“You don’t develop courage by being happy in your relationships everyday. You develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity” ~ Epicurus
As a kid, I knew that my mom wasn’t like the other moms.
Their moms did things like have snacks ready after school, had rules like curfews and bedtimes, and they asked about their kid’s day over dinner every night.
You and I never really had that.
I got home after school on the bus and let myself in. I talked on the phone for hours with my friends and figured out dinner for myself most nights. I didn’t have a curfew, or a bedtime, and my friends would tell me how lucky I was that I had a “cool mom.” If only they knew how I longed to switch and have their “annoying mom” instead.
You had characteristics of a successful adult worth looking up to. You came to a new country where you didn’t speak the language and managed to obtain two master’s degrees. You had a great career and amazing work ethic. In a time when being an immigrant—and a woman—was seen as a disadvantage, you managed to beat the odds and were an example of what it was to achieve the American Dream.
None of this, however, helped you be a present and effective parent. As a little kid, I would look at you almost like a superhero. I wanted nothing more than to be just like my mom when I grew up. I was young and naïve.
As the years went by and I grew into a teen, your lack of parental traits became glaringly apparent. I was able to come and go as I pleased, and once I reached 16 and had my license, I was out and about for most of the day. This was before the tech age when kids had cellphones glued to their hands, so there was no means of you keeping track of where I was.
I would notice, however, that when I would get home, you rarely asked where I was or how my day was and what I was up to. While my friends were home having dinner with parents talking about their day, I usually went to eat at friends’ houses, or I would grab something and eat in the car somewhere listening to music (I still do sometimes, to this day. I call it my “office car.”)
As a young adult, I began to resent you, and I did this pretty fiercely. I admit that there have been times I still do. I spent a lot of my 20s wishing you would, somehow, want to get to know me. I found myself wishing you were different. I looked for any signs that would reassure me that I had it all wrong or that I was confused and that you, in fact, did love me. But I never felt that way, not then.
I am almost 40 years old now, and the relationship we did have at some point is practically nonexistent. I hate the way this sounds, but it feels like you don’t exist in my life. I grew into an adult, and you know very little about the woman I am today.
After feeling this way for most of my adult life, I can assure you I have gotten quite good at cutting people off if I feel that their presence would cause me an ounce of pain. I have actually mastered doing this with little effort and, at times, little regret. I would not call this a talent by any means, but if there was a trophy for this, it would be displayed in my living room.
Does this make me a bad person? I have struggled to answer that—but what I do know is that admitting it makes me an honest person, and that I can live with.
I am now a parent myself, and, as life would have it, there are moments when I feel we are the same person. Becoming a parent has helped me understand you in ways I never could have otherwise. I spent so much time as a kid feeling like I was an inconvenience, and there have been moments when I have fantasized about what my life would be like if I wasn’t a mom. Would I have been able to accomplish more in my career? In my finances? In my relationships with others? I cannot say these thoughts haven’t crossed my mind.
Then, almost like a bolt of lightning, I am struck with such fear, fear that my own kid will feel like I did when I was his age and, when he would come to his own senses, would want nothing to do with me. I cannot even put into words how paralyzing this fear can be because, you see, I am also not like everyone else’s mom.
After some soul-searching, I have come to a kind of conclusion: everyone does the best they can with what they have. I feel like you did the best you knew how, even if it wasn’t what I needed. Even if you did not give me what I was looking for, you gave me what you had in you to give.
This fact, however, does not incentivize me to seek that magical moment when we make amends and live happily ever after, and, although some may see this and shame me for it, I feel that being honest with this truth is far more important. What I will tell you is that this fact has helped dissolve the anger toward you, and I feel that not only makes me a better person, but also a better parent.
There are positive traits I did learn from you that have shaped the person I am today. I learned that nothing worth anything in life comes independent of sacrifices and hard work. I learned that you never stop learning because no one can take education away from you. I learned that hiding who you truly are is far more frightening than living life authentically.
I did not see it then, but now I know that although you were not the epitome of grace and nurture, you embodied tenacity; fearlessness; and, above all, brilliance.
I am grateful for all you did teach me, and I am sorry for holding you up to a standard that you simply were incapable of achieving.