I've Started Reminding Myself of My Mom

Becoming a parent has helped me realize that while I thought I knew what was going on when I was growing up, I really had no idea.
Publish date:
November 12, 2012

I get a lot of things from my mother, like a love of The Eagles and Stevie Nicks or the neeeeed to dye my hair every few months. I didn't realize I get a lot of my strength, my solidly optimistic outlook on life, from her until recently.

We're not incredibly close –- we often go weeks without communicating, and even then our conversations usually take place via Facebook. It's not that we don't get along, but I've always been the one (of four) that she had to worry about the least.

My siblings and I grew up in a house with an emotionally manipulative, physically and verbally abusive father and a mom who spent most of her time trying to make sure we didn't get permanently scarred or die. When she wasn't trying to make $200 a month for groceries (what my family of three spends every two weeks) stretch for all six of us, that is. So it's no surprise that she's strong as hell, and it's no surprise that I, as the oldest, absorbed a lot of that strength because I was right alongside her for the peak of my father's rage.

Becoming a parent has helped me realize that while I thought I knew what was going on when I was growing up, I really had no idea.

When I'm experiencing a lonely moment or wondering if a decision I've made is the “right” one for myself, my kid or my family, I sometimes lapse into several minutes of wondering what my mom might have been thinking when she was my age, with two kids and married to a guy who could never decide if he really wanted to be around or not.

This kind of perspective is one I think only adulthood can really give you: realizing that your parents were, and are, actually people with their own stories you'll likely never even hear. I spent much of my childhood and adolescence living the hell that my mom signed onto, but there's no way I can ever really tap into what it was like for her.

I moved across the country recently, and I had a conversation with my best friend about how I felt like I would probably start talking to my mom a lot more since I'd be so far away. Surprisingly, or maybe not, this hasn't happened. Even when I lived 10 minutes away, we saw one another once every few months, talked on the phone once every week or so, and she generally kept up with my life and my son's activities online.

But the other day I noticed that the sides of my knees, and probably the actual knees themselves, are exactly like hers. I glimpsed my knees in a changing room and was just bowled over. There they were: my mom's knees. Like, fucking hell! Her knees, but on my legs.

We've always shared the same crooked fingers and toes, the same ones my own son inherited and that I love looking at. The moments that catch me off guard now are when I glance in the mirror and realize I'm making an expression I've seen on her face a million times, or when I say something to my son that is so something my mom would say that it makes me crack up and I have to back up, take a second, and just bask in the happiness of what I'm experiencing.

You hear stories from time to time about someone meeting another person for only a few hours or a few days, and then never hearing from them again, but wondering about them for the rest of their lives. In some ways, I feel like this is who my mom is for me. I don't need to have my feelings affirmed or to check in with her constantly because for some reason, I'm just happy to know that she's in the world.

I don't know what this means about our relationship, but I know that I'm happy with it. Every time something happens in my life 2,460 miles away from her that reminds me of something she's done or said, I try to immerse myself fully in the moment, just basking in being like her for a while.

Some morning when I wake up to still mostly dark skies with my three-year-old, rubbing noses and talking to each other about the dreams we had the night before, I wonder if my mom ever did that with me. Then I realize that she probably did, and probably often, but there's never been a reason to tell me about it. There's a serenity in that realization, that there exist so many of those conversations we probably won't have about moments that I hope happened so often, and a bittersweetness in wondering what else we might talk about that we don't.