This week Ella turned ten. I have been thinking about this double-digit milestone for a few months. She keeps growing taller and a few days ago, asked if she could read The Hunger Games. It makes me realize that in a few short years I will be the parent of a teenager. Then I stop and remind myself that she still plays make believe with her friends and sometimes can be found mothering a baby doll.
Some of the most significant memories of my Mother are of those years when my older sisters where teenagers. I remember seeing her struggle with parenting and even though I did not know all the details, I remember knowing that it was hard for her. As I transformed into a teenager myself she transformed into my unreasonable mother. I was now the center of my own universe.
When I was 21, I flew home from Colorado to spend Christmas with my family. It was on this visit that I realized my teenage self was morphing into a young adult. It felt good to hang out with my mother in this new chapter of my life. I found a new appreciation for her and I sensed she felt the same. As I packed to return back to school she started to cry. It caught me a little off guard because by this point she was used to seeing me come and go and our good byes usually resembled those of two people parting for the weekend.
Why are you crying? I asked. We are going to see each other again in May.
I just hate saying good-bye to my children, she said.
May is right around the corner, I said.
My mother was experienced with the comings and goings of her grown children. On prior visits she couldn’t wait to see us, but then sometimes I think by the end she couldn’t wait for us to leave. I like to think this visit was different. We liked each other again and I had arrived as an adult.
Maybe she knew that we were not going to see each other again. Maybe a part of her knew that this would be it. She died that March.
As I count backwards on my first ten years as parent of young children and contemplate my future with teenage girls, I wonder what it would be like to mother with my own mother at my side. I miss the advice she would deliver, the advice I would heed and reject, the stories of her own mother and the chance we missed to be friends again beyond that one Christmas visit. She gave me the best and worst parts of myself and for that I am grateful.
She is still with me, though mostly in the quiet of the night when I am reflecting on the defeats and triumphs of the day. She is in the deepest parts of my soul and sometimes it is her voice that escapes my lips. Each day on this journey as a parent more is revealed to me about my mother even though she is not here to answer the questions, give me advice or defend her choices. I judge less and understand more. She is my mother, totally flawed and perfect at the same time. She made a path for me as her mother did for her.
As I close out a decade of being a parent, I realize that now more than ever I am contributing to the path that the mothers before me created. I am shaping and planting and trying to make a beautiful foundation for my girls. I want to skip more and trudge less. I want there to be laughter and grace, but mostly I want to pass on the love that I still feel from my mother 20 years after her death.