I moved to Vermont when I was 26.
At that time, all decisions were motivated by work, and this was my 3rd career and location move in 5 years.
My mother remarked a few times she thought I was smart to experience what it’s like to make my own decisions, to be on my own and independent as an adult. She and my father were married towards the end of college, as was the trend at the time for women. She went straight from her parents house, to college, to living with my father and having children soon-after. My parents had a successful marriage and she was happy, but she did acknowledge to me more than once, she wished she, as a woman, had that opportunity to live as a young adult on her own.
To experience her career on her own.
To date as an adult.
That actually cracked me up at the time, my mom date? But I now get what she was saying 100%. What I experienced during those years, on all levels, was invaluable and had I not learned what I did then about life, love, coping, independence, I think my subsequent choices would have been bad.
I eventually made my life in Vermont more permanent. I moved again within the state about 4 years later, changed jobs, and lived with my then-boyfriend, now husband. One day around this time, during a quick stop to a clothing store I bumped into a former co-worker, a grandmotherly woman, with long gray hair piled loosely in a bun and big round glasses worn down towards the tip of her nose. I met this woman in my first few weeks at the office, and we had a nice rapport, but we hadn’t seen each other since. Peering down through her glasses, she looked at me for a little longer than what you would expect to be polite, and eventually remarked:
“You look the same. But something’s changed. Your face has a new maturity about you now.
It looks great on you.”
I just smiled; not really sure how to respond.
Do you all know that change?
The time when you cease being that carefree, happy-go-lucky young adult with no responsibilities, and then become the one with many? I was certainly unaware I possessed this new-found maturity as it happened, but as I think back, she was right. I recognize the same changes in a few of my younger friends who are going through it now.
And I’m wondering today, a decade or so later, if yet another new level of maturity is taking shape.
Because when I look in the mirror, I’m tempted to do a double-take, something seems different.
A few days ago I read a blog post by Nicola Joyce, a fitness writer, who shared with readers a video she created for the What I see project. This project, founded by Edwina Dunn, in the U.K., sets out to explore how women globally answer this question:
What do you see when you look in the mirror?
Are they reading my mind?
It’s not often a message appears exactly when you need it; I’m glad this one did.
This is a simple question. But one most of us are never asked.
And probably have no idea how to put our internal thoughts into words, although we take glances in that mirror a few times each day.
I have not shared my story with the project yet, but I am fascinated by the question and have become enchanted with the stories of others who have submitted responses to the project. Some women respond based on how they look. And some respond based on who they are as person, and all they have accomplished. Some seem truthful and searching; their stories poignant. Some sound like they are saying what they want others to hear, but whether they are being honest, or just showing bravado, we’ll never know.
And, what would I say?
Would I be superficial and talk about my flaws, and all the parts of me I wish were different?
Or would I be one of the women who looks deeper, beneath the surface of the once-sparkling blue eyes, the ones with dark circles etched with what seems like permanent black lines. Am I one who thinks about the character of me as a person, and what I really, truly have experienced over the years and have to offer?
When I’m standing in front of that mirror, I certainly want to see the character within me. The independent, career-minded one who moved to Vermont way back when, and surrounded herself with loving people, built a safe and beautiful home and family. I want to see the woman who is a caring, supportive, loving mom and wife. The one who has made good solid choices. The one who is a good friend. A survivor of many challenges. And I want to see the woman who knows she has needs too, and makes sure those needs do not get swept aside.
But sadly, in reality, I do not usually see her.
Instead, I see the here and now, and give myself a hard time.
What’s happening with my hair today?
Do these jeans look tight?
Maybe I’m not exercising enough.
Maybe I need to get some cover-up to gloss over these dark circles…
I’m the one who ignores the fact that aging does happen after awhile. And even if it happens gracefully, I assume this reality doesn’t apply to me, so what I see reflecting back never lives up to this high expectation.
The subject of character.
When I was a kid, my father’s most often used saying to my brothers and me was “it’s character building”. Whether it was the result of doing our chores, paying for our car insurance or doing our homework, whatever we had to endure, that we didn’t like, built character.
We grumbled and rolled our eyes whenever we heard it.
He would laugh.
And as usual, with time, we all knew he was right.
I know I have that character he helped me build; I just need to see it for myself. To recognize it. To put value on it.
I used to like the fact I wasn’t the spitting image of either of my parents. My eyes and skin color resemble my mothers side of the family; my disposition and height from my father. But my look was truly my own. The perfect mix.
Just the other day, I was getting a haircut. With hair wet and slicked back, sitting in front of the mirror at the salon, I looked at myself, realizing for the first time I’m seeing more and more of my fathers face looking back at me.
He’s no longer here, so that’s a little eerie. I wonder if the last time he saw me, he thought that too?
Sometimes it takes me awhile to develop a new habit and act on it, even if I know it’s the right thing to do. Like knowing who I am isn’t just about what I physically see in that mirror. It’s the sum of all I have learned and achieved. The ever-expanding accumulation of maturity that grows within me, and on my face, as I weave in and out of different chapters of my life.
Maybe this is the difference I’m starting to see now.
The new-found resemblance to my father; now a gentle reminder to me each day.
No quick glances.
Take a better look, and appreciate more deeply the person staring back in the mirror each day.
And as my former co-worker said way back when, the maturity probably does look great on me…
How would you respond to this question? An interesting question for men too, who are even less often asked about their true feelings.
I’d love to hear your stories.
And please check out the What I see website and view some of the videos and perhaps submit your story…you may get lost in them like I did.