Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Wednesday Factoid: Close to Family

Today's Wednesday Factoid is: What events have brought you closer to your family?

I don't have a great answer to this because I think my "closeness" to everyone in my family has remained the same for most of my life except maybe my mom. So I'll just write about my mom.

For almost all of my twenties, I lived in a different city from my mom. I kept in regular contact with her through phone and e-mail, and she did come visit me here and there, with some of my visits in college and at holiday times allowing us to see each other. But to be honest, I ignored her a lot. I was living on my own in another city and I felt like it was somewhat liberating. I struggled a little for independence, and (hopefully this isn't gross or rude for me to talk about this publicly) I think it was really rough for my mom to let me become an adult. I was her first child and the first to do everything (until my sisters got married and one had a child), so every milestone that felt like an achievement for me was a little like losing me for my mom.

Immaturity and lack of communication are both to blame for me mostly behaving like I didn't care. There were a few incidents where I felt like Mom's attempts to reassure herself that she was relevant in my life were manifesting as attempts to control me, and I didn't like that because I wanted to make my own decisions. I didn't depend on my parents after graduating college--I never moved back in with them, and never asked them to support me financially--so I bucked at some of my mom's compromises. In my opinion, she did not have leverage to control what I wanted to do, and she seemed to be trying to enforce lifestyle choices where I wanted something else. It was a process for both of us to figure out how to be a mother and daughter where the daughter's relationship with the mother is not one of dependence or based on authority.

I moved back to Tampa, the same city where my mother lives, in 2006. At that point it had been a long time since she tried to change my mind or my approach to how I wanted to live my adulthood. I had not been taking into account what my mother needed personally. At age 28, I was back in regular contact with her, and I went through some ups and downs negotiating her needs. Living in another city wasn't preventing us from seeing each other anymore. It was primarily my busy schedule that was responsible for that. I was not particularly understanding toward the beginning. That changed somewhat gradually for a while, with me trying to make more time for my mom, but it changed in a big way when something happened to her back.

For a while after the event, she needed help every day, and I was there every day for . . . I don't remember how long, exactly, but it was weeks. I was thrilled when she finally got back to being able to drive, but though the situation has changed here and there and is managed somewhat with medication, my mom still needs surgery to correct the problem and there are several reasons why she can't/hasn't yet. The chronic condition has also pushed her toward more isolation, and the fact that neither of my sisters live in the same state anymore has pretty much led to my being the main (and often, only) person she interacts with regularly. Basically, I'm it.

A mixture of empathy, maturity, and responsibility has led to me realizing I need to be there for my mom, and it's not just because she doesn't reliably have others to do it. I enjoy being able to help her, being trusted, and also spending quality time with her when it has nothing to do with something one of us needs. Basically, her medical issues may have been the catalyst for me initially spending more time with her, but they're not entirely why I now know I need to spend more time with her. She's important to me in so many ways. Sometimes I think about the things I let her go through alone when I was in my twenties and I can't believe it, though I guess she also had more resources then. I guess I just can't believe my former self didn't step up. All I can think is that I didn't realize that she wanted or needed me to.

My mom and I still have very different personalities and interaction styles. She would like to have noise and interaction and unexpected visits from people in her life; I like quiet, solitude, and scheduled time with others. We have different interests. We have different philosophies on certain subjects. But my relationship with her now has been born of so many nuanced interactions and evolutions; it's complex and much more fulfilling than the me of my twenties would have believed possible. I guess I used to think you move out and move on, when in my case I moved out, moved on, and moved forward. Moving forward does not mean leaving behind, necessarily.

And I'm glad that it is how it is now.  

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