A couple of months ago, while flipping through a family album, a photograph slipped from between the pages and came to rest at my feet. It was a picture of my mother, hands folded in her lap, smiling sweetly for the camera. The sun setting behind her made it seem as if she was glowing and in a way she was. Newly married to my step father, they were on a trip together in Key West.
I flipped it over and read the date printed on the back in ballpoint pen — 1994. My mother was only one year older than I was at present in the photograph. I was 10 when it was taken and I marveled at how different the woman in the picture was through the eyes of my 27-year-old self from my perception of her as a child.
Not until I became a mother myself did I begin to view my mother as her own person. Of course, I knew things about her. For instance, she loves sunflower seeds, bad movies, and good books. She hates wheat bread and conservative politics and has a way of peppering profanity into everyday conversation that almost seems classy.
But, in my heart of hearts, for many years I believed that my mother’s life began with my own. It is a common misconception of young children that their parents live for them. I think that means we are doing it right. Of course we live for them. I hope my children believe that, but I also live for good wine, the pursuit of a career I love, and a quiet moment with my husband after we’ve put them to bed.
This weekend we visited a couple of old friends in the city where my husband and I met and attended college. When we pulled off the highway and continued our journey through town, we began reminiscing about the life we once shared together there.
“Wait,” Anders piped up from the backseat. “You lived here? When?”
“Before you were born,” I said. “We went to school here. Your dad actually proposed to me at that restaurant.” I pointed as we drove past a familiar brick building.
The questions continued all weekend on where we met, who we knew, what we did there, why we moved away. On our way home we stopped for breakfast at a locally owned mom and pop diner we used to frequent for greasy food to cure our hangovers after a night out. It was surreal to sit at a table for four instead of two.
“When you used to eat here in college did you sometimes color, too, Mom?” Anders looked up from his paper menu, crayon in hand.
“No,” I said, “We didn’t color much before you.”
Satisfied with my answer, he returned his attention to the task at hand as I wondered how far in the future a photo of his father and I as kids would solidify us as real live humans with origins beyond his own birth.