I spent my youth trying to be anything other than my exuberant mother, who often started up conversations with strangers and thought nothing of flaunting her body in tight clothes. Perhaps it's a daughter thing—the desire to be separate from one's mother—or the arrogance of youth, but I remember constantly scanning for all the ways our bodies were not alike.
Having my father's height gave me the illusion for a brief time that the thin neck and wide hips, small breasts and tiny wrists that my mother and I have in common, were coincidences that would eventually give way to my father's genetic dominance. But of course, the older I got, the more I heard, "You look so much like your mother."
Now faced with my own aging body, I'm looking to her again with an even keener eye—her aging process a map for my own future. I've finally come to realize that it may make more sense to accept our similarities. After all, we struggle with the same digestive pains and aching joints. I worry that I, too, may find my thyroid betrays me with Hashimoto's disease when menopause gets a full grip, or that my gallbladder may give up its function one day as it did for her.
My mother's knees and feet could tell war stories and I'm afraid that mine may one day have some stories of their own. There was the time we took a self-defense course together and the pain that twanged her leg as she kicked the dummy-padded man, turned out to be a torn ACL. A few years later, despite strength that comes from her years of teaching Pilates, her meniscus went, too, so badly twisted and painful she had to be rushed to the emergency room. Barely recovered from that, she finally had to repair a "hammer toe," acquired from years of working on her feet in high heels, which included inserting a steel pin in her foot.
"Take care of your feet," she messaged me, in the agonizing first week after that surgery. "You just don't know how much you'll miss their functioning."
There's not a heel in my closet high enough to teeter on, I assured her.
Her words also echo in my ears when my own knees warn me of my limits in Zumba classes, where I can't bounce as high or squat as low as the twentysomethings. Age is clearly making its presence known in my daily life. In the last couple of years, I injured my shoulder doing push-ups, and sprained my ankle just walking down the street in too-tall sandals.
After my mother had to pay out of pocket for a mouthful of root canals over the past year, I took up flossing with the dedication of an triathlete.
"Who would ever have elective surgery?" my mother recently asked, lamenting the number of necessary procedures she's had in just the past couple of years. She was on her way into an appointment to determine if she might have blood clots as a complication of knee-replacement surgery.
"I don't know!" I sympathetically responded. I'm not a person who elects to have any medical procedures. I find teeth cleanings agonizing, and couldn't even be talked into electrolysis, despite how much easier bathing suit season would be with it.
If anything, my mother's aging process has softened the sharp edges between us. Once resentful of anything that approached taking care of her emotional needs, I now find myself happy to help. When I picked her up after the knee replacement, I shooed the nurse away and helped her get dressed, very much aware of the blurred lines between us.
In helping my mother tend to the indignities of growing older, I've found a new compassion for my own body, a body that's more like hers than I've ever realized. Where she goes, I work hard not to follow, but now it isn't the resistance of youth, but the wisdom of age.