Who Am I And Where's My Hat?

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Who am I?

Some days, my family role is crystal clear, and some days – not so much. Some days, I have to ask myself, in this moment, am I the mother of my two daughters, the daughter of my mother, or the mother to my aging mother? And on some days, I’m a combination of all three. Often, I have to adjust my mental GPS and re-route. I have to determine where I am and who I am speaking with, in order to figure out who I am supposed to be in that moment, or which hat should I be wearing.

It was easy during my 30s and 40s... no re-routing necessary - I was simply Mom. With no doubt or hesitation, my two daughters were my priority. I had a clear vision of my role in life, and happily filled it without question. Wife and daughter were secondary and tertiary roles, and I felt no guilt about it.

Over the years, life happened; my father died, my mother moved to an apartment, my husband (#2) and I bought the house I grew up in (next to Mom’s new apt), one daughter graduated from college and moved next door (above my mother), and my youngest daughter moved back home to take a semester off. In short, my nest flowethed over again.

So here we are in our later “midlife” years living in a family compound of sorts. Certain aspects of our new communal arrangement are wonderful, but others can ruin the day in a minute. Each communal member carries their own emotional baggage which they often unpack at inopportune times. Just when I’m settling in to my happy spot, the contents of someone’s bag spills out, and I’m not sure what hat I should wear when I’m invariably picking it up.   

A typical scenario goes like this: I enter Mom’s apartment as her daughter, but she is clearly looking for a mother herself. At warp speed, I see it’s time to re-route my emotional GPS and become the mother to my aging mother. I shelf my own mommy needs, put my patience and acceptance hats on, and become present for my 91 year old mother.

If the scene ended here, everything would be just fine. I’d walk next door to my home and resume my roles as wife and mother. But, my “patience and acceptance hats” were just a rouse...moments of temporary sanity... a state I could only maintain for a short spurt of time. The reality is that my brain has carefully added this particular slight to all the other slights I’ve suffered in life, and I’m headed home with them neatly tucked under my mental hat.

My 21 year old daughter is sitting at the kitchen table and (accidentally?) throws me a quick eyeball roll. In a split second, I revert to my ten year old child-self and experience yet another slighting of the day. Although her infraction is miniscule, I am in the middle of a role confusion episode and, unbeknownst to my daughter, she is now dealing with a hat-less mother. My expectation is that she will listen to me complain about my own mother. But that’s not what a 21 year old daughter wants to do, and I am now officially at the hardware store, looking for milk. 

On good days, I can stop here and course-correct back to sanity... I can appreciate my 91 year old mother’s need to be mothered, and I can apologize to my daughter for expecting her to mother me

But not all days are good. More often than not, I need a timeout... I need to gather my thoughts and reclaim my perspective... I need to re-center and remind myself that “this too shall pass”... I need to remember that Mom is 91 and won’t be around forever... I need to be grateful that I have my daughter home now, because it’s sure to change in the not too distant future.

What if role confusion never ends and I keep losing my hat? Next month, I meet my new grandchildren for the first time; a three year old boy and a 4 month old girl. Being “Mimi” will be an entirely new and exciting role for me. During the course of their visit, our family compound will swell and house three mothers, six daughters, and two grandmothers. The age span will be an impressive 91 years!  Just thinking about all the possible mother/daughter scenarios, and the potential baggage combinations is daunting.

But, maybe I don’t have to unpack it all at once. After all, it’s just the beginning of the Happy Holiday Season, which, by my calculations gives me an additional 49 days to figure out which hat fits me best.  

Emily Gaffney