There are many mirrors around us at one time. The black-backed glass of the vanity only reflects our physical image. The other mirrors are more ephemeral–living and breathing women. I see myself in those women — each one reflecting a different light. I imagine all of my past mothers—down through the generations before me— their souls in a different place but still attached to their generations of children, quietly observing us. I am puzzled, questioning. What do they want me to do for myself? For other women? Have we built upon each generation or do they hold me up against their values–unchanging?
When I look in those mirrors, I see my mother’s face and hands on myself. And her mother’s. My sister, my aunts, my cousins are bonded by the ways in which their mothers and grandmothers taught them and we’re created from the DNA that was carried from Ireland, Scotland, England and France. It’s magical, really, when you think about the strength those bonds can hold.
If my ancestral mothers saw me preparing for marriage, how many thought of unions of bondage? How many remembered bonds of love?
How many labor pains held hours of grief over expectations not accomplished? How many times did having a child mean the end of youth? How many times the beginning of joy?
I more than resemble my mother. I possess my mother’s nervous hands, clicking knees and nasal swallow. I have those green eyes that reach back through generations…A gift of emeralds from my familial past. My daughter, too, has the Teeple women’s laugh — that beautiful and familiar sound I hear in my sister, my cousins, and my aunts. It is an organic part of me and now a part of my daughter.
How does each exquisite emotion get patterned in my genes? Does their genetic yarn also weave my mental patterns? Is that where my depressive black spells originate?
I am the first in that long line of women to choose Judaism, yet I was not the first to break religious tradition in my family. Is it harder or easier to make life decisions with shifting ancestral religious traditions? My Scottish ancestors left Scotland — Baptists leaving a Presbyterian country. My French ancestors left France — Protestants fleeing Catholic persecution. Now I’m a Jew in a Christian family. My mother, a Protestant, married a Catholic. Is that religious restlessness, the ability to cross denominations, a part of my ancestry as well?
I know that the older I get the more I feel indebted to each of those women who struggled and worked and loved and endured. I am my mother, and those before her, bent over the warm, spring dirt, planting flowers. I am my mother, and those before her, quietly facing the day-to-day work of feeding and nurturing a family. I am my mother, and those before her, facing heart-wrenching moments of disappointment and heart-warming moments of pure joy.
I look back and remember holding my daughter in a rocking chair — patting her back in my mother’s slow beat — waiting for her to grow up and ask herself these same questions, knowing she will not ask me, she will answer for herself.