Sunday, May 12, 2013

Happy Mother's Day

A post in honor of Theresa Strohl, as kick-ass at motherhood as at everything else she does.

Children are tiny people. 


Ever since I began forming long-term memories, Mom's treated me like a person. Not a "child", not a "daughter" and not "mine". She never put me in an essentializing conceptual box with a label of any sort. She's always thought of me as a separate human being with my own values, talents, and ambitions.

I used to take this for granted, but then I met everyone else.

When you love someone and you have nearly complete power over them, I imagine it must be very difficult not to redirect them when they diverge from your personal model of what you'd like them to be. I think a lot of parents let their love for their children become oppressive; they're so afraid their child might get hurt, or acquire unforeseen values, or believe different things than they do, that they force them along a path they feel to be safe.

Mom gave me the room to weigh risks myself, and trusted me to discover successes she never could have provided on her own.

This has caused me to keep my identity (relatively) small. Curiosity, relinquishment, and most of the other virtues I care about are extremely difficult to practice when changing feels like killing off parts of yourself. Because Mom gave me freedom to become, I have felt not at all constrained to remain as I am. This freedom, combined with the urge to know for which Dad is largely responsible, has produced a willingness to surrender to the truth that has so far proven to be my most powerful skill as a rationalist.

I never came out.

Perhaps the most striking evidence that this method was effective is that I never came out as queer (or bi, or however I thought of it when I first realized I'm often attracted to people who aren't men). I think I wrote a blog post about it at some point in high school (back on Livejournal *cough*), but it was definitely an afterthought. Mom didn't essentialize my sexual orientation any more than she did any other part of my identity, so I had no reason to do so myself.

Let me be clear: I was raised in a tiny Midwestern town, in a Catholic parish no less. It really is extremely strange that my first thought upon discovering I was attracted to a female classmate was, "Maybe I should ask her out," rather than something along the lines of, "Oh god does this mean I'm GAY? What do I do? AM I GOING TO HELL? No one must know. What will I tell my parents? Will they still love me???" There was absolutely none of that. I was very surprised to discover other people react that way.

It just wasn't a thing for me.

We're totally bff's.


Our relationship has changed over the years as easily as I have changed myself. It does not fit in a box called "mother/daughter". Everything about our interactions means more to me because of that.

Mom's a good friend of mine these days. We have a lot in common, and we make each other happy. I learn from her, she learns from me, and we think of each other as peers with a lot of love and history between us.

When I'm making a difficult decision, I ask for her advice because I value her opinion, and I'm never worried that I'll let her down by not doing what she suggests. No topic is out of bounds; she tells me about cute boys she's dating, recounts Sunday homilies when they inspire her (though she knows I'm an atheist), and gets genuinely excited when I tell her about a cool book I'm reading, even if it's about number theory.

I look up to her because she is a wise and compassionate woman worthy of my admiration and gratitude. I honor her today because she is an exceptional human being. I am tremendously lucky that she also happens to be my mother.

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