Don't laugh -- and don't mistake me for one of those incredibly vain women who compulsively lies about her age. I am a different kind of 29. I was barely 29 the day my mother died. So even though that was well over a decade ago, there is a part of me that forever remains 29. (Unfortunately that part is not my stomach or my hips.)
In the years since I turned 29, I've had some incredible growth experiences, learned some amazing things, cried an ocean or two of tears, and laughed a herd of hyenas right out of business. There's no question that I've lived, loved, and moved forward since that day. And yet there's a part of me that refuses to grow or progress without my mother.
I saw a hilarious typographical error on the marquis outside an elementary school today: "Parent Maturation Night". I'm pretty sure that's not quite what they meant. And yet, what parent doesn't need to mature just a little bit more? And how great would it be if it could happen all in one night?
Actually, I "matured" (perhaps a better term is transitioned) from Oldest Sister to Surrogate Mother in one night – one really bittersweet night, when I was 29. Sometimes we have to grow up too fast. And sometimes that growing-up process takes no prisoners. But other times it holds a part of us hostage. And I think that's what happened to my heart.
I don't think I can put my finger on EXACTLY which part of me refuses to move beyond 29, or EXACTLY what it is that's keeping me there, but I have some ideas. In her book Motherless Daughters, Hope Edelman writes,
"Sometimes when a [daughter]...has to take on responsibility very quickly, she has to advance rapidly in her development. At the same time, she may continue to identify with her earlier stage as a way to maintain a relationship with her mother and deny the finality of the death. The result is an adult who retains some characteristics of an earlier developmental time, one who feels as if a piece of her is still "stuck" [there]. To this daughter, "growing up" feels like not only a mystery but a practical impossibility."All of that is true of my experience. I feel like I'm still in the beginning stages of learning to parent, just as I was at 29, and yet my oldest child is approaching adulthood. I'm still occasionally caught in that tug-of-war between career and motherhood, just as I was at 29. I sometimes have a hang-up about doing housework by myself, almost digging in my heels until someone comes to work by my side -- As if my mom's somehow going to swoop down and help me clean my room. (Whatever. That's not even 29. That's more like nine.)
A few pages later she continues: "The twenties are the years most women pinpoint as the time they first realized their mothers had qualities – empathy, wisdom, experience – they would value in a friend. To lose a mother at this time, just at the point when one seems to have found her again, feels like a cruel trick."
Ironically, my mother is also "stuck" in my mind's eye at a perpetual 54. So young. 54. Less than a decade from where I am now. While she suffered immeasurably with cancer and the toll its treatments took, she never grew old. I don't know what my mother would have looked like, or felt like, at 70, 80, 90...and I have no idea what to expect when I age. Sometimes I am terrified of outliving her.
I often feel a deep yearning to fill that void in my life by surrounding myself with wonderful women – friends, guardians, mentors – and God has answered that need with the most astonishing assortment of amazing role models for me, literally placing them in my path: dear friends, women at church, neighbors, trailmates, colleagues, siblings, in-laws, a Jewish therapist, and, yes, a community of bloggers. I learn from all of you. Most of the time you probably don't even realize you're teaching me. But heaven knows SOMEBODY has to lead me over that threshold and help me grow up! I promise I'm doing it...just sometimes in baby steps.
--In the meantime, please don't judge me if I act a little immature. After all, I'm only 29!
p.s. Somebody at the Bloggers Annex just put up one of my posts as a birthday surprise. Go check it out.