I sat at an intersection of a Chick-fil-a parking lot, using a stop sign as an opportunity to pass out nuggets to my kids. In a strange instant, as I punctured juice boxes and reached back to deliver the goods, I felt myself as my own mother. As if perfectly orchestrated, an old school R&B song from my middle school days came on the radio, and the nostalgia I felt was so thick that it balled itself up in my throat. Suddenly, I transformed from a squishy little girl in the back of our old Honda Accord to an awkward tween belting out ballads in the passenger seat of our ugly green van. But now I’m her, the mom, and the boys in the back are mine, and that young mom of mine is now their grandma. The flow of life shocked me. Day by day, the changes are gradual, but reliving multiple decades in a moment made me lose my breath.
When I got home, that lump in my throat was ready to burst. It didn’t produce the quiet welling of my eyes, but a full-on bawl. My mom wasn’t answering so I hit up my brother and sister instead. Patrick was cruising in his truck and picked up the phone to think there was some emergency going on, but it was really just me wailing, “I miss Mom!” The special thing about my brother is that he knew exactly what I meant. He understood that even if mom was sitting right beside me I could still be missing her, because it wasn’t necessarily her I longed for, but the times we belonged to each other more fully.
I remembered when I was a little girl, how my mom’s presence alone could completely comfort me. I’d drive beside her in the front seat, and lay my head on her lap while playing with the holes underneath the steering wheel. Whitney Houston would be singing on the radio about wanting to dance with somebody, and my mom would teach me how to write my name on the back of receipts while waiting in bank lines.
I thought about the time a school friend of mine wanted me to go to her house for a sleep over, and stood beside me while I asked my mom. As I uttered the question, I shook my eyeballs back and forth vigorously to let her know I didn’t actually want to go. She’d notice and say, “You better not, we already have some things we need to do.” Truly, our only plans were to spoon all evening while watching Nick at Night, but I just couldn’t be without that.
I missed all the weekend mornings that were spent on the couch with my siblings in over-sized T shirts and a solid line up of Saturday morning cartoons. Our mom would come in from the kitchen delivering pancakes and bacon with a smile, and we didn’t even need to put pants on or turn the TV off. Now I’m the one who spends mornings in the kitchen, putting dishes away, preparing breakfast, and organizing the day. It’s so different on this side of things, and although parenting gives me the deepest gratification, I wonder how I ever outgrew the constant company of my siblings.
People don’t often talk about the heartbreak of growing up, of creating your own life and family, because even when it’s what dreams are made of, you don’t belong to the people you came from in quite the same way. If I were to show a picture of my family to a stranger, it wouldn’t be my parents and siblings, but my husband and children. It’s beautiful, but it reminds me of this nature show I watched when I was a kid, in which a bear got to a certain age and parted ways from his mother forever. I remember my shock and sadness at this realization. Of course it’s different for humans, but similar too. It’s simply the nature of maturing. We eventually lose the need for our parents in the same capacity, and go our own way. Although it makes sense, it also feels impossible. I realize my children will eventually lose their need for me too, and I know that’s the ultimate goal, but also a terrible ache.
As I cried to my brother, I imagined my parents much younger, with their lives still ahead of them. Now my mom is Grammy, and even though we usually ask where the time goes when it comes to our growing children, it applies to our parents, too. I cried over my childhood because even though it wasn’t always harmonious, I can still feel the comfort of our home and how gloriously long the days felt. I remembered when our time together felt so infinite, and even though I trust that in some realm it is, I cried because our stories on earth roll on a linear path, and moments become memories.
But wouldn’t life be imprisoning if things didn’t change? Isn’t that actually the door for possibility? Since I was a little girl, my name, looks, thoughts, relationships, and understandings have all changed, yet in a sense, I’m the same. This realization helps me embrace the truth that change expands us. I’m the shy girl hiding under her mom’s shirt, and the self-consumed teen trying on 14 pairs of pants before picking one. I’m now the mom of two young boys, but so much more. I’m a collector of experiences. A shapeshifter. I’m change itself and that’s exactly what has given me the honor of being both my mother’s daughter and my son’s mother. It has given me both the sweet comfort of my mom, and the privilege of providing that for my own children.
I thought maybe that ball of emotion in my throat was sadness, but when I take a closer look, I see perfection. Perhaps it’s actually life’s overwhelming beauty that took my breath away.
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