Lessons From My Mother

If my mother were alive today, she would be over 100 years old.

My mother had the most beautiful silver hair—it turned that color when she was in her late 20s.

So, when I was little, everyone thought my mother was my grandmother.

Her name was Belle and quite fittingly she was very beautiful.

My mother was a role model for ageless living before anyone even thought about that concept.

She was a well-known and very successful fashion designer—a real career woman in an era (the 1950s) when most women were housewives and stay-at-home moms who picked their children up from school every day.

My mother was so happy when I was born. She was almost 41 years old and had a lot of trouble getting pregnant (it took her 11 years to get pregnant with me). What I didn’t know and found out when I was 36 years old (it was a BIG SECRET) was that she had a stillborn baby 2 years before I was born.

Of course my mother loved me but she also loved her career—the creativity, the fame, the traveling. She was way ahead of her time in having both a child and an all-encompassing career. But it wasn’t perfect. Her career was like a demanding older sibling that I had to compete with for my entire childhood.

I missed my mother when she was at work and when she traveled to Europe (which she did for many weeks every year). I remember the feeling that I could never get enough of her when she was home. At the same time, I was so proud that she was my mother and loved to talk about her—maybe even brag about her to my friends. I guess I was obsessed with her because I had to share her with so many other people, and didn’t get all of her attention. And I felt it made me more interesting to have a famous and successful mother.

I can’t remember how old I was when I became aware of my mother’s age and the fact that she was significantly older than my friends’ mothers. When I was a child, I remember feeling “ashamed” of her age. I would lie to my friends and tell them she was around the same age as their mothers. But my mother was very PROUD of her age and would always tell people how old she was. Sometimes she would chuckle, almost in disbelief that “that number” was somehow related to her. And even though my mother had that prematurely silver hair, people were always very surprised when they found out her age because she looked like a “young beauty” and had “awe- inspiring” energy.

I thought my mother was the most beautiful woman.  Her hair was like a shimmering halo around her face. In the city, she dressed elegantly. But she was equally happy at the beach at Fire Island, where she loved to pull on her jeans and grab her rake to plant tomatoes in the sandy garden outside our summer house.

My mother was very open and accepting of new styles or trends relating to almost anything (but NOT sex and boyfriends). She loved the Beatles, the second-hand clothing that I dressed in (even though my father hated it), going to Studio 54 with her friends, and dancing in my bedroom when my friends came over. When mini-skirts became popular, she wore them. And when long pin-straight hair became the rage in the 60s, my friends and I would line up in my apartment next to the ironing board every Friday night, as my mother ironed our hair so it would look good for the weekend.

My mother was my role model for me to create my own personal style. She was always supportive of however I wanted to look—even it was entirely different than her style. And I still wear whatever

I want to because I make my own rules.

It wasn’t until I was in high school that my mother’s age became a “bragging point” for me. That’s when I finally realized that my mother was “cool” and “hip”—since all my friends wanted to spend time with her. She never referred to her age (except to say I certainly don’t feel like I’m ___” ). She didn’t try to “look younger”. She was just “whatever she was”. My mother didn’t abide by any societal rules about what was appropriate for someone “her age.”

In her early 70s, my mother retired from her job as a fashion designer. She wanted to spend time traveling with my father, and was tired of the grind, the pressure and the responsibility of such an intense and demanding career.  But after a few vacations with my father, she quickly realized that shewanted to find a new passion. She began working as a volunteer at a museum in New York City and became the assistant to the restorer of paintings. My mother had always painted (and sold her work), and she immersed herself in learning the art of restoration. She took a chemistry course and hired a tutor so she would be able to learn the material needed to restore and retouch valuable works of art. She had found a new passion! She taught me that it was never too late to find and develop a new interest, passion or career.  

When I met my husband (who is 12 years younger)—way before anyone was talking about “cougars” (I’m actually not a huge fan of that term)—she was 100% supportive of the relationship. I remember her saying, “What’s in an age?  It means nothing.”

Without her even knowing it, my mother showed me how to live life agelessly. I am proud of my age, and never hesitate to tell anyone how old I am.  I embrace where I am in my life and I make my own rules about what I want to look like, how I want to live, what I want to do. Sometimes, I imagine my mother cheering me on!

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