  Watching her with my own children, as I did over Easter, is one of the principal joys of my life.

Mum embodies the quote that she and I both chose (clearly, I was copying!) for our high school senior yearbooks: To miss the joy is to miss all.

Motherhood and daughterhood, while always on my mind, has been particularly so of late.  I’ve been thinking of lessons that my mother taught me …

1. Some of the best stuff in life occurs in the outtakes.  Keep your eyes open to the stuff around the edges.

2. Don’t worry about the small stuff.  Really.  It takes care of itself.  Keep an unerring focus on the big stuff.

3. It is not an issue to cook dinner for 14 people with an hour of notice. Or to routinely serve Thanksgiving to more than 30 people.  In fact it’s not really Thanksgiving without a random international student or someone your daughters have never met at the table.

4. Use the silver.  All the time.

5. Female friends are essential and are in many ways the single most important bulwark against life’s storms.  Invest heavily in those you know you love dearly.  Old friends are precious, and cherish them.  Family friends are a genuine gift.

6. Showers are always better outside.  Even in November.  In New England.

7. You can’t judge peoples’ insides by their outsides.  Don’t bother trying.

8.  When your new son-in-law brings you a whole pheasant that he shot to cook, just smile and make pot pie.  Serve it for Christmas Eve dinner.  It’s not a big deal.  To go further, there is nothing culinary that is a big deal.  At all.

9. Attitude is everything.  When Mum was injured several summers ago she demonstrated this in spades, and I can’t count the number of people – literally, tens upon tens – who reached out to tell me that her positive spirit and energy were tangible and would carry her through.  They did, and I admire(d) it.

10. There is a mysterious alchemy in the wind and the water that cannot be fully explained.  I watch her at the helm and understand what that there is something truly intuitive and beyond logical thought about sailing.

11. You can and should play tennis until you are 90 years old.  And possibly beyond that.

12.  Don’t waste your time and energy on negativity.  Of any kind.  Focus on the good in people, in the community, in the world, and eventually that positivity will become your default.  “It takes an awful lot of energy to hate,” Mum used to say to the occasionally irate, incensed child me.  She was always right.

13. Always write thank you notes.  By hand.  On paper.  In the mail.

14. Look forward, not back.  There are adventures to be had, gardens to plant, Scrabble games to play, trips to be taken, people to meet.  So much lies ahead, and turn your energy that way.

15. People flock to those who radiate energy and warmth like my mother does.  At an event recently a man I’d just met took me aside and whispered, “Your mother is a force of nature.”  I know, sir, I nodded.  I know.

Parts of this post were originally written in 2012.  And I was hugely inspired by Galit Breen’s beautiful piece about lessons learned from her own mother,

17 thoughts on “Mothers and daughters”

  1. Love this. She sounds amazing. I laughed about the pheasant and also the showers…when we lived in Mass Phil took outdoor showers until Thanksgiving! Beautiful writing. I get a real sense of your mum and what a grounded person she is.

  2. Beautiful. I too (as most of us did:)) wrote about my mom this week and I was struck by some of the similarities. My mother had read hair – and handwritten, mailed thank you notes were a must (as they are with me). She gave me her middle name, and I gave it to my daughter.

    I love the post and the lessons. I hope you all had a wonderful Mother’s Day.

  3. Dying at the caption about Grace being displeased. 🙂 Like you, we did not find out gender first and to say that I was relieved that it was a girl is an understatement. I really wanted to experience that mother-daughter bond from the other side, and that’s directly tied to the relationship I had/have with my own mother (also an ardent supporter of the thank you notes, something I am now trying to instill in my daughter). Your mother sounds like a truly wonderful woman, with many good lessons to teach. Except the bit about the pheasant and pot pie, perhaps. Oh my, I don’t think I could handle that as gracefully as her!

  4. “I became the fulcrum, a daughter to a mother and also a mother to a daughter.” Beautiful. It’s interesting: I desperately wanted a boy the first time round.

  5. What wonderful lessons you have learned from your mother and how lovely that you get to pass those onto your own daughter. I love her message about friendship. Thank you for sharing this beautiful tribute to your mother. I think I may keep these lessons handy for myself :).

  6. Your mom sounds amazing. I’m quite envious, but also so happy for you to have these amazing women flanked on both your sides: a beautiful daughter and a wise, loving mother.

  7. This is beautiful Lindsey! Thank you for writing and sharing this. Your mum is so wise and she clearly passed on her spirit!

    PS You look fabulous for just having a baby!!

  8. Oh I love #12 most of all! And #1…and #14…It takes a special mother to teach, and a special daughter to receive such wonderful lessons. And beautiful words about daughter-love…I will have to enjoy that vicariously through you!

  9. This is so beautiful. Your mother sounds so wonderful. Like Kristen, I am laughing at your caption and remembering when Caroline cried all the way through her first Thanksgiving. She didn’t stop until we took off her smocked dress. Itchy, I guess 🙂

  10. Just love everything about this! Thank you for sharing your Mom’s wisdom with us. I completely agree with #6.

  11. number 5 is for real, by the way your daughter not having red hair, i think is fine..
    its true that moms give us wisdom all te time that we can share to our kids later on… its like passing the torch ..

  12. What a beautiful example to grow up with and learn from. But I do think you sell yourself short if you think you don’t also embody a sense of warmth and genuineness with way you invite and welcome your readers here. Maybe you struggle with this in your everyday life (I know I do — I’m protective of my physical space), but at least you’ve nailed it in this space.

    The mother-daughter relationship is one that I’m supremely interested in and is actually the greatest theme (as of yet) in a story that’s beginning to unfold in my mind and as notes on my screen. We’ll see where it goes..

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