I look in the mirror these days and aside from signs of aging, I see glimpses of my mother, my aunt, my grandmothers. Even the face recognizer in iphoto identifies the resemblances. Images of my mother and me come up as the same person. At one time this would have upset me greatly as I wanted total independence from her … I didn’t want to act like her, look like her, sound like her, walk like her … She was bigger than life, like Aunty Mame, dramatic and wild and just plain out there. I wanted to stability, serenity and quiet.


For decades, I worked hard at individuation and accentuating the differences between us. She was artistic and erratic, so I was academic and controlled; she wore vibrant colors and theatrical clothes, I wore dark cool shades and dressed more casually; she was intense, I was calm; she was a little ADD, I was a little OCD; she was the life of the party, I preferred to stay at home; she was extremely affectionate, I was more reserved. She had a crazy way of talking with her made up words and going off on tangents; I tried to speak plainly and clearly, and studied linguistics. The list goes on.

In one particular instance, in my early twenties, my fear of being like my mother became overwhelmingly clear to me. I had just graduated from the University of Toronto and as reward to myself, I made an appointment to get my hair cut at Vidal Sassoon in Yorkville, a fashionable shopping district in midtown Toronto. My hair was long at the time and I told the hair stylist, Alfredo, that I was up for a dramatic change. I wanted to go quite a bit shorter, but not too short or too severe. The discussion went on for a while and I thought that the two of us were in sych. But evidently Alfredo had his own ideas, and he gave me the shortest haircut I ever had, not much different than my mother’s gamin cut, her signature style, very similar to Mia Farrow’s haircut in Rosemary’s Baby. So we are talking extreme.


I looked in the mirror and just stared at my reflection in total shock, holding back tears. I looked just like my mother. I had crossed that line of self differentiation and I was horrified. Now don’t get me wrong, the horror did not come from a feeling that my mother was unattractive. She was in fact quite stylish and even stunning, and to be honest, she was the better looking of the two of us. It’s just that I wanted to be myself, and I had to fight for that so hard in our relationship because she was quite a forceful personality and had strong ideas about the way I looked and acted. And I fell short, often. I know she loved me, but I was an ongoing project for her, her little doll.

But back to my haircut – Alfredo finished up with the ritual of twirling me in the styling chair holding a hand held mirror positioned so I could see the way my hair looked in the back – I could barely speak but I’m sure I said something in acknowledgement and then just paid my bill, ran out of the salon and immediately went to Holt Renfrew down the street to buy a hat. I was so desperate to cover my hair, that money was no object and I bought a very glamourous and quite expensive wide-brimmed black straw hat, and plunked it on my head and walked out of the store.

And there’s the irony. The hat solution was no solution at all since not only did my mother wear her hair very short but she also adored hats, the more dramatic the better. She wore big hats with flowers, Mary Poppins hats, cocktail hats, bowler hats, tams with feathers, even tiaras (an embarrassing story that deserves a whole entry on its own). There really was no escape for me.

And now my mother’s been gone over a year. Her short hair and dramatic ways are only the stuff of memories. I look in the mirror and see her and see myself struggling for years … and for what. To have waited until my 40s to discover that yes indeed I am an artist like my mother, that I am intense, dramatic and wild. That life is like a drug for me, like it was for her, that I want to scream and dance with joy when I sense beauty, whether its a work of art, the sound of music, the fragrance of a flower, the sight of deer in a meadow or the touch of someone close to me. Just like my mother. That I make up crazy words and go off on tangents just like her.

Yes I see you my beloved mother, every day, in my face, in my eyes, in my hands, in my feet, in my thick coarse hair, that’s just like yours, only a little “longer”.

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