When I was born, my mother was almost 27 years old.
There are entire family mythologies surrounding birth, and my own is no different.
My story has been knit together from memories over time, told and retold and now 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, my mother was almost 27 years old.
Then I was 27, and it was my own child being born.
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 me. And I remember being this same age that he is now becoming. I 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 her.
I remember my mother at 33, 34, 35… 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 makes all the other pieces fit together.
He is nine, and I am 37. I remember nine as a child, how we had just moved into 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 campfire. I remember the porch swing, always feeling like I was waiting for something, and the tulips that came up by surprise that spring. I remember my mother, her long red hair, the black bathing suit she wore when teaching the baby how to swim, that one day she answered every question we asked by singing “Blowing in the Wind”, and how she looked in her dark rose colored bathrobe, standing there in a kitchen making popcorn at the stove.
She was, to me then, old. Because I was a child. Because she was 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 she knew everything she was doing, and had some kind of vision that expanded out in all directions like tree branches, and was immune to uncertainty.
Depending on the day this could make me angry with her or trust her. Either way, I didn’t know yet that she was a woman, a person, with a self outside of me and her role as mother. I didn’t know that her life had just changed, and would soon change all over again, one life giving way to the next.
And now my own son is nine, and I am 37. 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, getting him to school, making us dinner at night, loving him in a way I have not ever loved and likely never will love another.
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, determined, or known. But I also feel young, like so much is still possible. I am learning as I go along, and sometimes I’m stunned at what life is, but most of the time I just feel lucky, lucky to be here, to get the chance to be and become.
I am, now, a woman. And here, I think of her, my mother.
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 her then, knowing we are not so different. The mother she was and the one I am now, both becoming human. Seeing her not just as mother, connected to me by biology and family bonds, but seeing her as a 27-year-old woman, giving birth in a thunder storm. Seeing her as a 37-year-old woman, with a nine year old me. Her 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 37-year-old I have become, reaches out and meets her there.
I come from her. She comes with me.
I think there is some kind of moment, where we both cross over and see one another, separate and same. Here, I love you, and everything makes some kind of crooked sense.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editorial Assistant: Aaron Gillespie/Editor: Bryonie Wise
Photo: Robert Freiberger/Flickr