I like to think that my Mom, who died of breast cancer when I was 11, sends me signs. When I’m thinking about her or am in need of a hug, I’ll sometimes hear Sarah McLachlan’s “I Will Remember You” — the song she dedicated to me before she died — on the radio. On other occasions, I’ll look at the clock and see Mom’s “special time” — 7:24 — symbolic of her July 24 birthday.
Mom always used to call me gorgeous, so I couldn’t help but think of her the other night when I read this passage from “Stuffed,” a food memoir by Patricia Volk:
“I swore to myself that if I ever had a daughter, I’d make sure she wasn’t tyrannized by beauty. Life would be different for her. She would never wonder, Am I gorgeous? Not because she was or wasn’t, but because it wouldn’t matter. I’d devalue gorgeous. Gorgeous would be a fact of life, a nonadvantage. Brains, wit, drive and kindness, waking up every morning wondering, What’s next? — who needs gorgeous if you’ve got all that? Gorgeous would be neither a plus nor a minus, just there, like the Great Barrier Reef. My girlchik would never have good days or bad days based on makeup. She’d never enter a room less confident thanks to her hair. Beauty would be a nonissue. The plan was simple; If I never told her she looked good, she’d never wonder if she looked bad.
“Then I had a daughter. A daughter!
” ‘Look!’ I showed my husband her toes in the delivery room. ‘They’re like fringe! Did you ever in your life see anything so gorgeous?’
“Everyone who came to the apartment saw the toes. They were all the same length, straight and perfectly shaped. ‘Aren’t they like little pink piano keys?’ I said to everyone. ‘Doesn’t she look like a Sarah Bernhardt peony? Did you ever see anything so pink?’ I praised her earlobes and her navel. I praised her ankles and her chin. Her nostrils, her dark eyes, her thighs. I was out of control, couldn’t help myself. What difference did it make? She couldn’t understand.
“I called her Polly after my Gloria Swansonish grandmother. I allowed myself to revel in her beauty. I told myself when she started to speak, I’d stop. Then I couldn’t. She was too gorgeous. To test my objectivity, I invented the Looking Game. I still play it. When Polly’s back is turned, I say to myself: I am looking at this person for the first time. What do I think? And then, when she turns around, I look at her as if she’s a stranger, as if I’ve never seen that face in my life and am forming a first impression. Always I am struck by her gorgeousness. It never fails. And along with this observation comes a great, dambreaking, mother-lode of love. It’s the gorgeous-love connection, the gorgeous-love one-two. And it was realizing this recently that suddenly I understood: Gorgeousness in my family is love. Saying ‘You are gorgeous’ is saying ‘I love you.’ To love someone, no matter what they look like, is to see them as beautiful.
“I don’t love my children because they’re gorgeous, even if they’re gorgeous because I love them.”
I read this passage right before going to bed. The next morning, I woke up a little frantic, realizing I had forgotten to set my alarm. When I looked at the time on my phone, it was 7:24.
Running my finger across the time, I whispered I love you, too, Mom.
14 thoughts on “When moms say ‘you’re gorgeous,’ they mean ‘I love you’”
Beautiful writing, Mallary.
This REALLY spoke to me. I worried about calling my daughter gorgeous–ten a friend told me–you’d say that whatever she looked like! Well, she did grow up gorgeous, inside and out.
You are so talented – and beautiful!
Thanks, Drew and Sandy! … Glad the piece spoke to you, Miriam.
Wow, Mallory, wow. The passage was great but your words were amazing. You’re an incredibly talented journalist and I’m sure your mom would be so proud of the woman her daughter has become.
Thanks, Heidi! That means a lot. 🙂
You are a gorgeous writer, Mallary!
Mallary, that is such a tender article; I feel that I just have to tell you that you are gorgeous!!
Aw, thank you Kathy. Right back at ya! 🙂
You have always, always been “gorgeous” to me because I knew you when and knew you would be grow to become one of the most amazing, courageous and special women I have ever known.
That is so true and so beautiful. You bring tears to my eyes – good tears !!!!
All I can say is what a gorgeous mother you will be!