Monday, January 22, 2007


“It is shocking to look in the mirror,” my mom once told me, “because I feel that I am the same age as you, but then my body will stiffen and tire out and I remember that I am growing older.”

In 1976, I was two-years-old. My brother was 5, and my mother, representing her era with the utmost authenticity, was a mere 27. Seeing her image captured in a family photo I can only assume was just one in several shot that day (judging by the “please take it already” look on all of our faces), I try to process how young she is, how if I met her now she would actually be five years my junior. I imagine us bumping into each other at the park district pool during swim lessons, or talking over the fence in our adjoining back yards, as peers, but it is too weird of a scenario to take seriously. At some point in my daydream, I always end up asking my younger-than-me-mom to help me clean my oven, or take me out to breakfast because I am desperate to get out of the house but am low on cash. Even now, she tells stories from her childhood and I secretly think, “Yeah, right, we all know you didn’t exist before me.”

While making dinner this past weekend, my four-year-old son and I had an interesting conversation about adulthood and marriage. I was prepared, due in part to his older brother going through a similar phase at his age, for the concept of growing older to be met with much skepticism. After laying down the ground rules for what type of person he could marry (i.e. a girl he is not related to), Ben decided that he and his new bride would most likely continue living with me, in this house. I filed that comment away in my long-term memory so I could for sure bring it up again at his actual wedding. “That would be nice,” I told him, “I enjoy spending time with you.”

And then it came, the sad realization for both of us that glimpses of separation and mortality had broken through the barriers of blissful thoughts on super heroes and ice cream bars. “When I’m a parent, mommy, are you going to die?” he asked. For the next few minutes we went over how I still had a mommy, and daddy still had his mommy, even though both of us had grown up and had children. He really wanted a guarantee rather than examples, however, so looking into his hopeful face I whispered a prayer and offered what I could. “Mommy will be around for a long, long time.”

As I hem and haw over every parenting decision I make, I forget sometimes that my kids have absolute confidence I know exactly what I am doing. That, in fact, if Benjamin went back seventeen years in time and found me on a high-school football field in a cheerleading skirt and 6-inch tall bangs, he probably wouldn’t bat an eye before asking me to pour him some cereal or tie his shoes. To all my kids, I am not a person with needs and insecurities. I am a feeling, a smell, and a presence validating their own identities. My husband works in the child welfare system and tells me about case after case where abuse was obvious but the child remained loyal to his birth mother or father. It is humbling, as a parent, to realize that such loyalty isn’t earned by wisdom and patience, but rather, is given away freely out of an innate desire to be connected – to be inexorably linked to another soul.

Admittedly, there are many moments when I question my own purpose. I agonize over my identity and my place in this great big world. “What do I have to offer,” I wonder, “from within these walls?” On my really bad days, I can it take it even further. “I am doing nobody any good by just holing myself up in this house all day with the laundry and the dirty dishes.” “Poor me,” I blubber, while my children, regardless of my enthusiasm, remain loyal and certain of my place, as the end-all, be-all of their existence.
It is up to me to either take courage from their assuredness or seek approval from elsewhere.

“Give this to your mom.” A woman handing out calendars at the grocery store confuses me for a teenage daughter. I laugh and hand the calendar to my mother who is with me, shopping on a Saturday morning. Now that I am pretty sure a low-grade fever does not necessitate a trip to the emergency room, and digested play-doh does not require a stomach pump, I am able to start appreciating my mother as an individual, separate from me. I admire her for putting in millions of hours without a formal acknowledgement of her service to our family. I am aware of the idiosyncrasies that make her fabulously unique. I can be thankful for her without trying to be her, or having her life define my own. Running errands, as friends, we compare cleaning products and share cooking tips and only briefly do I regress upon seeing a box of Cookie Crisp in the cereal aisle. “Please mom!” I almost beg for old times sake, but everybody knows that cereal is way too expensive to eat everyday, and my 33rd birthday is nowhere near close enough to count as a special occasion. “I’m going to grab some laundry detergent,” I say instead. And I pick up the pace, wrestling my cart into submission, because I have an awful lot of important work to do when I get home.

1 comment:

Mimi said...

Great post and a way to think about how we interact with our children and with our parents.