I Brought My Mom

I am a fiercely independent sixth grader. Two months before my elementary school graduation, I am relentlessly determined to prove my autonomy to my mom.

My mom, who has been waiting in the parking lot to pick me up, before the bell rings, every, single, day of my entire school career. My mom, who has been to every dance recital, soccer game, swim meet, and activity in between. My mom, who has attended every parent-teacher conference, driven every carpool and pre-quizzed me for every vocab test I’ve ever taken.

My mom who has chaperoned every field trip. Every, single, one.

She never hovers, interferes or gets overly involved. I am confident and outgoing and popular. I don’t need her support, or assistance. Besides, she is preoccupied with the overwhelming needs of the saddest, most pathetic kids in my class: The girl with terrible hygiene and a complete inability to make friends; the one with the chronic motion sickness, seated at the back of the school bus, on a windy road; The kid who misses home, or his dog, or wets his pants. The kid who rips his sweatpants during a team-building exercise or burst into tears at the top of the trust fall.

In every crisis, my mom swoops in to hug them, soothe them and parent them. They attach to her immediately, and refuse to let her go.

I am facing a transition to junior high school and in the market for a badge of maturity. I convince my mom to set aside her permanent chaperone invitation, so I can spend my last week-long field trip, alone.

She loves the multi-day trips the most. She hikes and plays all day, and eats unlimited dessert at night. She gets to show off the acting skills she always talks about, and enthusiastically respond to every request of her thirty, adopted kids.

But in the name of honoring my burgeoning adulthood, she sacrifices her unpaid vacation, and agrees to let me experience my first field-trip ever, without her.

We arrive on Monday. I feel uneasy, but excited. I feel brave like Caddie Woodlawn, and sophisticated like Anne of Green Gables. I am the inspirational heroine protagonist in the historical fiction novel of my own creation. Simultaneously, I feel a rare sensation of ordinary. Suddenly, I’m just like the other kids. I have no back-up plan, or safety net, or personal medicine cabinet, in case I get sick.

On Wednesday morning my hiking group is crossing the peanut butter river on a narrow, wooden plank. I am thoughtfully gazing across the horizon when I see a one-of-a-kind vehicle pull up. My mom’s minivan is the most recognizable family car in all of northern California, maybe the world.

When we meet-up at lunchtime, I pretend to be miffed. I dig into my arsenal of inherited acting skills and express a convincing feeling of betrayal.

Deep down I feel grateful, and relieved.

She sees right through it, but indulges me in an explanation, just the same.

Her mid-week appearance is a compromise. When my mom broke the news of my epic-solo-heroe’s-journey to my sixth grade teachers, protests ensued. Apparently, my commitment to self-sufficiency is equaled in intensity only by my teachers’ obsession with my mom. The success of the week, their school-year satisfaction, possibly the outcome of their entire careers, hinges on my mom’s presence in Marin Headlands, this week.

I can’t blame them. She lives up to the hype.

My mom is vibrant and fun and loving. She laughs openly and loves deeply and makes everyone around her feel special. Even at a young age, I see the way people light up around her. My classmates tease me because the male chaperones have schoolboy-crush googly eyes, whenever she’s around. She is the most loved human around the campfire, on the trail and especially in the dining hall. The teachers love her, the kids love her, even the on-site instructors favorite her obviously and immediately, every time.

And so it was, on that trip, just like the others.

What was supposed to be my first one alone, became our last field trip together.

A year later, as a gawfky, self-determined seventh grader, I spend a week in Ashland Oregon, by myself. During bus rides, and down time, and especially dinner, I feel sadness and emptiness, and longing for the past. I stare hopelessly with envy at a stranger who would some day be my best friend of fifteen years. A girl who had the courage to bring her mom.

My mom and I revive our spirited mother-daughter traveling antics during the summers between my years in high school. We spend multiple five day trips park hopping in Anaheim, CA, luxuriating at the Disneyland hotel. We conquer every attraction on the map, become experts in line movement and crowd management, and eat more main street ice cream sundaes than most people consume in a lifetime.

Even many years and travel miles later, our days together in Disneyland are some of my best.

My mom moved me in to my first dorm room and my first adult apartment. When I got sick my first quarter of college, she spent three days in a Westwood hotel. My first year as director of Mentorship, she left Sacramento before sunrise to share the most memorable sunset of my life.

During law school, and twice as much while I was studying for the bar exam, my mom talked me off the ledge, and out of a personal crisis, multiple times per week. For countless hours, she waited patiently on the other end of a phone call, when the only thing coming through the microphone, were tears.

My mom is my best friend, and my inspiration. She is a daily reminder that the value of life is measured in laughter, and hugs and kindness towards other people. She is as silly and fun and spontaneous as she was two decades ago, serving as the greatest field-trip chaperone, that ever lived.

