My parents separated when I was in high school. One morning, I think it was July, my mom and I woke up in the house we’d lived in for over a decade, and went to bed in our new apartment, two miles away. There was little fanfare, or warning or justification. When my friend Molly came home from her trip to Israel, she drove to visit me at the wrong house. I didn’t provide a direct explanation, but, by then, my friends knew better than to ask me for one.
For two years before I left for college my mom and I lived together with our dog, in our new home. It was a loosened up lifestyle, mostly missing the consistency and predictability I’d always known. Everything before that had been governed by strict routines and non-negotiable timelines: There were three, square meals per day and age-appropriate bedtimes. Carpools planned three months in advance and homework neatly organized in brightly colored folders, then the pages of crisp, white planners, for every day of the week.
A combination of my mom’s pure, emotional, exhaustion, my dad’s absence, and the freedom afforded me by a driver’s license and a (new) car created a perfect storm for a revolution in the character and patterns of our daily life. I can look back now and name the experience of those two years as a hybrid of my first year in an apartment in college, and my first year in an apartment on my own.
The rigid structure of my childhood gave way to the fluidity that evolves from chaos. My relationship with my mom permanently shifted and it was during this period that I first called her my best friend. And, after so many years of devotedly following them, I learned to break the rules.
A little at a time.
My mom taught me that sometimes it’s o.k. to buy a bag of Mother’s chocolate chip cookies, and split it between two people, for dinner. That sometimes it’s o.k. if we eat Samoas ice cream, straight out of the carton, as long as we don’t do it every night. That sometimes it’s o.k. if my drunk friends sleep on our living room couch or in the back of my SUV to avoid facing their own parents who have yet to lighten up.
I didn’t have a curfew and never had to tell my mom where I was going or when I was coming back. My friends blasted music, sat on the countertops in the kitchen and talked to my mom openly about how they smoked pot.
One time, before I graduated, I threw a party while I was home alone. Because sometimes it’s o.k. to let twenty of your friends and fifty random strangers trash your mom’s condo on a Friday night.
When I talk to her now, my mom denies most of this. She claims she had strict boundaries and concrete rules and I couldn’t have possibly thrown a party without her permission.
What she does admit, though, is by the time I was old enough to drive, the rules and control and prescriptions had failed her. My brother was raised on scheduled bedtimes and regimented after school hours and high standards for homework and test performance. He had a curfew and driving restrictions and all the responsible parenting impositions suggested for teenagers in books.
None of it worked.
He broke his curfew and disregarded his homework and cut school and failed all of his tests. He drove my parents cars when they let him and stole them when they didn’t. He got drunk, all day long. He threatened my mom and he lied to my dad and there was nothing either of them could do to stop it.
So, by the time her marriage is over, and our house in the suburbs is just a place she used to live, and her oldest child is an alcoholic, my mom, is ready to let the rules slide.
A little at a time.
And it’s a powerful lesson, for both of us.
About letting go and giving in and occasionally eating ice cream for dinner. About acknowledging the importance of structure, but allowing it to bend, and change, once in a while.
Tonight, I’m reminded that sometimes it’s o.k. if I skip yoga to make brownies and hang out with my friends. To eat cupcakes and drink wine on a work night and stay out too late for how much I have to do when I get home.
To publish a blog without re-reading it, or remembering in the morning what it says.
Sometimes it’s o.k. to be messy and unedited and all-over the place.
As long as you don’t do it every night.