I was always embarrassed by my mom’s short nubby fingernails. My friends’ moms all seemed to have perfectly manicured hands, long and rounded, showcasing girly pinks, vibrant reds, elegant french and adorned in rings and things. While other mom’s came to events in the latest styles, my mom wore her corduroy skirts, knee socks and Birkenstocks. Her long red hair pulled back neatly in a headband. She wore the same green silk dress every year to my father’s Christmas parties, and she rarely put on make-up.
I, on the other hand, fought tooth-and-nail with my piano and oboe teacher to grow my nails out. My girlfriends and I would test out nail polish and make-up on each other every weekend while perusing the style magazines. Even though money was tight, there was always a Solo-Serve or Marshall’s nearby and if we couldn’t find affordable fashion there, all we had to do was frequent the second-hand stores or Salvation Army in the high rent suburbs. My hair changed as quickly as the flapping wings of a humming-bird, never landing on one style for more than a season.
Then one day, later in my pre-teen years, my mother looked different to me for some reason. I noticed that her clothes had changed slightly, there was a tinge of blush on her cheeks, and her hair started getting shorter and shorter. It was at this time that she went back to work. Before that she had spent her days baking fresh bread, growing our own vegetables, filling the house with beautiful piano music, reading stories, taking walks to the library and spending hour and after hour playing Candy Land. Before that, she had just been my mom and now she had started carving out a little life of her own. Like a caterpillar emerging from her deep cocoon enveloped sleep, this butterfly had come fluttering on wings of vibrancy and grace. She started off as a full-time substitute teacher, landing an emergency certification position in the Special Education department, while going back to school full-time at night. My mom wanted a Masters in Education. Her peers and colleagues respected her immensely, that was easy to see even as a child, which meant that the jobs came quickly.
I remember being resentful of her being gone so much those first three years. Afterall, I was the oldest, the only girl and just starting middle school. How dare she decide to have her own life now – now, when I still needed her so much. Who was I going to talk to about boys and girl drama? How was she going to be able to have snacks ready for afterschool study “dates” or volunteer for school functions? My dad did the best job that he could holding down the fort at night, making dinners and helping with homework. I learned to cook right away, because there were only so many nights of pancakes, scrambled eggs and bean and cheese tacos that I could stomach. And, unless you wanted your whites turned pink, it behooved me to master the laundry too.
By the time I was in high school it was clear that my mom’s career had really taken form, and for approximately the next twenty-one years she continued to build her dreams and a life all her own. I remember when she graduated with her Masters degree. Sitting outside, surrounded by all the other families, I truly thought, “I don’t think anyone could be as proud of their graduate as I am of my mom.” All of the selfish and petty feelings I had about her going back to work dissolved, leaving me only with a great sense of purpose. Not just for her, but for myself. My mom had taught me about balance. She showed me the importance of family but also the importance of self.
It has recently occurred to me that I am now the age that I really remember my mom – her mid to late thirties. As I sit here typing these words, I can’t help but smirk at these incredibly nubby fingernails – some still carrying hints of soil from yesterday’s gardening. My favorite outfit is a pair of faded and frayed jeans, a t-shirt and flip-flops. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have put make-up on this whole summer and the last fancy dress I bought I justified the cost by figuring out how many functions I could wear it to this year. I’ve spent roughly the last eleven years baking cookies, making home-cooked meals, playing games and volunteering at my children’s school. All things I’ve modeled after my own mom – a life that was valued at an early age. But I’ve started having a little bit of that anxiousness in my spirit too. I finally can really understand how my mom must have felt at this age. What I wouldn’t give to be able to go back and give my mom a big hug and say, “I understand how you feel. I’ve cried too out of loneliness and thoughts of an incomplete life.” The days of empty rooms while everyone was off at school or work, the wishful heart of wanting to be my own person and contribute more to the family’s finances yet worrying how the kids will react to a change. But thanks to my mom, there is much less guilt, I think. My mom has already given me permission to move on – she showed me by example that it is okay to want something for ourselves.
One of the things I have always admired about my mom is her ability for words. It was her passion for writing that inspired mine. My whole life I have looked to her for guidance in really creating and perfecting my craft. That is why lately it has felt so weird that she has been looking to me for support in her own writing. I never considered myself her equal in that area, and yet she calls and writes me asking, “What do you think?” I feel privileged to have come to a point in our relationship, beyond mother and daughter, where we can meet as peers and friends. After months of being my biggest blog supporter, she has finally started her own blog, Coming East. I’m finding that through my writing, my mom is getting to know me in a much deeper way and I am excited to be given that same opportunity.
There is probably a list of ways I currently embarrass my children and things they wish they could change. That’s part of any parent/child relationship. And I’m not yet ready to venture out into the working world, or even become a full-time student again. But eventually it will happen. However, any fear about change does not stem from worrying about how my children will fare or the fear that I might be short-changing them. There also is no fear of the burden being too heavy a load on whatever journey I choose. That journey has already been ventured by my mom – it’s like she has already showed me the way, carrying half the load – and it was successful.