“Well, thank you, honey,” I replied.
“But…” I continued, taking a few seconds to prepare for your response. “…you’re not my friend.”
You did what I thought you’d do. You gave me that look. You know the one where you lower your chin and scrunch up your eyebrows and blow out a sharp, short breath through your nose? No one does that look like you do.
“I don’t tell my friends when to come home at night," I explained, "and I don’t ground them when they’ve done something wrong. I don’t buy them food or wash their clothes, either. I’m glad you think of me as a friend, but I’d rather be your mom.”
Thirteen years later, I’m still your mom. But a funny thing happened on the way to this eve of your 29th birthday.
You became my friend.
Remember the time we drove home from D.C. via I-68 because your sister and you had never been to West Virginia? We sang Chrissie Hynde songs and talked and laughed and didn’t notice we were climbing a mountain, even though our ears were popping. That’s how this daughterfriend thing developed: slowly and steadily, year after year, built unassumingly on the foundation of the amazingality that is you. (I made up a word for you for your birthday! Don’t worry, though, there’s another gift *grin*)
You’ve always spoken with the wisdom of someone older, no matter your age. This has served our relationship well.
As you know, I was not trained to speak my truth as I grew up, so I was always a little intimidated and awed when you did.
Something I did made no sense to you when you were 3 years old, and when you ran up the stairs yelling, “Mommy! You piss me off!” I was stunned. But I smiled and shook my head and thought, ‘I’m doing something right.’
Then there was the time when you were 10 and your stepfather and I had a fight on the phone. After I hung up, I smacked the phone into the cradle until it broke. I probably swore some, too. You walked up to me and (speaking for your sister as well) said calmly, “Mom, when you get mad and yell like that, it scares us.”
That simple statement of fact, and the calmly passionate way in which you said it, gave rise to one of the greatest challenges of my life. I may not always hold my tongue, but your words started me on a path to a greater awareness of my expression of anger.
I know you aren’t comfortable defending yourself to others who have wronged you, and so your voice of truth is often limited to our family. However, rather than seek revenge, you plot forgiveness. That is a gift from your father, whom you’ve never known, but are. When someone asks me to describe your father, I tell them, “He was a lot like Carlene.” Anyone who believes nurture determines a child’s destiny hasn’t watched you grow up within the nature of your father. I nurtured you, but you are not me. At least, not the restless, wandering, quick-tempered me.
You at age 29 are far different than me at 29. When I turned 29, you were 9 and your sister was 7. I’d been married three times and was dating someone seven years younger than me. On my 29th birthday, I got a tattoo.
You have a clean marital record and no tattoos. (Not that there’s anything wrong with tattoos. But there was that tongue piercing you got that I never understood. Seemed like something I’d do, not something you’d do.)
You’re with a man I couldn’t have handpicked any better. You also inherited your great-grandmother’s table, buffet and dishes much sooner than I did because you didn’t spend years drifting from apartment to apartment. Nice dishes and buffets require commitment, and – as you know – that’s never my strong suit, but it’s something I admire in you.
I don’t write these things with regret. I wouldn’t change the path I chose. Like you, I chose what suited me. Your path suits your laid back demeanor, as mine suits my uncertainty. Where I am impulsive, you are contemplative. Where I am quick to anger, you are cautiously optimistic. I love to compete; you love to knit. I have blue eyes and yours are brown. I wouldn’t wish it any other way.
When you left home, I slowly let go, much the same way I did when I taught you to ride your bike. You rode, white-knuckled as I ran alongside, my hand resting on the back of the seat. You thought I was keeping you steady, but you were doing all the work. You didn’t want me to let go, but you wanted me to let go. You saw what was ahead, with the wind blowing across your face, the freedom you wanted and feared. The decision was yours, and after days of practice, you yelled “Let go!” and you sped up as I slowed down.
But as you pedaled off, you didn't leave me behind.
In the years since you’ve become an adult, you’ve talked me down and talked me up. We’ve shared millions of words over gallons of coffee and wine. We’ve rolled our eyes and cried over copious amounts of breakfast foods and salads. You helped me through my greatest physical pain (and I’m not talking the 13 hours of labor I went through to birth you), and I trusted you implicitly when you said, “It will be OK, Mommy.”
Thank you for helping me make lefse, even though you don’t like it much. Thank you for staying open minded when I haven’t always made the best decisions. You and your sister are my favorite people in the whole world.
Happy birthday, my daughterfriend, my snarksister, my confidant, my go-to. I love you more than you can ever know.
(To read the original “Blackbird Fly” column I wrote in 2001, click here.)