Being your ‘Mother’s Daughter’

TODAY
For many adult daughters. the relationship with their mothers can be very special, but it can also be difficult at times. In her latest book, I Am My Mother’s Daughter: Making Peace With Mom Before It’s Too Late, Iris Krasnow not only draws on her own struggles with her mother but also the experiences of other adult women. Here’s an excerpt:Prologue
It’s a balmy afternoon in late July, and I am pushing my mother in her wheelchair along the lakefront in Chicago, the city where I was born fifty years ago and where she soon will die. With unwavering courage, defying all odds, my mom, Helene, survived the loss of her immediate family to the Holocaust, the loss of her husband in 1986, and the recent loss of her lower left leg. After this heroic marathon, she’s now barely hanging on, plagued with infections, dementia, and total exhaustion.Yet, we are fully present in this moment and not dwelling on her demise; the sun is brilliant and the breezes off Lake Michigan are gently slapping us into sheer wakefulness. I look down at my mother with the paisley pashmina draped over her stump; she used to wear it as a shawl. Her cheeks are flushed and she is smiling. July is the month when summer is most saturated, the trees are thick, the flowers are lush. We stop at a patch of tulips near Oak Street Beach, a triumph of purple and yellow, pink and red. Their petals are widely spread, about to scatter on the ground.Yet, we are fully present in this moment and not dwelling on her demise; the sun is brilliant and the breezes off Lake Michigan are gently slapping us into sheer wakefulness. I look down at my mother with the paisley pashmina draped over her stump; she used to wear it as a shawl. Her cheeks are flushed and she is smiling. July is the month when summer is most saturated, the trees are thick, the flowers are lush. We stop at a patch of tulips near Oak Street Beach, a triumph of purple and yellow, pink and red. Their petals are widely spread, about to scatter on the ground.“The tulips are going, Iya. But your mother is alive,” she whispers, reaching feebly for a flower. Iya is my childhood nickname, and lately every time she calls me that the confluence of love and imminent loss is almost too much to bear. I know she is thinking what I am thinking — of the tulip beds we had in our backyard in the house where she raised three children, in nearby Oak Park. We are thinking how the span of our lives goes as swiftly as a blast of wind off the lake. We are thinking that flower petals scatter with the seasons and that children scatter across the country. My sister, Frances, stayed in the Chicago area, but my brother, Greg, lives in California, and I settled in Maryland.

I am my mother’s daughter, so I know what she is thinking — because we share a heart.

I reach for her hand, gnarled with arthritis, and make small talk about the mussels we are about to eat at her favorite French bistro and the sterling silver jewelry sale we are about to hit at Lord & Taylor. For twenty-seven years she stood on two feet as a saleswoman at that store on Michigan Avenue. Today she is wheeled in, and when other customers gawk at the old woman with one leg sitting regally in her chair, I am sharply reminded of why I wrote this book on mothers and adult daughters and rage and resolution.

I love my mother unfailingly now. Yet, during a defiant adolescence and my early adult years, I sometimes felt that I hated her. My love for her, so deep this minute it frightens me, was discovered almost too late — as she lay in a near coma two years ago, after the amputation. She fooled her doctors and her three children and eight grandchildren; she didn’t die as everyone expected. So I got some bonus time to make peace with my charming, formidable, difficult mother who has turned into my friend, my drinking partner, my primary link to myself and my destiny.

Grateful for, and astonished by, the journey that brought my mother and me to this place, I was curious to discover how other midlife daughters are navigating this tough but crucial passage. Are they, too, moving from malaise to reconciliation? Are they able to push through old anger and increasingly draw sustenance from the primal, omnipotent maternal bond? I also wanted to see how other baby-boomer daughters compared the mothers they have now to the mothers they battled at fifteen.

I didn’t have to look far for people to interview. At the mere mention of the title, heads would nod, sighs would heave, eyes would roll. I’d start out with, “So tell me about your mother,” and daughters eagerly spilled everything, from memories of cloying adoration to incidents of unimaginable violence. It seems that every graying woman has something compelling to share about aging along with her mother, power grannies who are living longer than ever.

To read full excerpt