Lourdez Sanchez

Mary Ellen Mark, Lourdes at a children's fashion show, Miami Beach, Florida, 1986; PAGE 76: Lourdes Sanchez and her three children, 2011.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Mary Ellen,
I have to tell you how much respect I have for you as a photographer and artist. I honestly didn't know who you were or anything about this picture until one day I decided to look myself up on Google and see what would come up. I Googled my maiden name first. I instantly saw a little girl in curlers and thought: Wow that's weird, I was always in curlers. Then I zoomed in and recognized that it was me.

I want to express to you just how much that picture encompasses the feelings I had as a child and more, now as an adult. That picture tells so much of my childhood and my relationship to my mother. You caught my soul in that picture.

I'm a daughter of a narcissistic mother and have suffered in confusion for many years. Finally at the age of thirty, after having three children of my own, I've come to realize how my feelings of confusion came to be. I guess what people have experienced with their own mothers comes out when they themselves become mothers.

I was an accessory to my mother. The way she is clutching my hand in the picture, and my face of sadness at being forced to perform at some children's fashion show full of lights and people clapping-l was terrified, and that is apparent in my expression. Just smile, then she will be happy, is what I was thinking. That day, it seems, I couldn't even crack a smile.

I did fashion shows for her all the time. I hated them. I felt sick, nauseous, and shaky on the rides to the fancy hotels she took me o, thrown in the leather back seat of her Jaguars or Cadillacs or whatever they were, hoping not to vomit on my new dresses. She would disappear to go sit at tables with her friends while I changed clothes and got my hair twisted and pulled in some dark backroom full of strangers and pinchy shoes.

I learned to comfort myself.

She was never the type of mother to hold me, hug me, kiss me, tell me she loved me. She wasn't concerned about how sad I was, how bored at Neiman Marcus and Saks. Instead of playing at the park or with friends, I mingled with salespeople while she was in dressing rooms. I talked to them about my day at school, about my grades, about how I hated my math teacher. My mother never listened, but the salesgirl did-she knew she'd better if she wanted to earn her commission for the day. I talked, they listened. I was happy.

My mother wanted me to look good. I was a reflection of how great a mother she was because I looked nice from the outside. Something wasn't nice until she looked at the tag for the designer-if it was a recognizable one, to her the item was nice. If not, it was crap. (For some reason, I've always preferred the crap....)

I was an unplanned pregnancy. My two brothers were sixteen when my mother found out she was pregnant again. I don't know what must have occurred that day she told my dad they would have to start all over again, but I can only think it wasn't good.

I don't know what it feels like to have an unwanted child. I myself had a homebirth with my son because I wanted to feel the birth, I wanted to connect. She never got it. She lied and told her friends I gave birth at South Miami Hospital-so I never got the flowers they sent.

She could never understand it. She never connected to any of us.

My mother is all about handbags and dresses. They know her by name at Carolina Herrera. She visits the salespeople at the stores more often then she does my children and me. On the other hand, she buys my kids broken toys from Goodwill, and stained clothing-that's what narcissists do, I guess. Once I outgrew the phase when she dressed me and was ready to shop for my own clothes, I can't remember ever buying an outfit at a real store. She always took me to Goodwill-I thought it was the only place I was allowed to buy clothes. While she spent $800 on a jacket I had to be OK with one costing $8. I never understood it but was afraid to question it.

A friend's mom took me to Sears for my first bra. I wore hand-me-downs for my communion dress and quinceaƱera dress.

My mother would send me away on long vacations with my godmother. Rosy was her name. She was the one who mothered me and comforted me when I was sick. She was the first person to hug me. I'll never forget it: I had pink eye, and she just got into the bed and put a little Kleenex over my eye with some medicine in it and hugged me for what felt like hours.

Rosy was proud of me. She showed me off to people at stores and laughed and said yes when they asked if I was her daughter. As much as she wanted me to be her daughter, I wished she had been my mother. We both had blue eyes, which was cool to me since both my parents had brown eyes. She was one of the mothers in my pre-K class who took a liking to me-I would go over to her house and I would pretend I lived with them: it was a big family, full of love and affection. It felt like family. It's funny, because at my own house I felt like the guest.

I named my third child after her. Sienna Rose.

My mother never liked my straight hair; it was always in curlers. My face was always too pale and blush was constantly applied. She never liked my sense of style or taste and she always made sure to tell me. She never let me just be who I was-a little girl who liked getting into the dirt, planting stuff, and playing kickball. She wished I was unlike myself and more of something she wanted me to be. She always put me into itchy embroidered dresses and doused me in gold jewelry, just like her.

I hated it all-it was so fake. But I performed for her. I wore what she wanted me to and smiled for the cameras. No one else ever came to my shows or saw what I was doing-not my brothers, not my father. But I did it, and I did it well. I always stole the show. I was the one who came out with the designer and walked down the catwalk at the end of the fashion show. And everyone stood up from their chairs for me and my mother was a hero. Everyone came to her and congratulated her on how well I'd done. Then she would take me out for a Happy Meal. I had made her day; she was the mother with the cutest kid. The saddest kid.

I found a copy of this picture in a small box I always carried with me as a child. I had forgotten I even had it, and I had no idea how meaningful it would be for me looking at it as a mother myself. I guess a mother has a keen awareness, an instinct, looking into a child's eyes ... I always look for sadness in my children's eyes, hoping that joy is all I find. So I looked into my own eyes and as soon as I did, I saw sadness. I recognized it.

The picture captures that weird, strained relationship between mother and daughter. How we as daughters sometimes become the aspiring dreams of what our mothers wish they themselves were or could've been. It's as if time stands still and we are them. We become their puppets. Their Chanel purses. I was like my mother's purse: I was an accessory.