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Daughterhood and the Ugly Baby

Updated: Aug 22, 2020

Note: the woman in the photo is not my Mom, though she’s every bit as beautiful.

Don’t take this the wrong way. My mother is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I remember her in the 70s, getting ready to go out, the babysitter already here, spritzing on the last touch of her hippy perfume. The orange jumpsuit with the gold-link belt. The floppy hat.

Or, pregnant with my sisters in Bermuda shorts and a pony tail, slicing watermelon out on the patio, smiling at my Dad. I would run and hug them both around the legs and they’d look down. Laugh and pick me up for a giggly family hug.

In later years her librarian’s bun with the pencil stuck through it. Or practicing her tai chi on that same patio. Who cares if the neighbors looked on, a friendly wave of their Budweiser as they grilled their dinner on a warm July night.

So don’t take it the wrong way when I say I feel like the proud mother of a big ugly baby when I take my mom out in her wheelchair. The ugly doesn’t come from me. She’s still the most beautiful thing in my life, even with her spotted T-shirt and messy hair, the unfortunate result of her demented fear of water.

It kills me when the people look away, though, somehow embarrassed for her.

As we walk through the mall, I notice the cute babies that everyone oogles and awwws, riding fine in their tiny wheelchairs. Chocolatey mouths and sticky stuff in their hair. The sweet chubby toddlers, red twisted faces howling two-year-old swears cuz Momma said no to a cake pop.

How we adore babies. You see the ladies looking on, thinking oh yes, I remember those days, the best days of my life. The kids were so sweet and my husband still loved me.

But seeing us go by, they look the other way. They didn’t know my mom when she took belly dancing lessons with the other daring mom on our block. Or sewed the flies shut on my dad’s boxers as a “joke” to get her point across: she hated mending socks and dress shirts instead of breaking the budget to just get some goddam new ones.

Cool and funny and pretty, cookies after school. The whole nine yards. And now this.

The other day I read a piece on a website called (Check it out, to those of you I know who are taking care of their folks, too.)

“While new mothers are showered with love and often share a path well-lit by friends and neighbors, the road is often dark and hard to navigate when it comes time to mother their own mothers, or any relative for that matter.”

This really surprised me: Some opinions about those caring for a parent weren’t even neutral. I’m reading about daughters being criticized for doing a such meaningless task, caring for a parent, as if it were beneath us, lacking dignity they say.

Call me undignified all you want. I do not care. Just please leave my perfect mom out of it.

Babies are so cute we could die, I get it, and they make us feel hope and joy. My mom’s a little wrinkly but geez, she’s made her lifetime of contributions. She deserves something for that, doesn’t she? And it’s easy. She doesn’t even need a cake pop. Crack a smile and shoot it across the mall, that’s it.

Epilogue: As we walked through the mall that day, three separate kids, each around 5 years old came over, looked up at my Mom, and did a shy little smile and “Hi Lady.” One even dared to reach out and gently pat her hand. I guess no one’s explained to him about dignity yet :-)


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