They say that life never turns out how you expect it to. That’s neither a good or a bad thing. It’s just a fact. Life is unpredictable. And it’s how we respond to the things that happen to us that makes up who we are.
In 1984, in the little, sleepy town of Washington, Pennsylvania, the pre-school that I went to had someone film the moments throughout our year and put them to VHS. My school was ahead of their time and the fact that I have a 60 minute video of snippets from my first school year is incredible and I am more grateful than ever to have that to look back on.
What strikes me today, however, when thinking about that video, is not that it shows the first inkling of the person I would grow up to be. It shows the beginnings of the relationship I would have with my mom. Time and time again, my mom appears in the video. There she is volunteering for my Halloween party (albeit holding up my custom-made Tweety Bird head on the costume I insisted should be the plastic K-Mart Barbie Doll costume she wouldn’t let me wear). And again, at Christmas, sitting in the front row of the audience during my recital wearing the red sweater with soft white fuzzy snowflakes I loved. On Mother’s Day, in the video, she’s there yet again, accepting my macaroni necklace with excitement, which she wore the rest of the day.
That video has helped me cherish some of my first memories of her. When we moved to Virginia, she stayed ever-present in my life. I’ve got pictures with her from every Girl Scout ceremony, Mother-Daughter dances, and school plays. And when I started running around the age of 8, I can’t remember a race that she wasn’t there for, cheering me on at the finish line. She shopped with me and we painted my room a different color nearly every summer, based on my whims.
I crashed in to my teenage years like a brick wall. My mom didn’t like me, but I always knew she loved me. It’s got to be hard to understand someone who doesn’t understand themselves. Still, she continually supported me, no matter how much we were at odds. My mom was there when I graduated high-school and spent the next four years traveling across the state to “pop in” and visit while I was at James Madison.
On my graduation day, my mom, always a bit morose (sorry mom, you know it’s true), said that God could take her now if it was his will, because all she ever wanted to was to see my graduate from college. I got a good job and bought a house. I thought at that time, I was on my own path.
In hindsight, I was on someone else’s proverbial path and just going through the motions of what I thought was the natural next step. I married the boy I dated in college and expected life to start right then, just as envisioned.
When my choice in profession proved an unnatural fit for my energy, my mom was right there, coaching me through it. We developed a relationship in which she didn’t have the answers anymore and I didn’t expect her to. I just had her as my friend.
Despite every effort, when my marriage didn’t work, I can remember breaking down in hysterics only to have my mom tell me that I have to live my life for me and no one else. Even though she and my father have been married for over 40 years, she supported my decision and helped me find clarity in a sad time.
More years passed and she still shows up at my marathons and triathlons. She adopted my dog, Taylor, as her grand-dog. My mom has celebrated the successes I’ve experienced in my career and has become and active participant in some of the things I do for work.
We crumbled together when her mother, my Nana, passed away in 2012. I have never felt closer to her. And soon after, when Taylor died, she got in the car and drove 100 miles through the mountains, to be there with me at the vet. She spent the next two days with me, not needing to say anything, but just being there through my constant outbursts of tears.
I came to a big realization at that point. Life is never going to be as expected. It’s impossible to know what is going to happen next. And that’s terrifying but really beautiful. I do know that what we can control is how we love those that love us.
In October, during my mother’s routine mammogram, doctors found cancer. We are lucky and blessed that it was detected very early and after today’s surgery, she is expected to have a full recovery. But my heart is still in knots this morning. This experience is another eye-opening reminder that we all have to live life in the moment. The past is okay to reflect upon but we can’t let that stop us from living right now and the future is incredibly unpredictable.
I feel exposed by this morning’s post but it’s a part of my here and now. I think the best way to shape the future is to live honestly in the present. My mom is going to be okay in the long-run, although that only eases the tension of the moment a little. What I do absolutely know is that I choose to remember the bright spots from the past. I choose to love with everything I’ve got and I choose to accept that life is imperfect and really remarkable.
Thank you, Mom.