My parents divorced when my sisters and I were pretty young. I was 5, my little sister was 2, and my baby sister was only 5-months-old. With our mom, we moved in with my grandparents and lived with them for the next 12 years.
My parents had married young. My mom was pregnant with me on her 21st birthday. Instead of going out to the bars with her friends, she celebrated with a huge ice cream sundae. As she became a mom, she had to leave college and work full-time to support me. But living with her parents after the divorce allowed her to go back to school and finish her education. She was ambitious and career-driven.
Going back to school meant a lot of night classes. It meant a lot of homework. It meant not getting to spend a lot of time with her kids. She continued working full-time while finishing her degree, so my sisters and I spent the vast majority of our time with our grandmother, who stayed home. We missed our mom. We needed her and wanted her attention, and it was hard to not have her available to us. It’s hard for small children to understand sacrifice and responsibility, and I won’t speak for my sisters, but I know that I felt alone.
Yet no matter how hard it was for me to miss my mom, I still relished in her accomplishments. When I was in the second grade, she finished her college degree with honors. Her hard work had paid off, and she graduated magna cum laude. I didn’t really understand what that even meant, but I knew it was impressive. I excitedly told my teacher that my mother graduated “Magna colada,” and now I think that should be a cocktail the dean gives you when you walk across the stage because college is hard.
My mother worked for a newspaper and wrote a regular column, usually about me and my sisters. Her column won an award when I was in the third grade, and I bragged to my classmates about it.
Now that I’m a mother, I am beginning to understand what my mother went through at the time. But while it was happening, I couldn’t understand why she didn’t walk in the door from a long day at a demanding job and start playing on the floor with me. I didn’t understand her need to decompress and not be a mother, to not be working at anything but to just be at the end of her day. I didn’t understand why her patience was short and I took every bit of this personally.
I was hurt that she wasn’t the kind of mother I thought other kids had. She felt unavailable in the ways I thought mothers were supposed to be there for their children. I know now that she wasn’t rejecting me, but that’s what it felt like to 5-year-old me.
As a working mother, I now understand how draining it all can be. I have the luxury of working part-time, from home, because I love my work and want to do it. I don’t have to work full-time and I don’t have the pressure of meeting all of the financial needs of my family. And even without all of those extra stresses and with the constant support of my husband, I am tapped out at the end of the day.
I get that tapped out feeling now, but as a child, I did not understand. And it took a toll on my relationship with my mother. As I got older, I flip-flopped between feeling unloved and feeling resentment. I pushed my mother away because I felt rejected. I wore really strange clothes and listened to really bad music and acted out as a means of getting the attention I craved. My mom and I fought often. I ran away frequently.
As I became an adult, however, we became more civil with one another since we were no longer living under the same roof. Yet even though our relationship was enjoyable at times, it always felt fragile. Old feelings would bubble up from time to time, and our arguments could be brutal.
When I was 26, my husband and I welcomed our first child. My mom was so excited when we told her I was pregnant. In one of our more enjoyable moments in my adulthood, we told her with a Christmas gift. She unwrapped the small box and pulled out a bib that said, “Grandmas Give The Best Hugs.” The joy she felt about becoming a grandmother was second only to ours about becoming parents. She debated over what she wanted him to call her, and eventually settled on Lala.
The night we came home from the hospital, my mom got to our house early and tidied it up and made us dinner, then held her grandson while we ate. It was a small gesture that made me feel loved and supported and cared for. It felt like something a mom would do for her daughter.
We would meet up for lunch or she would drive to my house where she would fawn over my son. My mom would tell me to go to the store or go take a shower, or she would feed him his bottle when we were out so I could finish my meal. She took a million pictures of him and hugged him like she was trying to love him to pieces. We would FaceTime frequently, and my son would squeal and smile throughout the calls.
When my daughter was born a couple years later, it was the same all over again.
Seeing the three of them together, hearing my son gush about his Lala, and having him beg for sleepovers at her house several times a week has been one of the things I’ve loved most about being a mom. It has allowed me to see the relationship my mom wanted with me when I was a kid. It’s made me realize how fortunate I am to be the mom I want to be. It’s made me thankful that my kids have a grandmother who loves them and spoils them and is available whenever they want.
The grandmother my mom is, is the mother she wanted to be. Coming to that realization has been healing and still, a little sad. Parenting takes everything you have and she gave it to us, but she only had so much. I can see that now.