first person

Going for Botox With My 82-Year-Old Mom

In my 20s, I judged my mother for her midlife vanity. Now that I’m 55, I get it.

Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos courtesy of the author
Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos courtesy of the author
Photo-Illustration: The Cut; Photos courtesy of the author

This article was featured in One Great Story, New York’s reading recommendation newsletter. Sign up here to get it nightly.

When my mother, Veronica, calls me one day to say “My face has fallen and it can’t get up,” we howl like a couple of hyenas. But then she tells me she’s serious; she wants a quick cosmetic fix. The lines around her mouth are bringing her down. “I’m a bubbly person, but these wrinkles make me look like flat Champagne,” she says. My mother is 82.

Getting older together has brought us closer, even though we already live only three blocks from each other in Los Angeles. The decades-wide age gap between us now feels more like a puddle than a pond. For the first time in our lives, we actually bitch about the same things: achy joints, back fat, frown lines. Over the phone on our daily calls, we swap notes on the latest aging studies and foods that fight inflammation.

But while we complain about our own insecurities, we don’t pick at each other’s scabs anymore. At first, when my mom moved near me a few years ago, I hounded her like she was a teenager. “You’re wearing that?” I would ask when she showed up in one of her vintage leather jackets. A couple of months ago, we agreed to greet each other with a compliment instead of a criticism. Unlike, say, sometime in the ’90s, when I wore my long hair parted down the middle like Kate Moss and Veronica told me I looked like “an exhausted social worker.” Now when I pick her up to go grocery shopping, she tells me my skin looks good or that my jeans “fit just right.” I always say she looks beautiful or radiant when she gets in the car — and I’m not lying. My mom is a natural stunner with mint-green eyes and high cheekbones. She mostly wears her fine honey-blonde hair in a loose chignon. When she meets someone for the first time, she smiles like she just won a spelling bee.

Growing up, the hung-over dads at my suburban soccer games didn’t disguise their bleary lust for my mom. But in my mind, she didn’t become a full-tilt beauty until I turned 21 and she reached midlife. At 48, my mom drop-kicked her marriage and started wearing enough Opium perfume to crop-dust a cocktail party. She grew out her mom bob and lifted weights in her new condo. She flirted with the pharmacist. She bought a snug snowsuit and joined a ski club for singles. Veronica went from bitter housewife to middle-aged Bond girl.

Before the divorce, my mom, who ate sparingly and rarely smiled with her teeth, was a caged beauty. My dad didn’t ogle her (I think her looks intimidated him); he belittled her. Veronica didn’t go to college, unlike my dad, and he lorded his degrees over her. If she mispronounced a word, he sneered.

When I got plump on Twix bars in middle school, Veronica wasn’t amused. She brought me diet books from the library and turned me on to Tab. It didn’t help that I had inherited my Irish dad’s wide face, deep-set eyes, and smattering of freckles. My mom will forever deny I was a physical disappointment to her, but I felt like the runt of the litter. Girls swooned over my handsome older brother, Robert, in high school; my lithe little sister, Noreen, had long, plush lashes and fended off grade-school crushes. I was the genetic downer in family photos. I retaliated by stealing my mom’s favorite Mary Kay lipsticks and pinching my sister’s skinny inner thigh in the back seat of the car. I stockpiled boxes of Betty Crocker cake mix under my canopy bed; at night, I ate dry, heaping spoonfuls when I felt depressed.

Then, the summer before high school, I grew six inches. I started dieting competitively, as my mom did with her friends. At a family reunion, an uncle said to me, “Whoa! No one ever expected you to be a looker.” I was 15 and deadpanned, “Don’t worry, I’m still ugly inside.” Secretly, I was overjoyed to finally be pretty. When Veronica came to visit me at college a few years later, my friends gushed about her good looks and her style. One night, I got drunk enough to slump in a corner of my dorm room and moaned to my then-boyfriend, Greg, “I’ll never be gorgeous like my mom.” I’m sure he said something nice in return, but all I can remember now is feeling sorry for myself.

After Veronica divorced my dad, she became, in my mind, Cinderella at the ball. So when she announced to me one day, “I want to get a face-lift,” I was shocked. She was almost, only, 50. It made me sad to think she worried about losing her looks. It also made me furious to think my mom was buying into patriarchal bullshit. I heckled her for being a traitor to the sisterhood. She told me it was “her face, her choice.” I replied by vowing never to get plastic surgery myself. She said, “Your face, your choice.” Of course, I was all of 22, and in hindsight, a total hypocrite.

