Today, we’re introducing one of the Honorable Mention pieces from Sonja Livingston’s Queen of the Fall Essay Contest! The contest focused primarily upon these questions – Who did you look to as your childhood icon and why? What did they represent, and what does that say about the person you’ve became?
In Laura Helker’s “ˈmä-mē”, Helker looks into the similarities between herself and her mother, and how they’ve affected her both then and now.
Author: Laura Helker
Mom. Me. Mommy. The endearing term we use as a child, while dependent on her for our every need. Until we don’t, and she becomes just mom, and I am just me; we are two different people. Or so we think.
In my youth, I didn’t consciously idolize anyone. I went to church three times a week, and I learned bright and early that the Ten Commandments said not to worship idols. To me, that meant each kid who wanted to be Michael Jordan or part of Jem and the Rockers was blatantly breaking the law. I didn’t want to be like anyone. I didn’t even know who Laura was; how did I have the right to break the law and want to be like someone else? Except I did, I just didn’t know it yet.
I grew up the oldest child of a lower middle class family, with uneducated parents who got married at barely 20 years old. My dad was in the military, dated my babe of a mom for a quick minute, and married her. A couple whirlwind years of partying in the 70’s like Sonny and Cher, and they settled into family life: dad a car salesman, mom at home raising the kids. I enjoyed my childhood; the endless summer days building forts in the woods, fingers stained with the tart red juice of mulberries from the trees we carved our initials in. It’s hard to imagine with the fast pace of the current generation that only 20 years ago kids were unplugged, learning practical skills like how to bake a loaf of bread from scratch or which stitch was best for curtains. I wasn’t a privileged child by any means, but I had fun. I kept my nose in books, stayed out of trouble, my circle of friends a small but tight one. Nevertheless, I wanted excitement, adventure, the polar opposite of the life I was living. I thought my mom’s life was a drag; home every day with dinner on the table when my dad walked in the door. Afternoons spent driving the kids around, few friends, a clear distance between my parents.
My senior year of high school was unsettling. While I was at the top of my class, I had no plan for the future; no visits to the guidance counselor, no college essays or SAT exams to sweat through. My parents hadn’t gone to college, and neither would I. On a whim, I became a Rotary foreign exchange student and spent the year following graduation in Lyon, France. Finally, an adventure! Homesick after a year, I returned, and quickly
yearned for another new experience. I joined the Army as a Chinook helicopter mechanic. I met my husband early on, and we married and started our family right away and there I was: my mother. I settled into the exact same life: stay at home mom, dinner on the table when my husband walked in the door. Driving the kids around, few friends, and a growing distance between us. Mom. Me.
How do we know who we are? Which path is the right one? What decisions are going to end up a disaster? At what point do we lose ourselves in the chaos of life, marriage, parenting, bills, sports, home-cooked dinners? The lines became blurry for my mom, and I followed suit. I didn’t know any better, I didn’t have an example of a woman in my life who stood her ground, who knew who she was, who did what she wanted and loved fiercely but kept her friends close and her family closer.
Underneath the blurry lines there was a parallel; two sets of fog-covered tracks leading to the same destination. I was on one, and she was on the other, we were 30 years apart only we weren’t.
All of a sudden everything was falling apart. After 43 years of marriage, my mom threw in the towel. Therapy, church groups, solo trips to visit grandchildren across the country, self-help books and Dr. Phil episodes; nothing could repair the years of distance. In a matter of weeks my childhood home sold and all the years of things were gone. Sold for pennies. My dad stayed the same. But my mom had fire. She was free. Free to become who she was; free to figure out who she was at 63 years old. She packed up all the belongings she could fit in her car, said to hell with the rest, and she drove. She drove south for three days, her whole life in the backseat, until she returned to where she started all those years ago. She reconnected with old friends, made new ones, explored herself, figured out who she was. She set up a new life, exactly how she wanted it, following her heart and her dreams, a free bird.
At the same time, I found out that I would lose my job in 6 months. I was floundering, watching my husband love what he did, seeing my children come into their own with sports and friends and likes and personalities. And confidence. I spent months in a funk, wondering why my life was so terrible, why I hated the job I was losing, and didn’t want to find another one like it. I didn’t even know what I liked. Who was Laura? How could I not know? What right did I have to raise children when I didn’t even know how to
raise myself? But I had a fire. She was in the car, driving south. And the fire was spreading. I watched that fire spread until I could feel it singe the hair on my arms, until that fire jumped the blurry lines into my soul. Mom. Me.
Life is not a dress rehearsal; it’s showtime. No quote from Mother Theresa, Ghandi, even Jesus Christ himself could have blown me away like those words from my mother did. Simple yet so profound. I wasn’t getting yesterday back. The summer of gin and tonics and unemployment checks did nothing but give me an inner tube around my belly and a lousy tax return. It was time to put on some big girl pants and get this party started. I loved my family, I loved my friends. I was ready to love myself. I listened to advice and read self-help books. Personality assessments, corporate consultant interviews, and therapy sessions led to the biggest decision I’ve made in the last 10 years: becoming a college student.
Walking through the doors the first day was terrifying. I was like everyone else, only older, and clearly more nervous. My backpack was heavy, I spilled coffee on my jeans, and the only seats left were in the front row. Come to find out, that’s the only row I like. Who knew that in just a few short months, my mundane life of cluelessness would unfold into daily excitement; my own Choose Your Own Adventure story.
In the past two years my mom has flourished, and so have I. We are 30 years apart in age, yet we discovered ourselves at the same time. She lives in Florida, near the beach, and has friends, the occasional date, and a job that she loves. She had a year of discovery, just as I did. So different, yet exactly the same. I admire her courage in leaving a loveless marriage, a failed relationship that may or may not have been salvageable, but was too far gone to tell. It didn’t matter anymore. I’m proud of her, of the woman she was, and the woman she has become. She molded me to be who I am, and despite being 35 years old, I am happy to have figured out myself alongside my mom. All those years ago, when I was worried that the Jordan wannabes were going to be thumped over the head with the stone Ten Commandments, I had my own idol. My childhood hero was so close I didn’t see her as being one. She was there, cooking me dinner from scratch, picking me up from my volleyball practices. Waiting for the chance to figure out who she was. The embers looked cold, but inside they were waiting to ignite.
And here we are. The heat from our fire has lifted the fog from our tracks; we are on the same one. She is just mom, and I am just me. We are two different people, except we’re not. Mom. Me. Mommy.