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10 Steps for Making Over Your Mom

When my mother got sick, I tried to help her the only way I knew how.

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  1. Be the baby of the family. Confound your fashion-apathetic mother by laying the foundation early: love clothing fervently and acquisitively. Watch Clarissa Explains it All and take notes. Underline passages in the Babysitter’s Club books, but only descriptions of Claudia, of the leatherette high-tops and mauve shorteralls and scrunchy ankle socks and rhinestone mania. Your mother will not understand it, but she will always be interested, never dismissive or irritated. When you layer textured bike shorts over bright aqua tights, she will praise your inventiveness. Overflow your closet and try on 10 outfits for every one you can wear. Meanwhile, when your teenage brother outgrows his jeans, she will wear them herself.
  2. Don’t let on that you know you’re the favorite. Even now that you and your brother and sister are grown and gone and favorites don’t really matter, this will only fluster your mother, who has lately become easier than ever to fluster. This is normal— this is a peripheral symptom of her Parkinson’s disease, diagnosed two years ago now, after a persistent hand tremor began to muck up her beautiful penmanship. She had a steadier hand than most, and used to write your name on brown paper lunch bags with three colors of calligraphy pens. She worries more about the future now, about when she will have to quit driving and working and living alone. You can remember her having been sick only one time in your life. Now when you call her, she will talk about doctors, what they say and what they can’t.
  3. Try your hardest not to lose patience as she loses speed and dexterity and sometimes, it seems, words. Try not to register every loss: knife skills, still legs, acuity. Feel monstrous when you do anyway.
  4. Witness your siblings make ramparts against the disease: future plans and exercise regimes and fiscal strategy. Don’t look so blank. The sun is setting on your time as the baby. Maybe it’s set already, when you weren’t paying attention. Maybe it’s fully nighttime and you’re the only one who hasn’t noticed.
  5. Know that Who will take care of me? is an unseemly thought for an able-bodied person over 30. Think it anyway. Wonder why you’re the only one who stubbornly refuses to shapeshift carelessly from cared for to caretaker. Even if cared for was mostly symbolic at this point. Even if you have health insurance and a lease and a 401k and a boyfriend and a skincare regimen and more than one umbrella and at least three plants. Even though when you called your mother before the diagnosis, you weren’t always asking for something. Sometimes you just wanted to sigh loudly about a disappointing salad.
  6. Think of one thing you can do for her. Your mother had no hand in your devotion to clothes. You can give her this. She’s losing bits of herself. Not cataclysmic, and not all at once, but things that matter to her. Her handwriting first — you once watched her address every one of your brother’s wedding invitations, consulting Emily Post to get the etiquette right (either The Drs. Pepper or Drs. James and Julia Pepper is acceptable). Her easy stride next — she’s always been a pleasure-walker. Still, small things for now. You think: But here is something she can keep. You can gift her the ferocity that comes with loving the cut of yourself, with feeling your look. Your mother needs armor right now, and sometimes armor comes in the form of athleisure-wear. You don’t have to be your mother’s mother. You can be the baby that buys your mother your own favorite sweatpants, the Outdoor Voices Merino Sweats in navy.
  7. Or the Everlane Linen Crew Sweater in cream/blue stripe. Any Everlane crewneck, really. Not V-necks, though. You are your mother’s daughter, and neither of you could ever abide a V-neck.
  8. Or the Allbirds Wool Runners in natural black. No, kotare mint. No, natural black. One style dictate from your mother that you took to heart: Don’t skimp on shoes. Thank her for the permission she granted you in this regard.
  9. Next time you see her, you may not fail to notice how heavy her gait is, or how tremorous her hand. You may wish she weren’t quite so thin (the stomach-jumbling tremors being a scarily effective appetite suppressant), but you can’t deny how well that linen crew hangs on her. You’re both fashionably no-frills, mother-daughter minimalists. She looks like she could be a model in a cynically conceived, buzzed-about ad campaign that features older models who may or may not have Parkinson’s. You’ve laid the groundwork. When the time comes to buy herself new glasses, she will do so without your counsel, but will choose frames that look something like yours. They will look great on her. You will swell with pride at your own skill at this corner of caretaking, and her prodigious teachability.
  10. Call her, still, in desolation about love and lunch. But also ask her to tell her what she’s eaten that day, and what she will eat next. And when you tell her that she must eat more, maybe the authority with which you speak to your mother make you unbearably sad, but only medium-sad. Tell her about the Everlane Wide-Leg Crop Pant, which are divisive but intriguing, and which you think might work on her. Something that has always been true of your mother is that the woman can wear the hell out of a pant.
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