Role Reversal: When My Mom Went Back to School

Four days prior to Christmas, I was the idiot running around Target with a cart full of decorations to put up around my home because apparently I need to invest in a calendar to tell me that a major holiday is fast approaching and perhaps I should think about, you know, participating in some way.

Here is photographic evidence of my 10 p.m. Friday night shenanigans. Unfortunately there is no selfie of my look of panic as I decided how many strings of lights I needed for a yet-to-be-purchased tree.

This past holiday season was the first in which I had to take the lead. There was no mother around to purchase a tree and make sure the cat didn’t try to use it as a jungle gym. She wasn’t there to put out the photos my younger brother and I had taken with Santa or to tell me which ornaments should go where. I don’t know about your mother, but my mother always just made the spirit of Christmas and all that encompasses it happen. Like, one day I would come home and BOOM! JOY TO THE WORLD with an animatronic singing Santa and holly and gluten free sugar cookies. Not having Mom at Christmas was simply one moment of many where her presence was missed, often times painfully.

The lesson here is what every parent wants to give their child is the ability to see that it will and can get better.

The true miracle of it all was the way in which she was able to make magic while ensuring that my brother and I showered, ate and didn’t murder each other on Jesus’ birthday. And then she, like, went to work and took care of herself at some point. It was something I had never paid much attention to.

It’s the simple, selfless act of others — in particular when it comes to parents — that go unnoticed. After my mother’s retirement in July, she opted not to retreat to a beach town but instead go to New York City to pursue her longtime goal of getting her Master’s in Journalism — a goal she had long put on hold because of the needs of her children. There was also her 20-plus year career at an organization where I was fortunate to work with her for six years. She always had my back in the office, and in the world of politics having someone to trust implicitly is a blessing.

For 30 years, she was just there whenever I needed her. I have not begrudged her for chasing her dreams, especially after a majority of her life has been spent taking care of others. But not having her with me rips a hole in my heart as the dynamics of our relationship change. I miss seeing her every day in the office, but I also miss the ability to call her every day and receive a response back.

I text my mom on a Tuesday morning and receive a response late that evening. She’s lamenting about how much work she has to do and the all-nighter she just pulled. I find myself giving her advice about social media platforms and blogging. Her first several weeks at Columbia involved me painstakingly teaching her how to add HTML links to her documents. Then there was that day where she wanted the history of Twitter in 38 seconds and I was like, NO. I JUST CANNOT. NO.

“I taught you!” she said to my frustrated self. “I helped you with your homework!”

It’s true, she did. But the dynamics had only just changed and I am far better at taking help than giving it.

The role reversal we have discovered over the past nine months has been a growing experience for us both. I have yet to write about it and even this isn’t the entire story because right now it seems too personal and not only my story to tell.

I hate how cliché it is to say that I am beaming with pride for a woman who at one point found herself at the end of her marriage with two young children. I am sure that in that moment of losing what she thought she would have for the rest of her life, she wanted to give up. I sure as hell would have. But she never did. She stood strong during what I am sure was one of the most painful moments of her life and instead of curling up in the fetal position, she kept moving.

The biggest lesson here is not that I can be without my mommy or that it’s interesting to be the teacher instead of the student; the lesson here is what every parent wants to give their child is the ability to see that it will and can get better. They say that motherhood is an endless loop of walking with your heart outside of your body and a burden of needing to know that the person (or people) you love most in this world are okay — even when they’re not physically with you. I have witnessed my mother go above and beyond, ensuring her children are happy while doing something for herself. Of course I think my mother is the definition of beauty and all other wonderful adjectives, but also of the word “hustle.” She is everything I could ever hope to be.

So, back to Christmas. When Mom arrived home from New York City, she was welcomed back with a tree and a colorful wreath on the door. Her favorite foods were in the fridge including the Diet Dr. Pepper I had to go to four stores to find. She immediately went into mother mode and wanted to know about the dishes in the sink and I admonished her for being an ungrateful teenager who didn’t appreciate my efforts to make Christmas perfect.

“Making Christmas special is work! Appreciate ME!” I said, exhausted. “Can’t you see what I did for you?”

She laughed. “Yes, yes I can,” she said.

On Christmas morning I found presents under the tree — presents that were more than adequate for an adult who should have a family of her own by now. And, just like every year before, my mother carefully picked out everything, not because I had asked but because she knew what I wanted and needed down to that Bikram yoga towel. Despite it all, she continues to be the mother who knows just what to do and say.

“Thankful” does not begin to cover how I feel about her right now. Fortunate beyond measure. Blessed. And, most importantly, loved.

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2 Responses

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    […] Heather Barmore tells us what happened when her mom went back to school. […]

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    […] Heather Barmore reverses roles with her mom. […]


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