Two months ago, after a 14 hour work day, I landed in the emergency room on a Wednesday night. I felt pain, and fear, and panic and dread. My mom remained calm and comforting as I spiraled into the emotional space of the neediest kid at the back of the school bus.

When the doctor, with whom I undoubtedly share a birth year, comes in to check on me, confusion is evident across his face. I watch him piece together the why behind the wrinkles in the creases of my eyelids, and the adult chaperone in my room.

To ease the mounting tension, I point out the obvious.

“I brought my mom.”

He nervously shrugs his shoulders and sympathetically narrows his eyes.

When it’s all over, I wouldn’t change a thing.

My mom is my sanity, more than my rock.

At thirty, I need her as much, or more, than I did at thirteen, or twenty, or eight, or five.

I bring her with me when I can, and call her when I can’t. When separated by long distances, we exchange doggie paper cards, and heart shaped emojis. When I can’t see her, or reach her, I close my eyes and feel how she would hug me. Soothe me. Parent me, in person.

I can sense her arms around me, and hear what she has to say.

Lady Love

Two things I know for sure:

1) I have the most incredible mom on the planet. She mothers with deep love compassion and sacrifice. She is unconditional. She is brave and strong.

2) My twenties have been blessed by the emergence of many beautiful female role models. They are powerful, soft, intelligent, funny and unique. Each of them teaches me in her own way about womanhood, femininity, being a parent, a spouse, a partner.

One thing I struggle with: Embracing in myself all of the exquisite feminine strength I see in my mom and other women.

Late in high school I got this idea of myself that I was a strong, sassy woman. To me that meant being assertive. outspoken. not taking shit from anyone. The older I got the more I felt like this idea of myself was myself. It became my entire identity. I felt powerful and accomplished. I liked that people respected my authority. People told me I was intimidating and I took it as a compliment.

My voice is always heard. I speak my mind, talk over other people and demand that people take notice of what I have to say. In large groups of boisterous men I can hang tough with sarcasm and insults.

For years this felt like both a personal and feminist victory. I felt empowered. I told the young women in my life whom I mentored that it was important to be strong. Be assertive. outspoken. don’t take shit from anyone.

But about five years deep in a spiritual practice and many incredible female influences later, it started to feel like an obstacle. I felt lonely and isolated. I wanted to know what it meant to open up my heart but all I could ever do was open up my mouth. I was desperate to understand what wasn’t working.

Slowly, I opened myself up to softness. It started with a simple commitment to “be nice.” With every person I knew, in every public encounter, I focused on this one thing. I noticed almost immediately the positive effects of this practice in my life. In turns out, people like when you’re nice to them. Shit, who would have thought?

The more I acted nice, the better I felt. And sooner than I ever would have expected, I didn’t have to try so hard. It became how I was rather than just something I did.

Being nice unlocked other traits I hadn’t seen in myself since I was a little girl. I cried more in two months than I had in five years. I cried in movies, commercials and books. I couldn’t watch a single thing on the Oprah Network without puddling into a pool of tears.

I started to help people. I helped strangers: open doors, pick up dropped produce in the grocery store and find places when they were lost.

I wanted people to feel loved and cared for by me. I wanted to connect and listen to them. I started to bake and cook for anyone who would eat it.

It all felt incredible.

The behaviors and attitudes I observed in myself were the feminine qualities I had been denying and rejecting (mostly out of fear) for years. I feared that if I loved¬† people, they would hurt and betray me. I feared that if took care of people, they would walk all over me. I feared that if I connected to people, I would feel vulnerable and exposed. I thought if I cooked for people I would fail at it. I couldn’t stand the idea of anyone witnessing my failure.

Today, in the midst of what feels like a phase of emotional and spiritual transition, all of those fears remain intact. What I’m learning, is fear is a barrier to my happiness. Fear is a barrier to me living my fullest life. Fear prevents me from letting my whole self show up in the world. When I soften, embrace my femininity and allow others to do the same, I chip away at my fears. The more I accept that I just might be a caretaker, a mother, a gentle and kind woman, the more I feel acceptance in the world.

I still feel powerful. My voice is heard. I command respect. But in moments of softness I find my strength and my voice by allowing people to see me instead of demanding their attention. I can still be outspoken but conscious of what I say. And, one of my greatest lessons to date, is that the best way to “not take shit from anyone” is to not give it out.

Womanhood is beautiful. Femininity is luminous and powerful. To love, be compassionate, caring, open and soft are lessons I learned from my mom and the gifts of a vibrant life. I do not have to sacrifice my strength to be a woman, I just have to give up the fear that I do.

I feel gratitude for all of my many female mentors and inspirations. This particular reflection was inspired by two brave women telling their own stories of struggling with the balance of softness and strength: