I had a moment, last Wednesday evening, that was both surreal and sweet. One of those really powerful, moving moments that seem to keep taking me by surprise lately.
Wednesday was a very long, very draining day. A parent conference before school, a long day of teaching my fifth grade class, interrupted by a TEAM meeting on a little boy who is depressed and potentially suicidal, an hour of after school tutoring, and an unexpected parent conference after all of this was done.
It was 5:30 pm, raining, dark and cold. I was rushing to see my Mom, late and guilt wracked and anxious. I go to see Mom every Thursday evening. We lost my Dad a little more than two years ago, and Mom now finds herself living alone, after raising six children to successful adulthood. On Thursdays, I drive in the opposite direction of my usual commute, and I have dinner at Mom’s, in the kitchen where I grew up. We talk and laugh and play word games (on our iTouches, may I add), and I spend the night in my childhood bedroom.
Thursday nights are my chance to bring my mother back to her mothering days. She nurtures me; she cooks the foods that I love, she gets my bedroom ready, she wakes up early to make my breakfast. After more than two years of this weekly routine, we have both come to a place where the gentle turning back of time is a balm to both our souls.
But last week, as I rushed through the evening traffic to my waiting dinner, I shared the commute with my own adult daughter, recently returned to our home after a difficult and unexpected breakup of a relationship. We were planning to spend the night at Grandma’s together, and she was set to have all four of her wisdom teeth removed the next morning, with me in attendance as her “Ride home”.
Kate and I chatted as we headed to Mom’s. We work together now, as colleagues, so our conversation was mostly centered on our respective classrooms and students. We shared stories of behaviors, tests, literacy activities and math groups. But after 30 or 40 minutes, our conversation wound down, and we sat in the traffic in silence.
As I looked out into the rainy night, at the crowds of cars and the drifting brown leaves, I was suddenly struck by a thought that had me as dislocated as those swirling leaves. I suddenly looked at my child, in need of my care and my mothering love, and realized that we were headed to Grandma’s house, where I was the one who was expecting to be nurtured and mothered. I felt, for just a moment, as if the ground had shifted and slid beneath me.
I was suddenly aware, in a very visceral and intimate way, that I am now walking the narrow and shaky footbridge that stretches between the needs of my children and those of my mother. I am balanced, precariously perhaps, but balanced nonetheless, on that spot that is perfectly perched between those two opposing forces; one pulls me into the future, one into the past.
At first the sensation was terrifying; I am so afraid, every day, of failing both sides of this tightrope. At first I wanted to stop the car and run; I wanted to let go of the need to be “Momma” and the need to be “Daughter”. But, luckily for me, the traffic was snarled, and sluggish, and there was no opportunity for escape. And as my heart pounded in my chest, my daughter turned in her seat, smiled her perfect smile, and reached for my hand. “I’m so glad that I’m going with you to see Grandma!”. And I was able to recognize that moment for what it really was: it was the chance to shift both of my burdens. It was a chance to let my Mother’s deep and gentle love reach out to help my daughter, and a chance to let my girl’s love and respect and admiration help to support and validate my Mother’s life. It wasn’t a doubling of my roles; it was really cutting each job in half.
It was my chance to realize once again how incredibly lucky I am to be a part of a group that is the true definition of the word “family”.