I spent Mother's day with my mother this year for the first time in a long time. I came home to help her with the arduous task of cleaning out my Aunt's house after she passed away in December. My mother is no stranger to the hard task of closing down the affairs of a loved one, this is the third estate she has managed in the last ten years.
This one is the toughest though, as my aunt lived in the house my mother grew up in, and in cleaning it out, my mother is revisiting many memories from her childhood.
On Saturday evening we took a break and my mother invited my friends Gwyn and Lester and their teenage daughter Cameron out to dinner with us. Gwyn and I have been friends since our Sophomore year of high school and she and Les have been married since we graduated from college so they are part of our extended family and I consider their two children Wyatt and Cameron the eldest of my brood of nieces and nephews.
Cameron is fifteen and very mature for her age. When we got to talking about colleges she declared passionately that she did NOT want to stay in Pittsburgh and had a plan to live in England for a while, possibly Costa Rica, and was thinking of going to Sarah Lawrence.
She reminded me of me at fifteen.
From the time I was twelve I remember making all my decisions based on whether or not it would get me out of Pittsburgh. In high school I had intense crushes and deep feelings for a number of boys but no intention of getting so involved that I was tempted to stay. When I discovered a passion for acting that would draw me to New York, I too, declared I would be leaving and flaunted my desire in front of my mother every chance I got. "I hate it here!" I said repeatedly, "how could you have stayed here all your life? What is in Pittsburgh?"
I didn't consider my mother's feelings, that is not the charter of a teenager, in fact I often treated her as my jailer, undeserving of my compassion for what it must have felt like to have a daughter as determined as I was to leave home as soon as possible.
And I did. At 18 I left for NYU and never lived at home again (except for the summer of freshman year which sealed the deal against life in the 'burgh.)
At dinner on Saturday my mother asked Cameron questions, probing her about her interests and when Gwyn and Les talked about the expense of college my mother offered many suggestions and was encouraging about ways they could swing it.
When Gwyn said jokingly, "you can go to Pitt and stay here."
I responded by saying, "what did you think would happen? You took her on so many trips to Europe, you showed her the world. Did you think she would want to stay?"
And then it hit me like a ton of bricks.
My mother had done the same for me. She had worked hard to plan family vacations encouraged my father to take out a personal loan to take us on a once in a lifetime trip to South America, she exposed us to art, music and language. She taught us to read, helped us with our homework, typed our college applications and when the time came she packed the car and took us to college.
Here I thought all these years I had come up with the idea on my own. I had dismissed my mother's hometown as provincial and not big enough for my dreams...and all along my mother had made the space for me to have those dreams and had planted the seed in me to let me go.
Just as Gwyn is doing with her daughter.
How hard it must have been for my mother's mission to have succeeded as it did and how proud she probably was as well. When people talk about how tough it is to be a mother, that's what they mean, to love your children you have to let them go and to let them go you have to let them think it is their idea.
I guess that's also the amazing thing about a mother's love, the way a personal sacrifice becomes a daughter's blessing. I couldn't see that at 15, or 30 but am happy to see it at last at 48.
As for my feelings now about Pittsburgh? How do you think I feel about it? It's my home.