Last month, my father had a significant birthday (I won’t say exactly which one here), and this weekend it’s my mother’s turn. I’ve never been good at picking out presents, or even birthday cards for that matter, and so this year I’m going to say a few words about her in this space. I’ll send her a link to this, too, since she’s the intended audience here. I’m just giving the rest of the world a chance to read it if they want to.
My mom did so much for me and my siblings as we were growing up. One of my favorite things in grade school was walking home from school at lunch time to say hi to my mom. I only did it a couple of times, and I’d never be allowed to do anything like that in today’s world, but it made me happy to surprise her in this way.
There’s a story about my mom that has stuck with me for a long time, and I’ve never really spoken of it before. But because this is a special day, I want to share the story here. But we’ll have to go all the way back to late 1986.
College always was the inevitable next stage in life after high school. I wasn’t an especially rebellious kid when I was young, but I did chafe at living in the environment I was in. Part of it was never having been away from home before, and part of it was just being young and restless. I graduated from high school in June, and then turned 18 a few weeks later, and my future seemed to be rushing up to greet me. September–and the day that I left home to go to college–couldn’t come soon enough.
When that day finally arrived, we all loaded into my parents’ car for the four-hour drive northward. We made it to the campus, found my dorm, moved my things in, and then proceeded to the Student Center for an orientation meeting of some sort. As I was on my way into the meeting room–and taking leave of my parents–I caught a brief glimpse of my mother crying. In the bat of an eye they were gone, and I was left to wonder about why my mother would be crying on such a big day in both of our lives.
A quarter-century later, I understand this because I’m now a parent myself. My two daughters–one of whom is pictured above with my Mom and I–have changed my life in many profound ways, just as my siblings and I once changed her life. After being a parent for eighteen years and a couple of months, she probably couldn’t remember what life was like without me in it. And, unlike my desperate desire to fly the coop and get on with my life, she wasn’t looking forward to that day with nearly so much gusto.
When the day of making my break arrived, it couldn’t have been an easy thing for her. The car ride home that day, and the days and weeks that followed, were probably a strange experience for her. I had always been there before, and then suddenly I wasn’t. It was strange for me, too, but it was also something that I wanted to happen. She might have taken my enthusiasm for this separation personally, but it wasn’t meant that way at all. It was just the first step toward one day becoming my own person.
And so I want thank her, on this day and in this space, for all of the things that she did for me. Some day, when my kids are leaving to begin life on their own, I’m sure that I’ll shed some tears and think about her.