Jen Ryan / Anne Ryan
There’s a race that seems to represent itself throughout life, ebbing, flowing as it does and shoving us into competition with one another. I know I felt this early on, as the middle child of three, and even with all of the attention that I continually craved, I was the one that seemed to receive the most of it. Attention, good or bad, was attention all the same. My childhood demeanor wasn’t unique, however, and appears to tie itself into multiple generations.
I had always felt that my mother was as tough as nails and didn’t know the fears that rested in me. Even during times of intense pain or sadness for her, she’d spend that time alone in her room, shielded from view. Somewhat guarded throughout our youth, I’d not really thought to ask my mom about her life previously, beyond the things that just naturally come up based on relevance of phone conversation or text. I’m realizing now how unfortunate that action was. As it turns out, we are much more alike than I’d imagined.
When I was seven, my family moved from Carbondale, Pennsylvania, to Auburn, New York. Our parents enrolled us in a parochial elementary school not far from our new home where we were the “new kids.” I was going to be in third grade in the fall of the year that we moved. This new kid label stayed with me for the next five years, since there were only two other new kids added within that time frame. During that time, I always felt like I had to struggle to be included in already established friendships.
High school was more of the same since the elementary school that I attended was relatively small compared to the other parochial elementary schools in Auburn. The other schools had sports teams and cheerleaders. Our school did not have those things, and all the really cool kids had been athletes or cheerleaders. Once again, I found myself on the fringe of the “in” crowd.
Sophomore year, I remember “trying out” for cheerleading. The only good thing about that tryout was that there were no cell phones with video back then. It was pretty pathetic, for sure.
In time, there’s so much that gets lost along the way. Even our own memories change as each telling of the truth is spoken. A new layer, a new color, something that wasn’t previously there seems to make its way to the surface. Perhaps my own refusal to probe into the past served as safe place to what might come up for myself. The telling of her own insecurities and downfalls somehow mimicked or repeated in mine.
While we were children, my mother was hard in one way, and hilarious in others. She certainly tried her damned best with the tools that she had. Just recently, now that I’m grown, she jokingly retorted over text that she was lucky to have lived long enough to see the results of blinding me into thinking she was a wonderful parent. In truth, though, I feel fortunate to know her, blinded or not, and to have her here—to appreciate her for sticking things out with me. To have a relationship with her today feels noteworthy. I couldn’t have known beforehand that so much would surface for me in just hearing parts of her past. I would say, to know such an enigmatic, layered and flawed, but trying her best woman, and to call her ‘Mom,’ makes me the lucky one.
I love being able to interact with my adult children. It is not unusual for me to talk to at least one of them every day. Some days, all three of them will call to say hello. Maybe they just want to know if they can start to claim some inheritance! We don’t talk about weighty issues and, politically, I am not aligned with most of them. I love my children as adults, though, and I think that my mother would have loved her children as adults, as well, if she had only lived longer.
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