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My Mom Has a Life Beyond Me?

By Jordan Elizabeth.
I think I was about 10 years old when I saw my mom’s high school photo. She looked basically like my mom did then…but with big, un-cool glasses and a mouth full of old-school braces. It was weird. That wasn’t my mom. (Why did she look so nerdy? Would I be that nerdy? Should I run away?!) As a child who had yet to discover the fate of my own dental destiny and eye health, I could not wrap my mind around the fact that I was staring at my mom. My mom was the grown-up woman who packed me fruit roll-ups and a small tupperware of marshmallows in my lunch every morning. The lady who took me to school, and then had to rush back 30 minutes later when I inevitably called her from the principal’s office, begging her to bring the homework I left at home so I didn’t have to skip recess to redo it. (I feel like she probably could have reminded me to bring it in the first place, but it’s fine, I’m over it now.) The idea that my mom was ever a child, or even crazier – ever made a mistake – was unfathomable.

I’m slightly embarrassed to say this, but it wasn’t until I was 22 that I realized…my mom is a real person. She is not just my mom. She is someone who lived 25 years before I came along. She was a kid who rebelled against her strict parents and later a college student who rebelled by dancing on a bar and kissing a stranger (I can only assume this is true – you just know when a lady used to be wild). She was also once someone who got married and wanted to start a family and had no idea where she’d get the money and know-all to do it. And she was someone who quit her job to raise her daughters then had a hell of a time getting back into the job force 17 years later. For me to see her as just my mother for 22 years feels not only selfish, but kind of normal.

Being a child – which you always are, no matter how old you are – is inherently a selfish position. After all, someone had to wipe your butt and teach you how to do pretty much everything (including how to feed yourself without choking and that if you wear stirrup pants to school everyday for 3 years, people will think you only own one pair of pants). Even once you have all those life lessons under your belt (well, everything except “how to handle alcohol,” that you have to learn on your own in the basement of campus housing), it’s hard to switch your mentality and shift your focus on your parents in a more adult way.

I came about it accidentally. I had moved to New York, but hadn’t settled in yet emotionally. I felt stuck between my old life in Milwaukee and trying to stay in touch with friends back home, and live my new life in New York and start meaningful relationships here. I was never one to have long, honest discussions with my parents. We aren’t WASPs exactly, but emotionally, we sure are. I was home for a weekend and felt left out of both of my worlds. My mom started giving me advice, and all of a sudden, I learned a snippet of information I hadn’t known about my mother before. (I can’t remember exactly what it was, but maybe I was distracted by the fact that it never dawned on me how and why my sister was in her wedding photos. Mind=blown.) All of a sudden, I realized that even though I’ve seen pictures of her as a kid in Texas, a teenager living in Turkey, a cute woman with a great head of hair in a laboratory, I had no idea who my mother was (although I did realize at a young age that I was lucky to inherit her beautiful red hair). Our conversation turned into a interrogation, with me desperately interested in the woman who raised me my whole life and yet was a total stranger.

It’s a weird realization that your mother was once just like you: slightly battered by childhood issues, fighting slight body dysmorphia, doing their best in life even though they have no clue what they’re doing, and making mistakes at every turn but somehow still trudging through. Having the knowledge that my mother could be just as clueless as I am almost feels like walking in on her naked in the shower – too intimate and bordering on inappropriate – and yet at the same time, understanding she’s just human.

Now, while I’m about to get married and start a family, my mother is retiring and moving out of the house I grew up in to start the next chapter of her life. I’m thankful that now, I can talk to her about what her worries are in this transition. (I’m not talking about the menopause “transition,” besides, that happened years ago, and we already talked about all the sweating and switching to Soy milk.) I like being a sounding board for her and helping her through confusing times, just as she does me. It’s such a different and cool change: to have an adult, nearly peer relationship with my mom.

I’m sure it’s a transition for everyone: for kids to see their moms as more than just the people who reared them, and for moms to see their kids as independent adults who could teach them a thing or two. And I’m not just talking about teaching her how to work Skype, although I do think that during that two hours I was doing God’s work and should be rewarded accordingly.

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