Mothers and Moving and Making it Home
My youngest daughter Hannah, who is just finishing her sophomore year, is moving out of her college dorm and into an off-campus apartment. She’s going to be sharing this new place with two roommates, but both of them have been studying abroad
this semester, and therefore aren’t in town right now.
So, she’s been left on her own to find the apartment for the three of them, rent it, get the utilities set up, find people to sublet it for the summer, get some basic furniture bought and moved in (so that the subletters have at least a couch, beds, dining table, and probably, most importantly, wireless strong enough for them to stream Netflix). All while she’s been dealing with finals. And getting her stuff packed up and thousands of those “ command hooks” carefully removed from her dorm room walls.
So I came down here to Nashville, where she’s in school, to help.
Because I’m her mother.
It seems like only a few months ago I spent several days in the middle of snow and cold and a lovely little January-in-New-England ice storm, helping my oldest daughter, Zoe, move back into her dorm, after she’d spent a semester abroad. Oh, wait, it was only a few months ago.
Helping my children move is what I mostly do now, it seems.
As I’ve been hauling things up four flights of stairs the past couple days, it’s hit me: Maybe helping my kids move is all I ever really did. From day one.
From before the word go passed their lips, it seems like it was my job to help each of them move from being an adorable little baby blob, stuck on the floor trying to reach for the hanging objects in their “infant gym,” to crawling, walking, running, skipping, riding a bike. I showed them how to take a bus, get on a plane, catch a train. I spent several emotionally fraught months, full of terror and tears, teaching them each how to drive a car.
I also helped them both make the move from the relatively safe and predictable world of our house, from their Daddy’s patience and humor and curiosity, from being held in my arms reading “Runaway Bunny,” and “The Maestro Plays” into the wild, open and demanding worlds of preschool, grade school, junior high and high school. And now college. I walked them across the street, waited with them by bus stops, dropped them off at school doors, smiled bravely with heart clenched, told them it was going to be OK, told myself, it was going to be OK.
And then, of course, I’ve been their moving assistant as they have moved through pain. And loss. And fear. Held them when they were hurting and told them it was OK to cry, it was natural to be angry, to be scared, to be heartbroken, told them they weren’t crazy to feel these things, told them stuff just hurts so bad sometimes and there’s nothing we can do about it, except sit with it, and maybe be brave enough to ask someone to sit with us and rub our backs.
I have also done my best to help them move from the “the world is all about me” thinking of a toddler into a realization that we are not alone on this planet. Move from screaming “Mine! Mine! You can’t have it!” to the possibility of sharing and generosity. Move from the idea that they should “be good,” as in simply not breaking the rules, toward a broader vision of what it might look like to be a good person, in the world, for the world.
I’ve tried to instill in them the belief that when we move on, we should leave the place we’re leaving a little better than we found it.
Now, to be honest, I’m also down here helping Hannah move into her first big girl apartment because I really love decorating spaces, shaping the blank page of an empty room into something beautiful and comforting and life-giving. It was something my mother was good at and loved too, something we shared in common. I think my mom did it, not only as a creative outlet, but also because she knew the importance of home.
So, I’ve been thinking about my mother this week, too. Not so much while hauling the boxes, but definitely when Hannah and I have rearranged the living room furniture three or four times, and when I bought a couple cheap and cheerful throw pillows to go on the $20 couch Hannah and I found at Goodwill.
I also think about my mom whenever I walk into the bathroom of this “charming place with lots of character,” i.e. old and a tad run-down, and see the rust stain in the corner of the bathtub that evidently the cleaning people couldn’t get out after the last tenants vacated. I’ve been working on that stain myself, with various despicable cleaning products, every few hours, just as, I suspect, my mom would have done. I don’t think that little stain is something that matters, in the grand scheme of things, but I’m not willing to give up on removing it just yet.
I want to do the best I can. I’m a lot like my mom in that way, too.
And also in this way: she believed (whether she could have articulated it or not) that with all the moving we humans do, by choice and by force, with all the moving so inextricably woven into our lives, we also need a place to move towards or go back to. With a bathroom that’s relatively clean, and with a living room where we can put our feet up, where we can wrap up in a warm blanket on a cheap but comfy couch, sit near a window where light shimmies through the curtains onto our skin and breathe air that smells halfway decent. A place to call home.
Hopefully, if Hannah and I can figure out how to hook it up properly, a home with good WiFi. Though, honestly, we may have to wait for her dad to arrive to get that sorted out. We’re all good feminists around our house, but for some reason, he’s simply better with things that involve cables. What are you gonna do?
My mom’s been gone for a few years now, but among the many things she bequeathed me (frankly, some of them I’m still trying to get over), I’ll forever be grateful that she instilled in me this deep-to-my-bones sense of the sacredness of home, taught me to believe in the stain-lifting power of Comet and making things better than you find them and ultimately, just trying to do the best that we can.
And I’m hoping my daughters will maybe have a little gratitude for having a mom like that too, and also one who, in her own very imperfect way, has been and is always willing to be (in some way, shape or form) their moving assistant.
Lenora Rand is a freelance writer and advertising creative director at one of the world’s largest ad agencies. She’s also a wife, mom of two daughters, and trying to figure out how to live her life with more meaning and purpose while working 60 hours a week and trying to get the laundry done. You can see how that’s going at her blog, Spiritual Suckitude. Follow her on Facebook at Spiritual Suckitude Society. And on Twitter @LenoraR.