I’m in the midst of this weird convergence of time, age, and life experience. It’s not quite an existential or mid-life crisis . . . or maybe it is and crisis is just normal for me.
Perhaps what I’m going through is what others experience as “Empty Nest Syndrome.” My nearly 30-year-old son is happily (or at least healthier) married to his second wife and they just moved into their first house. He’s the first member of my family, at least the family I grew up with, who is a homeowner since my maternal great-grandmother. I’m so happy for them.
The pride I feel for him, in him, is solely because of how far he’s come and how hard he’s worked to overcome and rise above the life he experienced growing up with me as his mother. He’s broken away from and out of some generational cycles it seemed that he would get taken down by. I’m also grateful for God’s grace, mercy, and people who have healed him and supported him so he could reach this point.
That pride is tempered with dissatisfaction with myself. At 29, he’s a first-time homeowner and I’m in a semi-homeless limbo between a Section 8 apartment and my ex’s couch, and I’m turning 47 in two weeks. I don’t see a clear path to changing my current circumstances in the near, or not so near future. Some of that has to do with his sister . . . the middle child who made me a grandmother, twice.
She’s an amazing mother. She’s turns 23, the age I was when I became pregnant with her, in five weeks. She’s also very much the overwhelmed mom, fighting valiantly against the currents and waves which drag her under and knock her down. She juggles mothering two toddlers, being in relationship with their papa, and working. The housing market where we live has exploded into this ever-expanding bubble, thanks to gentrification, the film and tech industries, and other factors I can’t even fathom. It’s nearly impossible to afford housing if you are making under $50,000 yr. Her part-time, slightly above minimum wage job, yields between $15,000 to $19,000. With the cost of childcare and the seemingly increasing incidences of abuse and pedophilia being revealed, they won’t put the babies in childcare. So, papa is a stay at home dad, at 23. Lots of people have lots of opinions, many of them negative, about their lives and life choices.
I refuse to allow my grandchildren to experience homelessness, they way the rest of us have. So, the four of them occupy my apartment. I love her boyfriend, but, he and I have a lot of things about each other that trigger not so good things in us. Their relationship is stressed, as any would be in similar circumstances, exacerbated by similar backgrounds. It’s painful and stressful for me to witness their struggles. I’m overwhelmed by the physical environment of six people, three of whom are children under ten with two of them being toddlers, crowded into a tiny, two bedroom apartment. Their day-to-day way of life is not really compatible with what my youngest and I need. So, my “home” has turned into their home with me and my youngest as intermittent visitors and we’re spending more and more time at my ex’s. So, lots of people have lots of opinions about my choice and decision to “allow” this to happen.
I’ve been like them. I’ve been where they are. It is an unrealistic expectation that they would have more skills and capacity than I and the other caregivers/adults in their lives had at the same ages and in similar circumstances. As a matter of fact, in my eyes, they already are doing better in many ways than I ever could. Yes, there are challenges, problems, and issues that are different or in addition to the ones I experienced. However, I see how hard they’re working and trying to do better and be better. So, I have to support them the best I am able, while giving all of us the space we need to become who we need and desire to be.
My mama’s heart constricts and expands as her heartbreaks and victories ebb and flow. However, she’s an adult and a mother and a life partner. She’s her own responsibility and her children, as much as I love them and want what’s best for them, are her responsibility. My influence and voice only matter if and when they are requested. This is as it should be. I have one more child who IS my responsibility. The last, the one I’m most equipped for, but who I feel like I’m struggling the most with. The heartbreak and exhaustion of trying to understand and meet her needs are juxtaposed with the concern and drive to do better by and for her than I was able to do for her adult siblings.
Despite, or maybe because of, all of these mothering experiences, I’m realizing that I’m a child who needs a mother, a mother I’ve never had. Someone to show me how to love and how to be loved in ways that matter. Someone to run to with my hurts and my fears, my joys and victories, who will lift me up, hold me tight, and let me go until I need to return. Someone to teach me to be the mother my children need.
This is a realization that has been a long time coming. My sense of desire and need for a mother figure was buried and distorted even before my mother’s suicide when I was 12. Just like looking for a father’s love, without realizing it, in all the wrong places and with all the wrong men, I have done the same, on a smaller scale, with women throughout my life.
All of this came rushing to the surface, resulting in a suffocating cascade of tears, when I read “I’m never going to be your mama, but . . .”
Moms need mothers too.