A Lesson From My Mom: Stay The Course

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I sat on the corner of my bed this morning and I must have painted a real picture — hair pulled back, white crop top, and black lace boyshorts. A few pieces of cloth were the only protection I had from the cold that had suddenly settled into my world. 

Lately, I've been writing about my mom a lot and it's humanized her. This morning, I wondered how often she sat in her underwear and thought about rough patches in relationships, unfulfilled career aspirations, or checks that didn't clear. 

My body curved over my knees as I looked down at my painted toes and realized that at 24, sitting here was a luxury my mother was never afforded. At 24 she was a single mom. At 24, my biggest problems were problems she maybe would have wished for. The slew of options I'd just brainstormed through and symbolically laid at my feet were ones that reality would have condensed to a single option for her — staying the course. 

The crop top was the first half of an outfit that I was going to be wearing later today when I sat in front of a smaller UN crowd and talked to them about vulnerability. I would peel back the layers of my life that had already been loosened over time. From experience I know that stringing those words together wouldn't be as painful as the fresh ones I've just started to bleed onto paper. Have you ever thought of your parents as human beings who love and are heartbroken? I hadn't, not until three weeks ago. Since I started writing, mom is no longer 6 feet under, she's standing next to my bed, looking over my shoulder, as I write about her jagged relationship with my biological father, with me, with the world around her. 

The corner of my eye catches the lace at the bottom of my underwear and I run a finger over it. I’ve been taken by surprise by how, 15 years after her death, my mom is teaching me to be less judgmental. Life is messy. People love, even when the love isn’t returned - how many times was I my mother’s daughter, while I sat on Murray Hill couches hoping for morsels from finance bros? 

How often am I the woman my mother would have wished she could have been? 

I start to get cold and wrap my arms around my knees. 

How often do we complain about wanting a relationship that will brave choppy waters and then are motivated to jump ship at the first sign of a surge? How often do we define 'brave choppy waters' in a romanticized way because it’s more consumable than the discomfort it actually implies?

A big crux of my speech on vulnerability is centered on how it’s not just about creating space for harder conversations, it’s also about staying the course once you do. It’s sitting on your hands and speaking only when it falls under the “staying curious” umbrella because anything else would belittle the process. It’s acknowledging that wishful thinking of absolution at the hands of absolutes does sound comforting, but is not realistic. Nothing in life is an absolute. Tombstones are the best reminder of this. 

Braving choppy waters is nauseating. There’s nothing romantic about it. I’ve cried more in the last few weeks about my mom’s heartbreak than I ever have about any of my own. 

Those waters, they beg for bravery, for faith, for surrender and acceptance that we pushed our own boats into the sea, now we wrestle. 

Now, the only option at my feet seems to be the same one my mom saw in the mirror every morning — staying the course.