To my mother at my age,
When I was born, you were almost twenty-seven years old.
There are entire family mythologies surrounding birth, and my own is no different, a story that has been knit together from memories over time, told and retold and now it, the story, is as much a part of me as the body and world I was born into. The heat wave in the days leading up to it. The Midwestern thunderstorm outside the windows, lighting and rain coming in a terror. The long, long labor, the push, the pull, the courage, the cry.
But somehow, what never entered the story, what I never gave much thought at all to was, when I was born, you were almost twenty seven-years old.
But then I was twenty-seven, and it was my own child being born.
And so now, these two stories start to grow roots together, intertwining vines that grow up the side of the house where we shelter all the stories.
Time bends in strange ways, making unsuspecting shapes of lives and memories, where it becomes unclear to me what is the outline and what is the shadow, if I am at the beginning or ending or if all of it is the thick middle, arbitrary starts and stops we add later to make meaning. And so it goes, that every year, as my own child turns another year older, it’s like a time portal, a mirror of memory, where I remember the day he was born, becoming further and further behind us but still alive in some way in me. And I remember being this same age that he is now becoming. Remember what happened when I was five, remember who I was at six, how things felt at seven, remember the houses lived in, remember the striped shirt I wore that year, and how it is this year I learned to ride a bike. And in this, I remember you. Remember you as my mother at thirty-three, thirty-four, thirty-five . . . and then I realize, all over again, that we were, are, the same age. And for those moments, our lives are a story blending, overlapping into each other, like finding the missing piece that fits all the other pieces together.
He is, as you know, nine now, and I just turned thirty-seven.
I remember nine as a child, how we had just moved, the house with the forest
for a front yard and the circle fireplace in the main room that smoked
everywhere and how our clothes always smelled like camp fire. I remember the
porch swing, and always feeling like I was waiting for something, and the
tulips that came up by surprise that spring. And I remember you, long red hair,
and the black bathing suit you wore when teaching the baby how to swim, and how
that one day you answered every question we asked by singing “Blowing in the
Wind”, and how you looked, in your dark rose colored bathrobe, standing there
in a kitchen making popcorn at the stove.
You were, to me then, old. Because I was a child. Because you were a grown up, somehow already fully formed, as if there was a doorway into adulthood and once you crossed through you stayed the same, everything already decided. So I thought you knew everything you were doing, and had some kind of vision that expanded out in all directions like gods, and were immune to uncertainty. Depending on the day this could make me angry at you or trust you. Either way, I didn’t know yet that you were a woman, a person, with a self outside of me, your role as mother. I didn’t know that your life had just changed, and would soon change all over again, one life giving way to the next.
And now my own kid is nine, and I am thirty-seven. He seems
at once a small child I could still pick up and carry from the car into bed at
night when he falls asleep during road trips, and a boy so far from being a
baby, a kid who grows in quick spurts and none of his pants fit anymore and he
can do more complicated math than me. And me. I’m a mom, his mom. And I’m the
grown up. How did I not know what it would feel like? I had assumed it was
something, and it is not all like I once imagined, when I was nine. It is both
harder and more wonderful. I’m the grown up, doing what needs to be done,
working to support us and getting him to school and making us dinner at night
and loving him in a way I have not ever loved and likely never will love
another. And who I am is in some ways already decided, choices made that formed
who I became and the life I have created for myself. But I am not set in stone.
Things change, and I am changing too. I feel old sometimes, like I can’t
believe I’m this age and don’t have more settled or determined or known. And I
feel young, like so much is still possible. I am just learning as I go
along, and sometimes in a kind of stunned numb at what life is and most of the
time just feel lucky, so so lucky to be here for it, to get the chance to be
I am, now, a woman. And here, I think of you.
Maybe this is how we become our mothers. Not in turning into
versions or copies of them, fulfilling their unfinished business or obligated
to follow in their footsteps. But in taking the adult I have become back
through time, seeing you then, knowing we are not so different. The mother you
were and the one I am now, both becoming human. Seeing you not just as mother,
connected to me by biology or family bonds but far removed in years, but seeing
you as a twenty-seven year old woman, giving birth in a thunder storm, seeing
you as a thirty-seven year old woman, with a nine year old me, you sitting at
the kitchen table drinking tea, wondering how it is possible to be here already
when parts of you still remember yourself as a child, filled with more
questions than answers, wondering what has been lost and what is just
beginning. And the thirty-seven year old I have become, reaches out and meets
Time is blurred, and the dots connect making things clearer.
I come from you. You come with me.
I grow older and it sends me to you from years ago.
And I think there is some kind of moment, where we both cross over and see one another, separate and same. And here, everything makes some kind of crooked sense.
Where I love you at nine, and I love you at twenty-six, and I love you at thirty-six, and I love you now.
I love you in the time we are given, and I love you in timelessness.