Case in point: Fast-forward more than three decades and I want a neck lift but I’ll settle for a serum that tightens my jowls for just an hour or so. This past October, I turned 55, and like butter left out overnight — and my jawline — those Second Wave feminist ideals have softened. I see now in the mirror what my mom probably saw when she was my age: the sag, the sun stains. I’m my mother’s daughter: I want to be a flute of crisp Veuve Clicquot too. So I booked a mom-and-daughter dermatologist appointment for some Botox and filler. Veronica will get her marionette furrows spackled, and I’ll get my lined brow smoothed out to resemble a hockey rink.

We go out for breakfast the morning of our appointment. Over scrambled eggs, I ask my mom why she wanted plastic surgery back in the ’90s. Her answer surprises me. “I didn’t have any issues with how I looked,” she says, buttering a piece of toast. “My boyfriend at the time always alluded to meeting a younger woman. He would tell people I was the oldest woman he ever dated, right in front of me.” My mom never scheduled that face-lift, and they eventually broke up. I grit my teeth and ask her whatever happened to that guy. “Oh, Teddy’s long gone,” she says, both of us laughing.

My own yearning for a surgical tweak has nothing to do with my husband. He barely notices when I get Botox and a squirt of lip filler every few months. I don’t want to look decades younger, either. My 20s and 30s were mostly uncertain years, even if my collagen-rich skin glowed. It’s more about preserving what I have right now. Really, I love midlife.

Veronica says that post-Teddy she got over being “moody and sensitive” in midlife and went dancing every weekend. I can still picture her at 50 or so getting ready to go out in a black leather miniskirt and heels — and applying a fake cleft to her chin with eyeliner. That image of her has made aging easier for me. My mom didn’t become invisible in midlife. She got louder, funnier, and sexier.

That’s the beauty of hitting middle age: You decide how you look and feel instead of letting other people be your full-length mirror. Midlife reminds me of the best part of one of those crazy waterslides. You’ve hit the point where you’re no longer anxious and you start to enjoy yourself. Too bad it’s more than halfway to the end. Maybe the Botox is just a placebo. A trick to make me think I’m not actually aging.

After breakfast, my mom and I head to Dr. Nancy Samolitis at Facile on Melrose Place. The stylish spa is known for its millennial clientele, but Samolitis sees patients as advanced as 97 for filler and toxins. She also gets lots of middle-aged daughters like me coming in with their baby-boomer parents in tow. You would think the older folks hope to shed decades. “My older patients have more realistic expectations,” says Samolitis as she dabs a lidocaine cream around Veronica’s mouth to numb the area. “They don’t want to look years younger. They want to look the way they feel.”

“Guess what? I feel 47,” my mom tells her with her big laugh. Samolitis injects Veronica’s pesky marionette lines with Restylane and gives me a few pricks of filler in the same area, along with dots of Dysport around my eyes and forehead. A few days later, my mom and I meet for a walk in the neighborhood. I greet her with “You look refreshed, like you went on a cruise.” “I look more upbeat now,” she tells me. “Those lines made me look angry.” The truth is my mom is more upbeat than me and some of my friends. Lots of us are older hands-on parents with mortgages, hard-earned careers threatened by AI, and hormones that are going apeshit. It can feel like adolescence in reverse. But watching my mom overcome her own crises, then and now, shades my perspective.

At 82, Veronica goes out to jazz clubs and art openings — and sometimes sleeps until noon the next day with her cat, ZouZou. She meets friends for Moroccan food and flirts with younger men. And she still applies that cleft in her chin, too. Just watching my mom’s third act unfold gives me hope that our later decades aren’t all about Mephisto slides and slipped discs. Reflecting on her metamorphosis at 48 reminds me that women in midlife are at their most powerful. I think that’s why men have historically tried to make them feel invisible after 40. As we stroll, I realize my mom continues to be my inspiration for aging well. Maybe you can enjoy the ride all the way to the end. Maybe I can love my third act as much as my midlife. “I’m thinking of getting my teeth whitened,” she says. “Me too,” I say and take her arm in mine.

Going for Botox With My 82-Year-Old Mom