Living the Life My Mother Once Did

I remember the smell of smoke in our living room. My father sat on the velvet green couch, a Lucky burning in the ashtray beside his tumbler of scotch. He held one eye on the sports section of the paper, and the other on the nightly news. My mother often came in, though she rarely joined him. The living room, with it’s intricately beaded throw pillows, belonged to him. 

In the kitchen, I heard the sounds of the radio, low melodies whispered about love and loss as my mother hummed along. That room was to my mother what the living room was to my father. She owned it. After loading the dishes into the dishwasher, with its butcher block top, and hooking the silver nozzle to the sink, she would write out the bills. The soft tap of calculator keys, and the tape roll as it ticked away hard-earned dollars and cents, comforted me as I moved from my bed to the black and silver table top television in order to change the station.

I remember the quiet stillness of domesticity as my parents unwound from days filled with work and responsibilities I couldn’t yet understand. I would lie in bed and try to fall asleep to the muffled sounds of the television and radio, the sounds of the life they were creating and maintaining. I would dream of one day being an adult myself so I could create the rules.

As I sit in my own living room now, an adult, a mother, a woman--I am reminded of my own childhood, but instead of viewing the little girl I was and identifying with her feelings and the restless desperation of wanting to grow up, I identify with my mother. I know what it means to manage a life I quietly try to balance while attempting to remember who I was before--the children, the marriage, the house. I know her in a way that I never did. I finally realize not who I thought she was, but who she really was. I see her relationship with my father reflected in my own marriage. The fights about money and children that scared me as a child scare me still, but for a very different reason. Now I understand the fights between two married people because they are my own.

I finally know the sadness when my father disappointed her. I have a new appreciation for how hard it was to hold the whole world together while still trying to remain a person in her own right. I am the woman she once was, and now she is gone. I wish I could tell her that I understood, that life has a funny way of allowing us to live so many lives ourselves. I wish I could thank her for giving me a part of her that was only mine. I wish for more time to listen to the lessons her life held for me as I try to live one so similar. I wish I could tell her that I finally get it.

As I lie in bed at night, I often think of her dreaming and wanting. I think of her planning her life as I do now. I think of how quickly it all passed. I wonder if she knew that it would someday end. I suppose we all know without really understanding. I am living the life she once did, as my daughter will once live the life I live now. It is a circle, a line, a square, a path that while different in the details is so similar in the broad strokes. The symmetry of our lives is powerful and frightening. The world she lived in her middle years, is a mirror to the one I live now.

I recall her rushing and raging. I remember her body as she went through the hormonal changes of midlife. I hear her voice from the past as she yells and hums and makes all the other sounds of motherhood, midlife and marriage. I miss her and feel blessed that I have had a chance to see life from both sides.

Note: I was actually raised by my grandmother, but have used the word mother instead. 


  1. You're so's impossible to understand until it's our turn to step into those shows. It all makes sense now, doesn't it? Gorgeous post.

  2. What a beautiful tribute to your mother. I love the line, "The symmetry of our lives is powerful and frightening." It's so true. I often find myself speaking to or disciplining my children the way my mom did me. I am still blessed to have her around, and she truly has become my best friend. Thank you for reminding me what a gift she is.

    My dad just lost his own mother (my grandma) this morning, so this really hit home today 💙

  3. Beautiful! I can so identify with your feelings, I too have a greater understanding of my mother and the choices she made now that I too am a mom, wife and grown up! Thanks!

  4. This is wonderful - My favorite line: "it is a circle, a line, a square, a path that while different in the details is so similar in the broad strokes" - I often think of my mother's life and I wish I could talk to her about marriage, parenting etc. But there are the memories.

  5. So incredibly beautiful. It's funny how we grow so much in our relationships with our moms over the years. Even when they're gone they're never forgotten.

  6. "I'll never be like my mother," I used to think... until I became a mother myself and it all made sense. All the sacrifices she made for me, I can never repay her. I can only try to be as good a parent to my own children. And be thankful every day. Thank you for the touching post.

  7. I've only been following along for a couple of weeks, but I love the atmosphere that you capture and create in your posts. I can so relate to this feeling of suddenly catching yourself identifying with the parent rather than with yourself as a child. Beautiful writing.

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