The Measure of My Mother

I wrote a version of this as an audition piece for a local production of Listen to Your Mother. I wasn’t chosen for the show, but that means I get to share what I wrote here with all of you. Happy Mother’s Day!

I am twice the woman my mother is.

I mean that literally. I weigh twice what my mom weighs. I’ve been fat my whole life, and she’s been thin for all of hers.

Me and Mom in Denmark, 2017. Have Keens, will travel!

How did I get here? My size doesn’t come from my mother, or hers. My Grandma Arlene was slim as a young woman, “normal” (what we now call straight) sized as a mother and grandmother. She raised five children, enjoyed time with her 12 grandchildren, and loved my Grandpa Roger for 69 years. So many of my best memories center around food at her house: holidays, picnics, summers with cousins splashing out of the swimming pool for burgers and sweet corn. Grandma Arlene always had something delicious for coffee on Sundays, birthday cakes loaded with candles, a tin of those crumbly Danish butter cookies. But I also remember the white plastic scale on the kitchen counter by the window next to the sink, the Weight Watchers logo on the front. I remember the day I watched her put dry tuna on a slice of bread and then spread a nearly transparent layer of mayonnaise on the other slice. Even though I didn’t like my body at all then, I remember thinking that was a pretty sad sandwich. What I wouldn’t give for the woman I’ve become to talk to the woman she was and find out how she felt about her body.

Grandma Arlene through the years.

But let’s look at my dad’s mom, Clara. Now you can see where I come from. She hated having her picture taken, and ones where she’s smiling are a rare find, but in these pictures we do have (and in my memories) I see my body: the same belly, bottom, thighs. She raised five children, too, enjoyed time with her 17 grandchildren, and loved my grandpa Bill for 67 years. Grandma Clara was a wonderful cook — my cousins and I still reminisce about her baked beans! But you know, I don’t remember Grandma Clara complaining about her size. I don’t remember her ever saying anything about her size at all. Maybe I was too young to notice, or maybe I knew her when she’d come to accept her body. She seemed to eat what she wanted, when she wanted. If she worried about the size on the tag of her (elastic-waist!) pants or cried in front of the mirror or ate dry tuna, I never knew it. What I wouldn’t give for the woman I’ve become to talk to the woman she was and find out how she felt about her body.

Grandma Clara through the years.

I spent a lot of my life wishing I looked less like Clara and more like Arlene. More like my mom. Imagine the frustration of seeing my mom in the slope of my shoulders, the shape of my fingers, but being unable to replicate her body. I tried, believe me. That was back when I believed that diets worked and weight loss was permanent and a smaller body would grant me success and respect. And love, of course. A love to last 60 years or more. So I lost almost 100 pounds. Even then, I was a size or two bigger than my mom! No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t become her. I gained all the weight back, as nearly all of us do, and I haven’t found love yet (let me know if you know a nice fella).

Mom and me.

My mom and I can’t share clothes. We can barely shop in the same stores. My mom needs smalls from the petite section, while I struggle to find something cute in a 2XL from the ever-diminishing “women’s” department. Wear her wedding dress on my wedding day, if one ever comes? Forget about it. (Well, that’s not just because I’m too fat to fit into it, it’s also because she and my dad eloped and she never wore a wedding dress. They’ll celebrate their 50th anniversary next spring.) Would you know we were mother and daughter if we stood in front of you, side by side?

Mom and me in Frederikshavn, Denmark.

My mother is kind and generous and funny. She’s the most patient and caring human I’ve ever known. She has made her family, her town, and the world a better place by being in it. Using that as a measure? I can only hope that one day, I’ll be half the woman my mother is.