Monday, March 5, 2018

Playing the Grown-Up Game

@senivpetro via Freepik
My mom passed away last summer after a courageous battle with the ugly demon that is cancer. She was brave and strong and stubborn from start to finish, and I was privileged to have her as my mom.

Most days, I feel brave and strong and stubborn but, some days, I miss her so much I can taste it. I miss her laugh and her hugs, our shared love of dinner reservations instead of dinner preparations, and hours on the phone spent talking about everything and nothing.

I miss her championing my creative pursuits, her certainty that in any production anywhere I was the best one on stage (unless my niece was in the show, in which case it would be a tie) and her fierce loyalty to those she loved.

What I miss most of all, though, is being able to tell her anything. When someone hurt my feelings, or made me angry, I could complain to my mom and she'd take my side -- so much so that I sometimes found myself defending the person I'd started out complaining about. If I was wrong or short-sighted, she'd let me know, but only after I'd finished whining about the unfairness of it all. I never had to worry about being judged or chided.

Or mature.

It's only now beginning to dawn on me that part of what I miss is the fact that, with my mom around, I never really had to be a full-fledged grown-up. It's overrated, this grown-up business.

I'm not very wise, but I am wise enough to know how blessed I was to have my mom for most of my adult life. I'm smart enough to be grateful for all that she gave me and taught me, as well as most of what she passed onto me by osmosis. I know that being with her and my dad as she fought a battle she didn't want to fight (perhaps the ultimate grown-up act) was a gift -- one that gave me a chance to say all the things I wanted to say, and to prepare myself for the inevitability of good-bye. 

My dad now lives less than ten minutes away from us; his relocation is the silver lining in the cloud that was losing my mom. He, too, is a cushion against full grown-up status, and I treasure the relationship we are nurturing in our new normal.

Dads are different than Moms, something that is both good and inevitable. As my dad and I move forward, knitted closer together by a loss neither of us wanted, we're deciding what to keep, what to discard and what to change, not only with respect to material possessions, but in our relationship as well. We haven't lived in the same zip code full-time since I moved out of my parents' house to go to college, back when I was barely a contender in the grown-up game.

The trouble with the grown-up game is that the rules are ever-changing. We think we're grown up when we move out, when we graduate from college, when we get our first job, when we get married, when we become parents. But each of these events merely shapes who we become; no one of them completely defines us or fully describes the joys and challenges that lay on the other side of these milestones.

Losing a parent is another milestone -- one no one wants to achieve. There's a hole in my life where my mom was -- one no one can fill. I don't mean that to be maudlin or sentimental -- it just is. Maybe that realization takes me one step closer to full grown-up status, or maybe it's merely an observation.

Either way, it doesn't make this grown-up business any less confusing.

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