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Mothers and Daughters

I’ve only been a mother for eight years, but I’ve been a daughter for 36 years.

Maybe it’s because my own mother lives 800 miles away, or because our relationship has always been tumultuous, but I often forget that I’m someone’s kid.

However, all that changed when my mom was rushed to the emergency room two weeks ago with congenital heart failure.

My mom is a stubbornly independent woman, not unlike myself, so when she texted me to say that her friend was driving her to the hospital, I was worried. With several preexisting heart issues, she’s had overnight hospital visits and regular cardiology appointments, all of which she has told me about after the fact. And only if I remember to ask her.

So a text on the way to the hospital was probably a big deal. As it turned out, it was.

She had been ailing for awhile, with her swelling increasing, her cough worsening and her shortness of breath almost unbearable—none of which I knew about because she would rarely check in with me. And she refused to let any of her work colleagues call me, even when she was admitted to the emergency room a month ago. Probably it was because it was on my birthday and she didn’t want to worry me.

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It wasn’t until her friend suggested she go to the hospital that she finally decided to do something. Even then, she first made an appointment with her doctor, who told her to go straight to the emergency room.

Turns out it was so bad that she was immediately admitted to the hospital where she worked at as a nurse.

Oh, the irony.

After a few days of her downplaying her symptoms to me from a hospital room they refused to release her from, I decided I needed to be with her, and not a day too soon. The night before I arrived, she had a major event that landed her in the Intensive Care Unit and eventually led to open-heart surgery.

And just like that, I was someone’s daughter all over again, plagued with the incomprehensible thought that the one constant in my life, my mother, might somehow not be there.

With a bit of reluctance, I passed my mom “hat” over to my husband (and my in-laws), so I could wear my daughter hat again, something I thought I’d crumpled up and stuffed in the back closet, only making an appearance during our bimonthly phone chats and her infrequent visits. But even then, our texts and talks were mostly about my kids.

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But the hat still fit, a miracle considering how little anything fits after having kids, but also because our relationship had always been like a bad roller-coaster ride, equally exhilarating and “get me the hell off” scary. So admittedly, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be able to put it back on. Plus, her belief system was firmly planted in organized religion while mine veered off in the complete opposite direction, making anything but simple chats about the weather quite difficult.

Try writing a book about sex when your mother thinks the movie Chocolat is racy.

But our differences aside, she needed me, and I popped the hat back on my head, now newly styled with maturity and empathy, something I had gained from being a mother myself. Time certainly doesn’t heal all wounds, but having your own children can minimize them.

In a matter of a few hours (or many hours, depending on how long your labor was), you realize why your mom gave your much-older high school boyfriend such a hard time on your first date, or why your messy room always gave her fits.

You realize that the love you have for your kids is what someone else has for you, and that it is possible to love your children (and your parents) even though the way they choose to live their life is vastly different from your own.

So for the last few weeks, I sang hymns in a hospital room without rolling my eyes. I sat quietly while she read Bible verses with her friends. And I said nothing when any positive progress was related back to answered prayer.

And she didn’t ask me about my eternal life. Or the state of my relationship with God.

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I held her hand, got her dressed and offered hugs. I cut food, fetched drinks and read bedtime stories—except these were from the New Yorker.

As it turns out, daughtering later in life is much like mothering.

And the daughter hat I thought I'd once lost is actually the same one I’ve been wearing as a mom. Because as much as I’ll always be a mother, I’ll always be someone’s daughter, too.

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