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My Mother, Myself?

“Mom, why are you wearing that?” The Kid asks as he watches me dress for a date, fussing before my full-length mirror as I try on yet another outfit while a pile of rejects replicating Mount Tam spills off my bed.

“Because I like it. Something wrong?”

“No,” he mumbles. “You look nice.”

True, there’s nothing wrong with it, but I know what he’s getting at. Dressed in a body-hugging short black dress that ignores my cleavage and accentuates what I believe are my better parts, stockings and stiletto heels, I am playing up my femininity and strutting my stuff.

It’s hard for a teenager struggling with his own sexuality to have to face his mother’s. I’m sure he has some complicated feelings about that, but at least he’s not trying to keep up with me.

For my girlfriends who are mothers of teenaged daughters, it’s a very different story—they are in competition in a way that I never was with my own mother, or most likely, them with theirs.

Not that I wasn’t aware that my Mom was pretty. She was and, although she’s seventy-something, still is. She was a snazzy dresser, and Imelda Marcos-like when it came to shoes as well. Like mother, like daughter, but I believe I can blame that one entirely on her. But she was my mom, and I not only couldn’t even imagine her strutting her sexuality, I didn’t even want to think of her that way.

And her world and my world were, well, worlds apart. She listened to Nat King Cole and Sinatra; my record player was all ELO, Jackson Browne, and Pink Floyd. She played bridge; I played guitar. She wore stylish but relatively conservative dresses or skirts and heels every day; I wore crochet vests, hip-huggers, and platforms. She looked and acted like a mom, and I clearly looked and acted like a teenager.

Not so my fortysomething girlfriends.

Blackalicious, Amy Winehouse, Foo Fighters, Fall Out Boy—they’re in our CD collections and on our iPods. Some have taken hip-hop classes, some do pole-dancing, others play rock ‘n roll. Our bodies are toned from personal trainers, Pilates, and yoga classes. When we head out for a gal’s night or a date, we don’t look all that different from Branson or Redwood High girls—tight Antik jeans, cleavage-revealing tank tops, Victoria’s Secret lingerie, Juicy Couture velour sweats.

Many boomer woman raid their daughter’s closet the way I used to sneak into my mother’s for some fantasy dress-up. I know the mother-daughter shopping experience is akin to an ancient bonding ritual, but mother-daughter clothes-swapping is a modern-day thing. Although Trent has once or twice asked to borrow a T-shirt from me—in desperation because all his tees are dirty and most likely growing mold in a pile under his bed—there’s no way that I’ll ever be raiding his closet, unless the hoodie-sagging skateboard-slacker look hits the cover of More magazine.

But maybe this is yet another “Only in Marin” thing. When my friend Ali moved to Seattle a few years ago, she showed up at the holiday get-togethers in her slinky suede pants and silk halter top only to discover that all the other women were dressed in gaudy Christmas sweaters, complete with glittery snowmen and snowflakes, beaded candy canes, and puffy Santas. I told her I’d buy her a sweater just like that so she could fit in, but I couldn’t even find one in the thrift shops around here!

My girlfriends and I joke that we’re hot mamas, but there really isn’t much about the way we look or act that reeks of mama, hot or not. We boomers are so Botoxed, nipped and tucked that we look a good ten years younger than we are, while our teenage daughters are strutting around looking ten years older than they are. I know a lot of moms aren’t happy with the rather revealing outfits that their daughters wear, but they’re pretty happy being able to fit into the same things themselves.

Years ago, if a man flattered a woman by saying he mistook her for her daughter’s sister, it was most likely a nicety. Today, it probably is genuine confusion.

When I was a teen, I was the one with boyfriends, going on dates. Now some of my divorced girlfriends are getting more action than their teenagers—much, I must imagine, to their daughters’ dismay. As they develop their own sense of self, of budding sexuality, of what being a woman is all about, teens look long and hard at their mom. And if their middle-aged mother is looking hotter and acting hipper than they are, what’s a teenager to think?

Maybe what seventeen-year-old Cressida Grant was thinking last year, when she and her forty-year-old mom both competed for the title of Miss Great Britain. “Mum is drop-dead gorgeous and turns heads wherever she goes,” Cressida said of her mom, Philippa Wood. “I really want to do well but I just suspect that mum might get that little bit further.”

Neither went “that little bit further,” and all I can say to that is, “Whew!”

Of course, having a mom who looks good, takes care of her body, lives a healthy lifestyle, and knows what looks good on and what doesn’t is a wonderful role model for a teen. Like my mom was.

Not too long ago, she sent me a care package of her designer wear—classics that now have become near-vintage. Just like the little girl sneaking into her closet, I was eager to play dress up. But as I slipped on her black cocktail dress, I struggled to make it fit. The waist was smaller than mine, the bustline too big.

I thought of a picture I have of my mother, probably taken when she was about my age now. In her tight low-cut, bright red shirt, her full red lips and playfully devilish expression, she looked, well, sexy. Could I have been wrong about her?

Then it hit me—my mom was a hottie! Good thing I had a few decades to figure that out, though.

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