I’m afraid my daughter will never have a memory of me when I’m young.
Young is a relative term. I don’t mean to be ageist. It’s just that for me, my mother stopped aging at 42 years old. When I look at her now, even though I know she is older than 65 (I made a promise long ago I’d never reveal exactly how old she is), she still looks 42. When she looks at me and complains about lines above her lips, I don’t see them. When she complains about her thinning hair, all I see is thick, curly blond hair. My mom is beautiful, will always be beautiful, and is transfixed in my mind’s eye that way.
My daughter, however, can’t know the 42-year-old version of me. That age came and went when my little girl was only 3, too young to form a permanent impression of what I looked like unless prompted by a photograph when she is older.
Now that she’s 8, I’m anxious and impatient for the ageless memory of me to form. I want to help craft it, make it imprint on her like my scent did when she was a newborn. But there’s no trick I know of to make that happen. With all the technology in the world, there is no memory chip for the human brain. Our tickling games, giggles, coloring, swinging, and putting on make-up are my memories, and I want to share them with her—inscribe them in her heart and mind.
She enjoys reminiscing about the images of us in photo albums. She can recall with perfect clarity how we saw an alligator when we went fishing and how she cried when I yelled at her for running away from me in a crowd. Pointing at pictures of herself as an infant, she recounts the stories I shared with her.
The sentimental journey is endearing, but I don’t trust the shared memories will last. My mother stopped aging in my mind when I was 14. If the same thing happens with my daughter, I will be 53, and no amount of diet, exercise, or Botox will change the reality.
She has an older mother, and she doesn’t care at all now, but she may one day soon. Waiting to be in a good marriage before having children was a choice I made. I didn’t want to have a child grow up in a stressed environment, so I put off starting our family until I felt safe in marriage and conceived my beautiful girl.
But waiting has consequences. Raised inverted veins crisscross my hands like a topographic map, and unless I make a fist to pull the skin taught, I hardly recognize them as my own.
These hands held my daughter’s small and plump ones. They wipe her tears. They’re at the end of the arms that hold her when she’s sick or cries. By the time she sees them, the skin will be thinner and easily pull away from my bones. How will she look at mine and see her own?
Since she takes after her father’s side of the family—tall, long limbs, and fair sensitive skin—how will she view my olive skin, short limbs, and long torso? My consolation prize is she’s picking up my mannerisms. But at 14, I doubt she’ll cherish talking with her hands the way I do, crossing her right leg over her left, or cocking her head to the right when she’s irritated. She may not appreciate her love of shoes and her ability to memorize the words to songs without trying, which she sings aloud with all her heart just like me.
I’m not sure if my fear is rational. Who cares what a parent looks like when a child is loved and secure, right? Someone needs to tell my heart that the dread of always being seen as old to my one and only child is ridiculous. Please.
She’ll never know me when I didn’t wear glasses. She won’t know me when my back didn’t go out, or when my right foot didn’t have a scar, or how dancing too hard requires recovery time before I can exercise again. She won’t know I loved wearing high heels, because wearing them now causes low back pain, or that I ever ate fried food without getting a tummy ache. Not to mention those terrible dark hairs growing on my face that require tweezer vigilance!
She’ll know the future me. One I can’t say I’ll recognize. The woman I am becoming, the one who is older with more lines and spots on her face.
As if my daughter knew I was writing this, she started calling for me. Her voice a higher pitch, signaling it’s vital I go to her and see what is so important.
When I reached her, she turned her pretty face up toward mine, her light gray-blue eyes wide and innocent, yet full of yearning. She took a deep breath and said, “Mommy, I think you’re beautiful. I love you. I know you love me. I know I came out of your tummy.”
I held her in my older arms and hands. “I love you, too, baby girl. I love you, too.” And blinked away my tears because I didn’t want her to see me cry.
Perhaps my fear is more sinister than vanity. Is my age a clock ticking down the time I’ll be in her life?
Here I am, self-obsessed with my appearance, when the real threat is time. I hope I inherit the longevity that runs in my mother’s side of the family. Grandma Jean lived into her 90s with full mental capabilities. Maybe my daughter inherited my husband’s photographic memory, and, despite the great odds, she’ll always see me as I am today.
And maybe none of this matters because she’ll be a happy and well-loved girl who grows into a woman who knows her mother always adored her. To her, that will be beautiful and timeless.