A letter to my mother
This week my therapist grew a bit exasperated with me. "I've never met anyone who is so protective of her mother!" she said.
Which made me giggle a bit. Because one of the words I've never really applied to my relationship with you is "protective." After all, parents are supposed to protect their children, right? Not the other way around, unless the parent is ill or otherwise needs assistance. And while I have certainly defended you on the rare occasions when someone misunderstands your actions or intentions, I can't say I've ever felt the urge or need to protect you.
For that, I owe you a debt of gratitude. Having such a strong, smart woman for a mother—one who chose such a kind, smart man to be my father—has allowed me to focus (selfishly, perhaps) on my own growth, my own goals.
At the same time, I wouldn't call you protective. You pushed me—usually implicitly, sometimes explicitly—to work very hard toward my dreams. You have always been the realist who anchors—without derailing—my idealism. For this, too, I'm grateful.
Although we haven't talked about it much, I imagine you're ambivalent about my impending move to Boise. On the one hand, I'm realizing a dream of mine—to teach public history—but on the other, I'm moving your only grandchild out of driving distance. I'm sorry about that. But I think you've known from the time I was a little girl that, despite my deep love for our family, I would be moving far from Long Beach. I'm deeply appreciative that a family that has lived on the same block for four generations has been so accepting of my perambulations, of my crafting a life outside the neighborhood. I know such acceptance has come at a cost—financial and emotional—which makes me all the more grateful.
Despite the fact that I've taken a different geographical path from others in our family, your influence on me has been immeasurable and invaluable. Your love of literature and of good books—you quoted Robert Burns and Geoffrey Chaucer at the dinner table—set me on a path deep into the humanities. Your passion for the natural world—we spent part of every summer in Yosemite and ventured into other landscapes around the American west—has led me to live in smaller, more sustainable cities surrounded by, or at least in proximity to, natural beauty, even when that beauty can be difficult to discern.
Maybe your greatest gift to me—beyond your fierce love—is discernment. You've taught me to see what matters and what doesn't. From you, directly and indirectly, I've come to value environmental causes, all manner of civil rights, and a broad spectrum of arts and culture. Even while you encouraged me to set high standards for myself in education and life, you taught me to be—as one mentor once labeled me—democratic to the bone.
Thanks for that.
I could go on, but my own little family here insists that they celebrate this Mother's Day with me, so I'm off to join them. I wanted to spend this time with you—even though we're more than 400 miles apart—to let you know how much you've influenced me, how much I appreciate your love, and how much I return it.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom.