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A Mother-Daughter Bond: The Richard Simmons Effect

A man brought us together.

I was an independent, pompous, stubborn, know-it-all teenager; like all independent, pompous, stubborn, know-it-all teenagers, the relationship I had with my mother was volatile at best. As an old hag now of middle age, I realize in hindsight that the volatility of our mother-daughter bond was more a result of our being so very much alike than anything else.

My angst came from a place of wanting to get out already and hers from that desperate heartache of knowing her oldest baby bird simply could not wait to fly away.

A car accident my senior year of high school grounded me to the confines of home for a couple of months while I healed. This housebound time equipped me with all the tools of becoming a proper young woman in the late 1980s: a paper bag filled with Dean Koontz and VC Andrews books, gossip rags by the vat-load, daytime talk shows and the amazing sagas of The Young and the Restless. All passed down like a rite of passage from mother to daughter. Between you and me, those few months provided me with all the education I needed to leave the nest and venture out on my own drama-filled Jerry Springer inspired life. I did already know it all, after all.


One might think that a moody teen cooped up at home all day would intensify the sultans of swing and put a damper on the already testy mother-daughter dynamic in the house. Ironically, this was not the case. My mother cared for me during this time and made sure I was as comfortable and happy as could be. I suppose you could say she home schooled me in all the tool providing lessons outlined above.

For a number of reasons, it didn’t seem odd when I cut the two-by-two inch square black and white headshot photo of ’80s exercise guru Richard Simmons out of US Magazine and taped it to my mother’s bedroom door as a joke. What did seem odd was that she loved it so much, it became a permanent fixture. For more than twenty-five years, this little photo has remained affixed to the door with hospital tape. The photo, with its faded, curled edges, still graces the hallway of my mother’s home untouched—just as I placed it when I was a girl.

I’m not sure if the timing was purely coincidental with my needing to be cared for and the fact that the sun was rising on the moment when I would fly away and begin my own journey as a young adult in life, or if the photo of Richard Simmons on my mother’s door simply signified a white flag and new silent understanding in our relationship, but it has brought us each joy and a continued remembrance of a special pocket of time when we formed a new bond on top of the stairway.

We walk by Richard’s goofy, smiling face and laugh. We remember the time. We recall how funny we thought it was and how we giggled so together at his presence despite my being very ill. And when we weren’t basking in the joy that the photo somehow brought us, we were sharing our thoughts on the paperback books and gossip rags we read or curled up together on her bed totally engaged in the latest happenings of Y&R. She would fix me small bites to eat—my favorites like ice cream or English muffins with peanut butter—in hopes that I would keep some food down. She would sit up with me at night to comfort me as my head hung in the toilet as a result of not being able to keep those awesome snacks in my belly. She took me to doctor appointment after doctor appointment in search of an explanation for what was happening with me, and encouraged and supported the decision to allow me to go to my prom despite my nerves and chronic ailment. She defended me when told it was in my head, and she put my needs selflessly far ahead of her own.

As mothers sometimes do.

She did all these things all the while knowing that in a few short months, I would eagerly leave home and leave her behind with her memories and a faded photo of Richard Simmons stuck to the door. Before this, I was like any other teenage girl—completely and utterly transfixed on my own life, my own self and my own needs. I kept things to myself and was so involved in outside activities that home was barely a pit stop and questions from mother regarding my whereabouts, my life, my thoughts, my feelings were nothing short of a nuisance. My accident stopped all that, slowed me down and gave us both the gift of having that time together. Time when I allowed myself to share and allowed myself to be taken care of—something I don’t necessarily excel at in my psyche. Time when we could sit quietly and talk about the interests we shared. And when it comes down to it, our interests are very similar. My mother had much more of an impact on me than I think she even realizes today. Because of her influence, I am a dedicated mother, a strong independent woman, I find value in laughter, love and creativity. I encourage my children to embrace their individuality, even when at times it endangers me to feeling left behind.

As mothers sometimes do.

A man brought us together, but it was the love of a selfless woman that made us strong.

Several years later, just after college, I worked at CNN. Imagine my excitement when Richard Simmons came to our bureau for a segment with Larry King. I just knew I had to get a photo with him. I sat in on the interview and we had a Polaroid taken of us—not before singing show tunes together. Swear to God. If it hadn’t been for my special memory, none of this would have mattered, but in a strange way, it was kismet.

Funny how as adults, we visit home and regress in spirit to our youth. When I walk through the upstairs hallway at my mom and stepdad’s house and pass by the faded photo of Richard Simmons on my mother’s bedroom door, I always stop and smile—and even joyfully laugh—and feel the calm embrace of my mother from decades past as she nursed me back to health so I’d be strong enough to fly away from her nest.

As children always do.

You can read more from Kiki Walter on her blog.

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