Both Sides of the Fence

A Tosa resident since 1991, Christine walks the dog, cooks but avoids housework, writes and reads, and enjoys the company of friends and strangers. Her job takes her around the state, learning about people's health. A Quaker (no, they don't wear blue hats or sell oatmeal or motor oil), she has been known to stand on both sides of the political and philosophic fence at the same time, which is very uncomfortable when you think about it. She writes about pretty much whatever stops in to visit her busy mind at the moment. One reader described her as "incredibly opinionated but not judgmental." That sounds like a good thing to strive for!

Who's your mother?

When I was 17 my dear friend Sheina Lerman yanked me aside after watching an interchange with my mother.

"Why are you doing that?" she demanded.

"Doing what?"

"Hiding who you really are from your mother. It's disrespectful not to let her know you. You think she can't handle it? You're wrong."

"What are you talking about? She doesn't want to know me: she wants to think I'm who she wants me to be. I'm not gonna ruffle her feathers. What would be the point?"

As you have figured out by now, Sheina was really wise for a 17-year-old, and also brave. I was neither.

But my mom and I were lucky. Somehow, along the way, we put aside roles and facades and became utterly honest with each other. And that honesty, painful as it sometimes was, deepened our love and added the bonus of friendship to it. She liked me even when she knew who I really was. And why, I now think, wouldn't she?

While Mom and I knew everything about each other's lives in the last decade or so, there's much I never learned about who she was before we kids came along, before she was a wife and mother. I know she was a nurse, a stepsister, an orphan. I don't know enough about what all that meant, though.

Do you know who your mother is, besides being your mother? Do you know who she was when she was your age now? In high school? What was it like growing up where she grew up? What her role in her family was--was she the smart one or the pretty one or the funny one, and did that fit?  What was her search for love like? Her best and worst days in high school? Did she dream about something she didn't get to do? How does she feel about that now? What do her friends know about her that you don't?

This Mother's Day will be hard. It's the first without Mom, and in our family, Mother's Day was always about the matriarch mom, the oldest one in the line. I've moved into that slot, but my kids are too young to be willing to obligate themselves to making the day be all about me. Like most kids, they love me deeply but have very little interest in me, in who I am when I'm not being Mom.

You may be giving your mother brunch, flowers, jewelry, a cruise or spa trip. But maybe you should try this, too: have a conversation. Ask her about her life, what happened in it that shaped her, what she thinks and feels about the things you don't often talk about.

 And moms: give your kids real answers, not just the ones that you think moms are supposed to give.

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