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17 December 2022

My mom is someone I have a really difficult time sharing openly about what I feel for her. Not for a lack of love or admiration but because our relationship has been one of complexity. I've found recently that when I think of my mom, I see a part of me in her-from her. And that has been a difficult thing for me to confront or accept. But here I am at 32 years old, and I'm ready now.

My mom was a stay-at-home mom for the first 18 years of my life. She made sure that my brother, sister and I had three homemade meals by her a day, completed our homework, practiced manners, went to church, completed our chores, spoke with eloquence, and all the things that would make us productive, law-abiding citizens of America. She instilled strong moral values in us and extremely high standards when it came to quality of work-particularly schoolwork and cleaning the house. While none of us were straight A students, we were obligated to do our personal best in school-and somehow, she knew if we didn't. We weren’t allowed to rest until all of our homework or chores were done. She didn't like us sleeping in on weekends forbid us from partaking in "lounging around." We needed to be active and productive. Certain rooms in the house we weren’t allowed to enter, in order to keep the space clean example: the living room and dining room were off limits unless company was over. No going "number 2" in the bathroom downstairs; number 1 only as this was the bathroom accessible to guests. We were required to eat nutritious meals, she monitored the snacks we had while we were home, what we watched on T.V., the music we listened to, etc. Nothing got by her. At least not for me as the eldest child.

Growing up I was not emotionally close to my mom. While I loved her and trusted her, she was more of the disciplinarian between my two parents, and we clashed a lot. I seemed to always do things to get myself grounded or was not completing things to her standards. By the time I came close to graduating college and from that time to today, she has become my best friend and closest confidant in the world. It’s amazing what time and maturity can do to a relationship. As my relationship with my mom strengthened, she started to open up to me about things she hadn't shared while I was a kid.

When I was in the second grade, one of my classmates happened to live a few houses away from me. This little girl was cute. She had blue eyes, blonde curly hair with a cute squeaky voice. She was a "popular" girl in the class. So much so that the teacher used my parent teacher conference time to talk about how cute the other little girl was. My mom had to remind the teacher that she was here for KRISTIN and not the other girl. Anyway, lol. My mom told me that the other girl started hanging around the house more. She started coming over daily which was out of the ordinary. As a child I remember feeling ECSTATIC about this. The most popular girl in class wanted to play with me after school. I found it wonderful at that time. As my mom revisited the story with me as an adult, she shared how she would tell the little girl that she needed to go home as it was time for me to go inside and the little girl told my mom she couldn't. My mom asked why and the little girl said, "Because my mom said I have to stay here until she gets home from work". At that moment my mom realized that this other mother was using her for free baby-sitting services without even conversing with her or asking for permission. My mom had a conversation with this mom; the nerve of some people! Needless to say, the little girl stopped coming over after that. I lost a "friend”, but my mom preserved her dignity and self-respect.

My mom opened up about some of the comments other mom's or people would make to her. Comments like, "well you're not working" as if being a stay-at-home mom is not a full-time job. She explained how even a woman at our church approached her about how my mom not taking on leadership roles within the church was, "holding my dad back from becoming a deacon." My dad was a Sunday school teacher and usher in the church, in addition to his full-time job as a NJROTC instructor and school board member for the school district. My mom explained how her first priority was her three children, not holding a position within the church.

My dad was the charismatic but humble community leader and organizer that so many loved, adored and admired while my mom was a dominant force in our home but much more reserved in public. My mom would share with me how she always dreamed of becoming a nurse and how when she attended El Camino community college in Los Angeles, they had a program to become a registered nurse that was free. I asked her "why didn't you finish? You were so close." I didn't understand how she or anyone could drop out of a school program that led to a career of your dreams that was free. She told me, "I wanted to be with the man that I loved." I was confused by my mom's comment. I was still in the early years of college at that time and I realized in that moment that I didn’t understand love. In my mind NOTHING was going to interfere with my career goals. No man or no thing. In that moment I, regretfully, judged my mom.

My mom later went on to vocational school to earn her license in phlebotomy which is the career she has today. I was proud of her for pursuing a career in the medical field because I knew that was her dream even if it wasn’t a nurse. I liked listening to my mom talk about what it means to her to work in a hospital, how she feels like her true self wearing scrubs and how she enjoys patient care, particularly ward rounds where she gets to travel across the hospital to different patients in intensive care. I like hearing her stories about work and the entertaining drama.

I listen to my mom's stories of working as a contractor at an Air Force base. The good experiences she has of friendship and experiences and the difficult times with high leadership turnover and differences in treatment of contractors, civilians, and military. One of the most difficult times she's had has been the pandemic. While I spent 78 days stuck at home as I was not mission essential, my mom worked EVERY day as she WAS mission essential. She had no days off. She was even assigned to COVID units before vaccines were an option. While my mom was beat down and fatigued, I saw her as the superhero she was. Why did it take this job in this pandemic to reveal to me the superhero that was ALWAYS present in her?

The thing that makes me sad is that when things got really bad for my family last year, I didn't know how to talk to my mom. In fact I lessoned the communication I had with her as I grieved. The distance between us even spurred nightmares in me about the little girl in me NEEDING my mom. I hated that she was hurting so much and there was nothing I could do to change the situation or make it better. I just had to TRUST and I didn't know how to do that at that time.

One day, years ago, my mom shared with me how she never understood how we (my siblings and I) treated other peoples parents better than we treated her. Better in the sense of we went out of our way to be helpful with cleaning or basic things. She said all three of us did this. I've reflected on this for years and I still don't have a complete answer. What I have learned is that so much of the love my mom gave to us, was in her acts of service and daily self-sacrifice. The meals, the safety, trips to medical or dental appointments, the rides to school or sports games/practices, the assurance of a stable and present parent, the pep talks of encouragement—my mom did all of this and so much more. She did things that I didn’t know were of value to me until I didn't have it anymore. I didn’t possess this love language in my younger years so I had no way of recognizing or appreciating it for what it was. So many people learned the immeasurable magnitude of the value of certain service or self-sacrificial professions, to include being a stay-at-home mom, during the pandemic and I'm ashamed to admit that I was one of them.

My mom has shown me that mom's who work in the home to support their family's and mom's who work out of the home to support their family's are not that different. They both experience a severe amount of guilt or shame either from themselves or others for not doing or "being enough". They both often experience having to fight for their work or value to be seen, sometimes by society and sometimes by those who live within their own home. And both have the capacity to love their children in a way that is immeasurable. My mom was not (until recently) the type to verbally say she loved me, but I never questioned her love for me.

The day I admitted that I saw my mom in me, was the day I started to be able to heal myself. I look in the mirror and I see her eyes. When I laugh I hear her laugh. These things bring me great comfort as they are reminders that she is always with me. I am working hard to develop her strength in-self. I know I inherited it, it’s just time for me to exert the courage to use it. Thanks Mommy ❤️.

Photos of my mom and I when she visited me while I lived in the DC area, college graduation, and my wedding


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