A couple of months ago, I helped my parents downsize from a large townhome to a small apartment. The smaller size of the new place meant that we as a family had to take a long, hard look at my parents’ belongings, and decide what could stay and what must go.
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One of several things I learned from this experience is that my mother is a hoarder—a fact that she had managed to carefully disguise from me for all these years. Among my discoveries were:
- 35 years of tax returns, neatly boxed and shoved in the attic (with all supporting documentation);
- Nineteen of those little hygiene packs containing toothpaste, Kleenex, etc., that they give you when you go on an overnight airplane flight;
- 47 spice jars dating back to 1964 (my mom doesn’t cook);
- A plastic box containing all of my baby teeth;
- Sixteen hats (my mom doesn’t wear hats); and
- Horrifyingly, a box full of cards I’d made, letters I’d written, and other incriminating artifacts of my childhood.
All of the above discoveries led to much gentle teasing, a lot of surreptitious shredding, and quite a bit of firm instruction (“No, Mom. You’re never going to use those airplane freebies. Time to give them away.”) But it was the last item on the list that left the most impact on me.
Apparently, I was not a kind child—at least, not to my mother. The box of what could loosely be termed as “memorabilia” (although I think it was more likely held onto as “evidence”) contained numerous examples of my strong affection for my father, and my somewhat weaker affinity for my mom.
Exhibit A: A card I created for my parents when I was six, in which I stated that my dad was “the best father in the whole world,” while my mom merely “tried really hard” to be a good mother.
Exhibit B: A story I wrote when I was around ten, in which the father was warm, loving, and fond of playing games with his little girl, while the mom was only “really good at cleaning the house.”
Sadly, I did not appear to improve with age:
Exhibit C: A copy of my college application essay, which my mother was kind enough to type on my behalf seven separate times (once for each application, back in the dark ages of typewriters and Wite-Out). The essay described in vivid terms the anxiety and loneliness of having grown up as a latchkey kid. It included descriptions of my younger-self turning on the television for company, fearfully running upstairs to find comfort, and listening to the radio for accident reports when my parents would arrive home later than expected.
To quote my 17-year-old self:
My mother began working when I entered the fourth grade. Coming home to an empty house each day taught me responsibility and independence at a young age. My parents were not home to remind me to empty the dishwasher or to nag me about homework. I also learned to protect myself from strangers and to cope with loneliness.
Suffice it to say, if my child had written this for her college application essay, I’d be too busy sobbing into a crusty dishcloth to transcribe it for her.
So I’m contemplating forging a series of letters to my mother from my childhood self, replete with glowing maternal reviews. I’ll put them through a faux aging process, hide them in a box at her new place, And the next time I visit my parents, I will “accidentally” happen across them. They could become the Dead Sea Scrolls of our relationship, rewriting the very basis of our shared history.
Or I could just offer a sincere apology, informed by the insights that maturity and parenting have given me.
A different version of this piece was originally published on Cassandra’s blog, The Next Delusion. Reprinted by the author with permission In the Powder Room, a division of Hold My Purse Productions, LLC. Featured image © depositphotos.com/pollysave.