My mom is having a hard time of it lately. She’s going through a delayed version of Empty Nest Syndrome. My sister and I both went to college close to home, so she was still involved in our lives through undergrad. My sister graduated from college in the summer of 2013, and then lived at home until the end of the year until she got married and moved out with Tom. So for 28 years, “mother” was a central component of our mom’s identity. And while almost all mothers take motherhood seriously, my mom was a single parent without family support, so for her it was everything, for 28 years. Now what?
We like to think of identities, our own and other people’s, as being static. I’m this, she’s that. It makes things easier, helps us expect how other people will act. But life doesn’t work like that. Am I the same basic person I’ve always been: outgoing, smart, kind of bossy, high-strung? Sure! Someone who knew me at 10 would recognize me as being that way just as much as someone who only met me at 28. But I’ve grown and changed, too: my positivity is something that’s been hard earned after years of making an effort to be a happier person, I’m less self-centered and more thoughtful, I’m no longer convinced that my intelligence makes me special or better than anybody else. I think I’m a better person than I was 10 years ago, even just 5 years ago. But, to abuse a cooking metaphor, these have been relatively small adjustments to my own recipe: an extra dash of some things, a little less of some others…but the fundamental dish remains the same.
So it’s hard, when you lose a piece of your personal puzzle, to figure out how to fill that space. My law school roommate Gloria and I had several discussions, back in the day, about the issue she was having with her boyfriend at the time: changing her Facebook status from “single” to “in a relationship” after a few months of dating. She was happy with her boyfriend and put up photos of the two of them together, but she felt so connected to her identity as a single girl that she was resistant to making that change in such a public fashion (if I recall correctly, they compromised by having her delete her relationship status altogether). When I finished law school at 24 and bid farewell to about two decades of continuous identification as a “student”, it was not an easy thing to wrap my head around. While I was more than happy to be done with homework and tests (well, except the bar exam), being in school had been such a big part of who I was for so long that it threw me for a loop. I still identify as a Midwesterner despite having only lived in Michigan for a little over two years of the past seven and don’t anticipate that I’ll ever move back permanently. In just over a year, I’ll officially no longer be a twenty-something. But where one piece is lost, I’m coming to find, something always comes around to fill it. I’m not a student anymore, nor am I a lawyer, I’m a lobbyist. One day I’ll surprise myself, when someone asks where I’m from, by saying I’m a Nevadan. When I stop being a twenty-something, I’ll start being a thirty something. And my mom? She’s a smart, hard-working lady. Some organization is going to get her involved sooner or later and she’s going to do something great with all that leftover Mom energy. After all, she raised me and my sister all by herself. There’s nothing she can’t do.