My kids always roll their eyes but they know better than to squint them and call bullshit when I tell my stories. They know the truth: that I am a living, breathing product of the (legendary) Unsupervised Generation. I drank in junior high school. I hitchhiked. I rode public transportation before friends taught me how to drive. I smoked. I cut class. I snuck in. I snuck out. I pretty much did unscrupulous things every chance I got.
My mother knew none of this.
I also did my homework without being told, got myself to school (and work and EVERYwhere else) without help and filled out college applications without so much as a sniff of curiosity from my mother. I likewise ate what was prepared, picked up after myself and made sure to disagree with her in my head or into my pillow rather than unleash a fate far worse than my imagination could ever muster.
Despite the lack of assistance (or Uber) it was not a hard life. If I’m being completely honest, it was fondly enjoyable even (you don’t say) without the internet. It seems my generation was adulting before there was even a trendy term for it and I don’t remember anyone ever complaining about it. There were fun times (drinking age = 18 = #seriously) and scary moments (drinking age = 18 = #seriously) and there was no shortage of regrets or mistakes or lessons learned.
Oddly enough, I grew into a mom who knows where her children are most of the time. Kind of a weird paradox, I know.
Every year around this time at the anniversary of her passing, my thoughts drift to my mom. She’s been gone seven years now and while there are moments when it feels like clichéd yesterday, there are other times when it feels like I’ve been flailing through motherhood lost and adrift without her for longer than I can remember. I often think about how similar we are (apologies to my better half for the insufferable German stubbornness) but more telling is how different we became as moms.
I imagine most people try to improve upon their own histories. I know I do.
My earliest memory of telling my mother I loved her was from a pay phone in the hallway of my freshmen dormitory. As I grew older it bothered me more and more that it might have been the first time I ever said those words aloud. It affected me so profoundly, the term became my personal pillar of parenting. I’ve raised four kids who have been hearing it – and saying it — their entire lives: into their phones, over their shoulders and across my kitchen counter.
My mom was a woman of few words when I was a teenager. A divorced mother raising three kids alone wasn’t exactly the norm back in the early ’80s. She had a lot going on and kept her business to herself (lord, she would loathe Facebook today). She didn’t banter with my friends (cannot lie, she was a wee bit feared), she didn’t know any of my friends’ parents and she was barely civil to my boyfriends (alright, looking back, perhaps she may have been on to something).
When I went through a high school breakup the only way she knew about it was when she heard Phil Collins’ “Throwing it All Away” on a six-day loop through my bedroom wall. I’ll never forget her coming into my doorway and warily whispering, “Please. Play another song.” That was it. No sentimental mother-daughter moment or long car ride for ice cream. Onward I went.
Conversely, I chat up my kids’ squads all the time (interesting aside: my mom never used hip terms like squad because she could’ve cared less about appearing hip. Again, why be hip when you can terrify?). My own home often bustles with kids and I can get a hold of every parent with a single tap. Contrary as well, when any of my own litter experiences heartache I am at the ready. My eagle eye and alert ear can detect the slightest change in demeanor, attitude or (sigh) hygiene and my maternal senses hurl into overdrive.
I am at once a bevy of constant communication and presence to my troubled teens. It appears I have become the nurturing contradiction of my own adolescence. This is entirely surprising to me because – again — I never felt slighted or deficient in my own adolescence. I can’t even recall any friend ever confiding in her mom back then either. That’s what girlfriends had each other for.
My siblings and I would kid my mom mercilessly about her earlier Teflon exterior. She was a tough one for sure but man, oh man, did she mellow out as time went on. It might’ve been her second husband, who arrived just in time to steady her, lessened her load of financial worry and loved her endlessly. More likely it was the welcome stream of good fortune that befell her family the second half of her lifetime.
After a difficult decade or so, my mom’s life blossomed and happiness settled in to reveal her softer, fiercely funny side that was clearly dormant in my own youth. She was able to witness her three kids all marry and create enjoyable lives for themselves. She was showered with ten – TEN! – grandchildren, the joy of which infused her every thought and attention (alas, cue in the dejected and forlorn look of abandonment from said second husband, forever delegated to the 11th spot in her life).
I wish she was here to see them all now.
I especially long for her to see mine.
My oldest was a high school senior and putting us through the ringer at the time of her illness. Whisper as we tried to shield her from our own distress, she knew. She always knew. I would give anything for her to see how he turned things around to shine so brightly. She would be over the moon with pride at the impressive young man he’s become.
Long before she died my mother had already taught my daughter how to sew, but her protégé had only just begun to display her innate talent. In the time she’s been gone my creative gal has gone on to teach herself how to knit, then crochet, then paint, then create jewelry, then, just recently, open an online store. Without question these two special ladies were kindred spirits of an enviable kind. I know the magnitude of her granddaughter’s natural gift would fill my mom to her absolute core and I wish she could revel in it.
She would still get the biggest kick out of my second son, whose devilish grin as the tween she adored now radiates the stubbled face of a young man. He captures every nuance of my mom’s own unassuming and affable personality and she would be tickled at their spitfire similarity. Gawd, if she ever caught sight of him in his college dress blues she might never stop showing his picture around Long Island.
She’d probably favor my youngest the most, a mere little boy when she left us. There was never any harm helping out the baby, she believed, because from any vantage point all the others always seemed unfairly ahead of the pack (*writer shakes head, remembering childhood*). My littlest’s unrivaled charm would find her putty in the palm of his hand. If she could see him now, she’d gush at his every accolade, triumph in his every touchdown and sneakily slip him a twenty whenever they were alone.
I get jealous of my fortunate friends who still have time with their moms. I really do. I hate that my kids won’t see their Nanny’s eyes glistening at their weddings. I hate that they don’t get to hear any more of her stories. They wouldn’t dare roll an eye at hers. I hate that she’s not here to teach them more.
But if I find myself on a lonely road, and I know too well my friends will eventually find themselves on a difficult one. Aging parents leave battle scars endured only by the strongest of daughters. I hope my familiarity and understanding of this stage of adulting is a comfort to them, for I’ll be at the ready for all of them when they need me.
I miss my mom at some moment in every day.
As the years tick on without her, I shall remain incredibly bemused at our similarities (sarcasm, anyone?) and increasingly content with our differences (ummmm, mea culpa, mom, for the bandwagon Facebook brags). Something tells me she would be nothing but overjoyed at the perfect metamorphosis of the mom she raised.
Finally, for what it’s worth, here’s my maternal postscript to my kids: Yeah. Just because I did it doesn’t mean you can. Remember, spidey senses. I catch EVERYthing. Wink.