We sat on my bed, the light streaming in from the hallway through my cracked door. She cried and I sat there, patting her knee, not knowing what else to do.
“It’s ok Mommy,” I comforted. “Things will be better in 1992 –“ I picked an arbitrary date in the coming year hoping that the change of the year would bring a change in my mother’s aching heart.
I was four.
I think that was the day I found out my mother was human.
If we’re lucky, our parents are our first heroes. They’re our saviors, and our providers. There’s nobody bigger or stronger than our dads, and our moms are the safest place we know.
But as we grow up, that begins to change. That’s how it worked for me, at least.
I got older and so did my parents. I became more self-sufficient and my parents become less. And I started to notice them as people — seeing them for the flawed, vulnerable, temporary beings that they were. This is the point — the moment you realize your parents are human — your world begins to feel shaky.
“I HATE YOU,” I’d scream at her, shaking with anger just a few short years later.
My heart ached for her fragility, recoiling from it at the same time. The world beat her up at every turn and she wasn’t quick or strong enough to block the blows.
She’d look at me for comfort, for peace and reassurance. I hated seeing her hurt, but more than wanting to protect her, I wanted to change her. I wanted a mom who was stronger than me, who had all of the answers that I craved. I longed for a mother who would punish me instead of the other way around—the division of power in our family falling so heavily to my side.
And so in response, I rejected her. I pushed her away with all of the ferocity in my small, teenage body. I hurt her however I could, aiming as far below the belt as I could reach.
I thought, on some level, that if I was cruel in my criticism of her, she’d become tougher. I also thought that by distancing myself from her, that I could ensure that I’d never become her—sensitive and needy and so easily wounded.
Just like that, growing up created a tug-of-war between me and my mother.
Or, maybe it was just a tug-of-war with ourselves. I wanted to be independent, but I also wanted to know I was taken care of. She wanted to raise independent, self-sufficient children, but she also didn’t want to let go of her baby.
Nobody prepared me for the need to get out.
I counted the days until I left for college—itching for the chance to strike out on my own. I’m guessing no one prepared my mom for what it would be like to be on the other side, what it would feel like the day her little girl wanted to be dropped off around the corner from the movie theater—horrified at the thought of being seen with the one she still sometimes calls “mommy.”
There’s no way to prepare ourselves for the fact that at some point, even in the best of situations, the most stable people in our lives will no longer be there.
It was my desire for independence coupled with my fear of not being taken care of that caused me to lash out so ferociously. It was my fear and my confusion and my frustration in the discomfort of the middle that prompted me to cause my mother so much heartache.
And it’s in my increasingly uncomfortable maturity that I can see the damage my words caused.
Not speaking from experience, having children must be the most vulnerable experience in the world. I imagine there is nothing more tender, more terrifying, or more impossible to prepare for.
I wonder if a parent’s second greatest fear is that something could happen to their babies. I wonder if their first greatest fear is that they themselves would be the one to cause their babies harm—that they’re bad parents.
And in my ignorance and immaturity—in my frustration and fear, I confirmed every fear that my mother has probably ever carried. I told her she was a bad mother, and anything else I could think of to hurt her, all while she was shuttling me to ballet classes or figure skating lessons—whatever my ungrateful heart desired.
But as I confirmed her worst fear, my power and her pain confirmed mine. My mom is temporary—she’s not Superwoman. I will not have her forever.
And the thought of being without the most constant person I’ve ever known scares me to death.
In all of this, the constant that holds it all together — me and my mom — is God. The Father of both of us, he remains, promising me that he’ll never leave me—not ever.
He provides for me in ways that are sometimes too big for me to understand, but he does it, constantly and faithfully.
And He also provides grace.
It’s God who has given me the grace to get through the tug-of-war, God who gives me the patience and forgiveness this transition requires. It’s God who gives me the security not even my parents can offer, and God who teaches me to love each other, parents and children alike.
My relationship with my mother is the hardest I’ve ever known. She has seen the ugliest sides of me—pushing through and loving me even when I begged her not to, rejecting her with all of my strength.
It’s only now I’m beginning to see her more clearly.
It’s only now that I’m learning to love her in her brokenness, but also in her wholeness. The older I get, the more I appreciate the most loving woman I’ve ever known, that I can proudly sport her bright blonde hair and clear blue eyes—saying “I know,” and smiling when someone notices the resemblance.
It’s only now I’m learning to truly grow up, and truly love her the way that she deserves, the way that she’s always loved me.