“Parents rarely let go of their children, so children let go of them. They move on. They move away. The moments that used to define them are covered by moments of their own accomplishments. It is not until much later that children understand; their stories and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the water of their lives.” —Paulo Coelho
The other day, I walked in on my kids watching a home movie taken when my firstborn was about 5 months old. I was mesmerized by the sights and sounds. I wasn’t struck so much by my chubby baby boy’s first Christmas. Instead, it showed my mom as she used to be. Hearing her voice opened a whole floodgate of emotions. I had forgotten what she sounded like. I had forgotten our interactions — me a nervous young mother and her a new and doting Nana.
Since December 2005, Mom’s mind has been lost to Alzheimer’s, and I have had time for some serious soul-searching.
I have spent a lot of time pondering how different I am from my mother. It is a strange cocktail of guilt, rebellion, and self-exploration. My mom, a tall, thin, blonde, blue-eyed woman, was passive, soft-spoken, fragile, and completely self-sacrificing. She gave us whatever she had. If she had one cookie and I wanted it, she would gladly let me take it. Her world and identity were built around her family and her faith. Mom’s answer to all of life’s worries, no matter the size, was “Pray about it.” She was the quintessential Southern Baptist preacher’s wife, taking her place in the front row of church each and every Sunday.
Contrarily, I am a short, solid, brunette, brown-eyed woman who usually has more questions than answers. If I were to ask my children to describe me, I am pretty sure they would not use any of the same adjectives that I use to describe my mom. I can almost hear them now: Passive? No. Soft-spoken? Ha! Fragile? Not in the least. Self-sacrificing? Maybe, but she would never share her food.
My kids would really have to dig deep to find the resemblance between me and their Nana.
Despite our opposing personalities and approach to motherhood, Mom and I do have tremendous similarities that I almost overlooked by opting to look only at our differences. She was an English teacher, my first teacher. She taught me to write and encouraged me to fall in love with written language. Her childhood dream was to become a missionary to Africa. She never made it to Africa, but she did get to serve for many years in South America. When her parents fell ill with Alzheimer’s disease, she moved her family back to the United States to care for them in their final months.
Suddenly, I can see our resemblance begin to come into focus.
Here I am an English teacher, my children’s first teacher. I have hauled them to libraries and book stores since infancy, cultivating avid readers who share my passion for books. I did not dream of Africa, but I did dream of open spaces. We moved our family, sight unseen, across the country to Colorado. When tragedy struck and we needed to care for sick and grieving parents, we packed up and moved our crew back to the East Coast. Evidence of Mom’s footprints are present in these choices, my life’s actions, even if not evident in my personality or physical appearance.
I continue to grow and come into my own as a mom. My children see me as a confident woman who loves her career and who cares deeply about helping people. They know that I will speak up and use my voice whenever necessary. I am not in the front pew watching and supporting their dad, but rather standing beside him working as his partner and equal.
My daughter jokingly refers to me as “muscle mama,” recognizing both my physical and emotional strength. Both kids watch as I strive each and every day to build a better version of myself, in no way sacrificing my own identity and personhood to be a mother. Ultimately, I hope they see that as a good thing. Why should she be self-sacrificing? Her self has as much worth as ours.
I once read a meme that stated, “Sometimes when I open my mouth, my mother comes out.” I smiled at the inapplicability of this message. I don’t hear my mother in my life anymore. I miss that voice, so gentle and different from my own. But I can find her in the backdrop — in the large, life-shaping decisions that made me who I am today. Mom and I have traveled such different paths. Where she said “right,” I often said “left,” but when we needed to fulfill our dreams, raise our children, and help our loved ones, we showed up in the best way we knew how.
I will never be my mother, and that’s OK. I wish I could have one last conversation with her to see what she thinks about that. I know certain decisions I have made would disappoint her. Other decisions would make her very proud. I would like to think that she would be happy to see she raised an independent, progressive-thinking daughter who is carving an uncharted path for her family. But the truth is, she would probably prefer I take a more traditional route with less risk and fewer questions.
I do not mother as my mother did. She delivered me into this world and taught me so much about life and love. I can accept and celebrate our diversity. We share so much more in common with our love and shared desires than we hold in our differences. I will honor her by showing up — not as her, but as myself — to this role of motherhood every single day.