Death, Parenthood, and My Mom’s Shiny Rolex

NOTE: If you're a regular reader, you might find the below essay a bit of an anachronism. And you wouldn't be mistaken. It was one of two pieces I wrote when Teddy was about five or six months old and tried to place in the (now-defunct?) "Lives" column of the New York Times magazine, leading up to my book's publication date. Ultimately, the editors passed, and I wasn't sure if I was going to post it here. But, if I really am going to be walking around wearing my mom's old Rolex, I feel a minor explanation is in order. For those of you more interested in food, I made some insane brownies and will post them next week. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy...
In the weeks after our dad’s sudden death from a heart attack at 65, my brother Bill and I spoke often. Occasionally, we even allowed ourselves to consider whether Dad had left anything behind for us, his first pair of kids, despite the almost certain fact that he would have willed everything to our estranged stepmother and the two children they had together.

Undoubtedly, Dad would have left his assets to them, though perhaps he’d set aside his chess set, or a family photo album, or his first wedding band for one of us? But as months passed and no letter from an attorney arrived at at either of our doorsteps, we reluctantly accepted that he was dead and that was that. No souvenirs from the gift shop.

Truthfully, in the weeks after his death, I was distracted. Of course I thought of him and grieved his loss, but I was in the ninth month of my first pregnancy. In fact, six weeks to the day after his memorial service, I gave birth to my son Teddy.


Since having the baby, my phone calls with my pediatrician mother have become even more frequent, and during a recent one, she casually asked if I wanted her old Rolex. It was broken, but she would pay to have it fixed. I told her thank you but no.

Despite Mom’s unyielding encouragement, my interest in her ongoing jewelry collection has been for the most part to mockingly inquire about upgrades—a reference to her habit of trading in one of her current gold/diamond pieces for store credit at Kay’s, and then paying a bit more to get a larger, shinier version, culminating eventually I suppose with the acquisition of The Great Star of Africa.

“What are you doing for a watch in the mean time?” I asked. “Upgrade?”

“Yeah,” she said, a bit deflated, realizing I was making fun of her.

Four years ago, I wouldn’t have shown such restraint. At that time, when both the price of gold and my husband Matt’s and my need for a new computer were at all-time highs, I sold a menagerie of my mom’s jeweled hand-me-downs for cash.

But Matt’s and my careers are in better places now. (That is to say, they actually exist.) If we really needed a new computer, we could hopefully make it happen without pawning family heirlooms.


On my mom’s next visit, when Teddy was just three months old, she brought the Rolex. She’d repaired it anyway. “Look, you can sell it if you want,” she said; the steel and yellow gold timepiece dangled elegantly from her left thumb and forefinger. “Just don’t tell me about it.”

I took it in my hands and examined it. I knew it well. She’d worn it for my entire life, or at least it felt that way. It had been a gift, and on the back was an inscription:

Merry Christmas
Love, Dan

Dan was Mom’s first boyfriend after my parents’ divorce. I remembered him. He was sweet and easygoing—perhaps to a fault.

That night, I Googled the watch’s make and model. On eBay, the same one was selling from anywhere between two and three thousand dollars.

During Mom’s following visit, a mere six weeks later, she asked if I’d sold it. I told her no, not yet, but that it didn’t seem to be keeping time very well.

“You have to wear it, Ame! Or, if you’re not going to wear it, you have to shake it everyday so it winds.” She reset the time and date and handed it back to me. I slipped it on my wrist and tightened the clasp, heeding her directive.

A few hours later, I was changing Teddy’s diaper, holding his feet with my left hand (my classy, Rolex hand) when I realized that he wasn’t kicking and trying to roll over like he usually did. Instead, he was reaching for the gleaming object on my wrist. “He likes the watch, Mom,” I shouted to her in the next room.

“Oh yeah, Ame. He loves mine.” Her upgrade was to a diamond-faced version.

A few days later, I was on a walk with my neighbor when she noticed the watch. Embarrassed to be caught wearing such a name brand luxury item, I quickly explained its origins and that I was planning on selling it. “No, you should keep it,” she said. “And wear it.”

Until this moment, I can’t say I’d considered this option. The watch was my mother’s. It suited her and her life as a successful doctor, as a conservative Republican, and as a well-to-do older woman with a collection of Christmas sweaters a month deep. Our worlds couldn’t be farther apart.

But a few days after dropping Mom at the airport, I was still wearing it. Matt noticed.

“It stops running if you don’t,” I told him, glancing down at it. “Plus, Teddy likes it.”

