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Silver threads: Mothers

Bettye Anding

When I was a little girl -- and even as a young and middle-aged woman — I’d have laughed at the popular idea that I’d someday turn into my mother. She was high energy for household and other tiresome tasks, and so sociable that I once mused that she’d talk to a parked truck. Surely, I theorized, she’d be named Miss Congeniality if she ever entered a Miss America contest. And she had the pretty face and long, shapely legs for that.

She was a joiner: Of the PTA and the women’s fellowship at our church, in the choir, leading the burger-making brigade to feed us Sunday night youth fellowship attendees and then the celebrants at events like the annual Halloween carnival at school.

She took my friends and me to the movies on Saturday nights and then picked us up and cruised Main Street to let us see which other junior high scholars might be abroad. Once she pulled up at a train stop next to a carload of youthful Navy air cadets so we could check them out. (“Lady, are all these kids yours?” they inquired.)

Me, as a kid I cried quietly in the back yard when told to hang up laundry, and got a reputation for being stuck up and distant by the time I was 13. The truth was, I was painfully shy until I was in my 20s and had learned to mingle in three different newsrooms and interviewed dozens of strangers.

But since I never became as high-energy as Mother for tasks outside the office, I doubted the truth of the prevailing wisdom that at some point in their lives women become images of their mothers.

It was Oscar Wilde, in The Importance of Being Ernest (1895), who had one of the characters say, “All women become like their mothers .…”

And wrote Gabrielle Moss on the website Bustle, “The most popularly quoted study regarding whether we turn into our mothers was conducted in the UK in 2013 — NOT by a research program or university, but by a gaming site called Dotty Bingo, which noticed that most of the site's users had been introduced to the hobby of bingo by their mothers. Of the 1,000 women surveyed by the site, half reported feeling like they had turned into their mother.”

Most of them reported that they "became" their mothers between the ages of 30 and 35, with 27 percent claiming that they completed their transformation at age 31. The survey defines "turning into" one's mother as identifying your mother as the "most inspirational figure" in one's life (over 50 percent), as well as lifestyle similarities like watching the same TV shows as your mother (24 percent), having the same hobbies (16 percent), saying similar phrases (15 percent) and being attracted to similar kinds of men (nine percent).

Then there’s turning into you mother when you have children yourself, and physically becoming her as you age.

“There are some aspects of turning into our mothers that we don't have control over — like the day when we look in the mirror and see our mother's face looking back at us,” writes Moss. “Genetics determine 80 percent of our physical qualities, like our body shape (as opposed to the 20 percent determined by environmental factors). So, for instance, moms who need bifocals often birth daughters who end up needing bifocals themselves.”

Well, in my senior years I’ve gradually turned into my mother in many ways. Of course I look like her, although her complexion stayed much smoother and fresher because her generation didn’t spend hours “sunbathing” like mine did.

I’ve never developed an interest in hanging out laundry: Thank goodness for the clothes dryer. And I’m still not a joiner; although, I’m relatively sociable. On a recent trip with friends I found myself starting up conversations with lots of folks in the showplaces of Branson.

I got chatty recently at home, stopping at a restaurant table to commiserate with a stranger who’d also endured the unabated shrieks of a toddler in the back of the room.

But parked trucks? I hope I’m still a long way from that.


Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at bta7735@icloud.com.