Mother’s Day

Taking photos of photos is hard.

I never thought I looked much like my mom, which used to really disappoint me. I can see so much of my sister in her, especially in photos of Mom from the late 1970s. Those images could easily have been Randall in a vintage shirt, doctored up with a Instagram filter. I always wished I could pass for her in the same way.

What my mother and I lack in physical resemblance, we make up for in manner. Countless times a day I catch myself acting like she would. Someone asks me a question and I’ll take a deep breath, lick my lips before answering. I’ll tease someone and then start laughing and hunch my shoulders so they know I’m kidding. We have the same sense of humor, the same penchant for singing in a goofy voice around the house. We get our feelings hurt easily. I feel so much of her in who I am, and over time I let go of needing to see our resemblance in the mirror, too.

A few months ago, I went home for the first time in a long time. I was helping Mom sort through a bunch of old shit in a storage unit. I know that’s not the most poetic way of describing it, but isn’t that mostly what a storage unit is? A bunch of old shit? That’s not to say we didn’t find some gems! Highlights include my high school journal, old postcards, a necklace from my 6th grade boyfriend. Then we stumbled upon a real throwback: a photograph of me as a toddler, sitting on Mom’s lap. I remember the photo itself, and I remember people telling me it was indeed me in the photo, but I can’t see how that child grew up to be me.

“Yes, of course that was you,” Mom said, “That was your little outfit.” I do show up in that pink and blue ensemble a lot. In the photo, my mom is wearing a chunky but elegant green knit sweater, a simple gold necklace, and small gold earrings. Her hair is dark and closely cropped. She is eight, maybe nine years older than the age I am now. I took the picture home with me, and it’s been on my bookshelf since.

Last night, having Mother’s Day on my mind, I picked up the photo and looked at it closely. For the first time, I could really see myself in her. My eyes are her eyes. Not the same color — mine aren’t as vibrant, but the shape is the same. And our jaw is similar! Our cheeks, too! These small bits and pieces quietly add up to a resemblance, one that’s taken me this long to notice.

People tell me that my sister and I look like twins, but I’ve never been able to see that, either. Instead, I feel related to my sister when I tell someone who deserves it that they’re being an asshole. When I write something I’m really proud of. When I laugh, when I cry, when I shrug.

“You girls both shrug your shoulders. Where do you get that from?” Mom asked us in the car once. We didn’t know, and probably shrugged in response. Now, it seems so obvious to me. We get it from her! She does it all of the time, it’s just that none of us had noticed it before. More than any physical resemblance we might share, it’s these small, inherited traits I treasure the most. They connect me to my mother and to my sister in ways time and distance can’t undo.

When I was about four years old, I was brushing my teeth before bed. Mom was leaning against the bathroom doorway, watching me in the mirror. She smiled the way she does before she tells us she loves us, out of nowhere. “I was so much like you when I was your age!” she said.

Maybe it was the way I was holding the toothbrush or the look on my face, but I finally understand what she meant.