Why Mothers Are a Girl's Best Friend

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Mom Understands

As you grow up, you learn and relearn something you knew as a very young child -- that sometimes, only a mom will do. Twenty years ago, when my first child, Orlando, was born, my mother flew up from New Jersey to Boston, and it was she who was with me and Larry for the 24 hours of labor. In the delivery room, I remember thinking, "I'm so happy she's here, because she's done this before -- I mean, here I am, so there must be a baby at the end of this." And when it came time, both of them held me when the baby was born, and we turned into two parents and a grandmother.

For many of us, having children of our own changes and deepens our understanding of who our mothers really are, and why they did the things they did. "I used to be annoyed at my mother for how much she worried about me and my siblings when we were growing up," says Eileen Costello, 46, a Boston doctor and mother of three, who admits to waging a prolonged rejection of her mom as an adolescent. "Then I had kids of my own, and began suffering from the free-floating anxiety that comes with motherhood -- you know, fretting about things happening to my children, or things not happening when they should. Now I understand her completely."

With that understanding comes the knowledge that our moms are not going to be around forever. Just when we are getting to know them, it seems, they are getting ready to leave us. "I miss being able to talk to her," says Elizabeth Barnett, 48, a physician whose mother died two years ago. "There are so many questions, like 'Were you always home when we came home from school?' or 'How did you handle sibling rivalry?' that I can't ask her about."

Making friends with your mother is a way of acknowledging that you yourself have really grown up. Yes, she's still Mom and takes care of you when nobody else does, but now you need her as something other than a caretaker. You can understand and appreciate one another -- what you have in common as well as your differences -- and savor the good times when you laugh together or eat a good meal or take a little trip. My mother is more than a friend; I know, deep in my soul, that she'll be proud -- sometimes disproportionately so -- if I call with any kind of good news about myself or my family. She's the person who, more than anyone else, wishes me well; and she's the one whose joy and approval I want most.

So we keep some of the roles that go all the way back. Even now, when I visit my mother, she makes me tea, hands me a mug and napkin and spoon and a tiny dish to receive the tea bag. When I sleep over, she makes the bed in the morning while I'm brushing my teeth. No one else in my life, needless to say, waits on me like this; in fact, like any mother of young children, I spend a good deal of time muttering to myself how nobody ever wraps food up properly before putting it in the fridge or takes a proper phone message. Sitting in my mother's apartment, carefully taking off the little tinfoil cozy she's fashioned for the mug to keep my tea warm, I relax into the guilty, never-outgrown pleasure of spending time with someone who loves me without limit.

Originally published in Ladies' Home Journal magazine, May 2004.

 

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