Eularee Smith
Writer & Educator

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What Is My Mother Doing in My Mirror?

I remember, as a child, thinking my grandmother was really old. To a six year old, 50 is OLD! Working at a youth performing arts center, I am surrounded by children. I was admiring a little one dancing in the lobby one day. Her remark to me, "too bad you are too old to dance". What? As Art Linkletter used to say "Kids say the darndest things."

But she was right. Through her eyes, I was indeed too old to dance. She knew nothing about the pain in my knees. Her perspective was that of a six year old. Here I am in my 60's and realizing I don't recognize the woman in the mirror anymore. It's not so much that I look like my mother, as it doesn't look like me.

How did that happen? Sure, I can moan and groan about my mastecotomy, chemo, radiation, KIDS, ovarian cancer, chemo (again), hysterectomy, but the truth is, I am living the new normal. The sixty year old normal, and frankly, I've never been here before, so what do I know?

My 87 year old mother told me that she doesn't remember a day without aches and pains. Since my last round of cancer, I can say that about the past two years. I am just now starting to separate what is age related and what is cancer related. In either case, there may be an old lady wearing my clothes, but she certainly is not looking through my eyes.

I am the same woman who went to college, partied all night (I hope my kids aren't reading this), married young, had 3 kids, went backpacking, camping, all night road trips and would never have let a speck of dust hit the floor before I mopped it up. I worked in the garden from dawn until dusk, even in the driving rain. I washed the car every week and meticulously cleaned every square inch. Unfortunately, these things now take me longer to do and sometimes just don't get done.

I struggle with the picture on the website and what I look like now after the ravages of cancer. Which one is me? Can they both be me? If so, why don't I recognize myself when I look in the mirror?

Who am I? I don't look the same. I don't feel the same. I don't feel old, but mirrors don't lie. I had a wonderful discussion with my six year old granddaughter. She was trying on bathing suits and I found a dress I liked. As we are sharing the dressing room, she says one of the suits doesn't fit right, but the sparkly one was perfect. I tried on the dress and said it wasn't me and you could see all my scars. I put the dress back.

Driving home, she asked me if the reason I didn't get the dress was because I didn't want people to see all my scars. I thought for a moment, and told her no, it was because I didn't feel good in the dress. It wasn't me. I asked her about how she felt in the one bathing suit that didn't fit her right and the sparkly bathing suit she did like. She smiled and said yes, that was how she felt. The sparkly suit made her feel pretty and fancy. 

I have since found the right dress. I need to stop wearing clothes that make me feel uncomfortable, even though they are what I think I should be wearing. I have to create a new style that fits me now, bad knees, scars and all. So when I look in the mirror, I see a beautiful woman through my eyes and my mother smiling proudly in the background. Welcome to my new normal!

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