He nodded slowly, lower lip turned out—holding back a further comment.
Perhaps because it’s one of those ubiquitous worries (“Oh no, I’m turning into my mother!”), or perhaps because I do see a lot of her in me, I’ve held my mom’s peculiarities at a safe, laughable distance. But, of course, she could be a lot worse.

Sure, she dresses in a gold-and-diamond suit of armor, drinks Diet Coke for breakfast, and regularly spouts Fox News talking points.

She clearly loves me beyond description, she adores Teddy, and despite seeming to mostly use Matt as means to get to her favorite LA delicatessen, I know she loves him too.


It’s months later and still the watch hangs on my left wrist.

I could make a good argument for holding onto it as a keepsake, as a guaranteed souvenir, unlike the ones I’ll never have from my dad, but perhaps it’s something else.

Maybe Mom and I have more in common than I thought.

Maybe I’ve exaggerated our differences over the years, and below the surface, my mom is as compassionate as I believe myself to be and likewise, I’m just as stubborn as she is. Maybe, too, she simply can’t be summed up so easily. Maybe those years of fighting unsupportive peers to become a doctor during a time when not many women were doing so and coping with a very public failed marriage hardened her in a way that I can only tangentially understand.

Or maybe, like Teddy, I just like the watch.


Matthew said...

I love this essay. Also, I really miss the Lives section... still warming up to the new NY Times magazine TO TELL YOU THE TRUTH. xoxo

Anne Zimmerman said...

I was just mourning the Lives section this morning. (But, I was at a conference this fall with the new Ed in Chief of The Mag and he is smart, cool, and authentic, so.... I begrudgingly trust his vision.)

Unknown said...

Love this essay so much--my divorced parents have matching Rolex watches from when they were married (they're best friends now, go figure). I always used to steal my dad's at dinner and wear the men's version around b/c it felt so big and bold. They got my sister and me a set, too, a couple years ago (I turned 30, she graduated from med school). It felt SO extravagant and weird, opening that preset, especially for a family that isn't the wealthiest, but I have to say, it's my most treasured item. It reminds me of family and how weird and cyclical love can be. (And I'm not a conservative gal either ;))

Amelia Morris said...

that made me LOL

Amelia Morris said...

weird and cyclical INDEED! :) :) xox

Amelia Morris said...

Did you read part 1 of the Karl Ove piece? I need to talk about it!

Amelia Morris said...

Thanks, Dani!

ann mccaskey said...

I vote to keep the watch and wear it!

Abby said...

Loved this. Can't believe anyone passed it up. Makes me want to write.

Nina Lee said...

Really loved this- made me think about the complicated feelings we all have towards our parents. Thank you for sharing.

Unknown said...

Love this!


Mary Anne said...

The Lives section lives on! They are just seeking out more diverse LIVES.

Mary Anne said...

NYTMag made a big mistake passing this one up. So great. Loved every word. But now I am wondering why you hid your Rolex from me in January.... ????

HAILEY said...

This was beautiful. I'm so glad you shared!

Shopgirl said...

A beautiful story, well told. I have that same relationship with my mother. I've found it hard to put into words but you managed to do it so nicely.

Mary Jo said...

I come for the food (and excited about the brownies!) but I would come just for stories like this one. Thank you!

Unknown said...

Having children certainly and most gratefully softened my heart towards my mother. I also wanted to take this opportunity as a longtime lurker to tell you how much I loved your book. Bravo! Can't wait for more!

Rachel said...

ha! so familiar.... i inherited a fancy silver cuff from tiffanys this way. i say, when something has history attached to it, it's just not the same as just wearing a big brand name. (and the stuff I don't want? I'm saving for my half sisters for when they are old enough :))

Rachel said...

also, my mom has been begging me to allow her to buy me diamond stud earrings. why? Why? Why? I feel ridiculous just writing this....

b said...

Longtime reader, first time commenter. Loved this! More please.

Amelia Morris said...

uhhh, thanks(?), Mare.

Amelia Morris said...

Thanks, Mare! As for the watch, I don't remember hiding it from you?

Amelia Morris said...

Thank you so much, Cheri!!

Amelia Morris said...

hahahahaa so funny (and complicated!)

Luisa said...

So good. And I'm SO glad you kept and are wearing the watch!

sara said...

I love this. The NYT totally missed the boat.

the gold digger said...

drinks Diet Coke for breakfast

Of course that is so wrong. Everyone knows it's diet Dr Pepper one drinks before noon.

Katherine {eggton} said...

What a great piece.