Mom Mom Mom #38: Home Again

A day at the beach in New Jersey.

A day at the beach in New Jersey.

This column runs in the August 27 edition of the Alameda Sun. Comments are always welcome, here or on Twitter!

You can Go Home Again

We made our annual trek to the east coast again this summer, the girls and I. Although it was our third summer vacation east of the Mississippi in a row, this time it was different. This time we spent either every day or part of every day with family. Depending on your perspective (and your relationship with your own family), that kind of trip could be a heavenly experience or a harrowing one. For me, it was a little bit of both.

Usually on these vacations, we spend most of the time with friends and let the family see us coming and going, literally. The real difference this year was that my brothers and sisters and I found our way back home together with our father at the same time. It’s a rare occurrence—the last time we were all together was at my mother’s funeral 11 years ago. A lot has happened since then and I didn’t want my girls or me to miss this opportunity.

We covered a lot of ground during our trip. We caravanned up to Vermont to see my younger sister and got a quick taste of her family’s country living in a beautiful, pastoral setting. With her infinite hospitality, she managed to entertain 18 people throughout a very rainy day. Then we headed back to New Jersey, spending a good chunk of the remaining time driving from the New York to the Pennsylvania borders and down to the shore. In fact, one day, six of us packed into my Dad’s Buick to drive 200 miles, never leaving the fourth-smallest state in the union, to meet my father’s first great-grandchild (a girl, of course!) and then to see more cousins.

It’s amazing the dynamics that happen when you reunite with your family. I guess I should limit that statement to just one person—what happens to me. I return every year thinking that I have changed so much, seen so much, been through so much and I think people, both old friends and family, will see that, notice that I’ve changed and grown up into this fabulous person. What I noticed was that as soon as I land, I turn into an awkward teenage girl all over again, all the benefits of my age and wisdom quickly dropping to the wayside. It took a few days for me to realize this and I had to really shift my awareness. I am not a teenager anymore. This time, when I left the east coast, I left feeling like a grown up.

I wonder if it’s true for families that don’t separate. If I saw my brothers and sisters every day here in Alameda, would I still turn into the awkward teenage girl that I become now when I see them all? Or, if I hadn’t left New Jersey, would I be the same person I am today?

I don’t believe that people really change that much. Things happen to you—college, marriage, the deaths of loved ones, the birth of children, divorce, illness, careers—but what changes inherently? I often wonder if it’s all of your successes and failures that determine who you are or if it’s who you are that determines your outcome. Maybe it’s a little bit of both.

Thinking back over the journey, I can’t help but think, “Wherever you go, there you are.” The good news is that this time, I have realized what triggers the emergence of that awkward teenage girl and am learning to be the Mary Lee she has grown into. It’s a lesson I want to somehow teach my girls. That you are just you, a combination of all ages of you, and maybe it’s not all that bad.


5 thoughts on “Mom Mom Mom #38: Home Again

  1. Amanda

    I regress when I see my family. I try not to judge it, though it always amazes me, how young I become both emotionally and pragmatically. Case in point: shared a beach house with my mom and much older sisters 2 weeks ago. After a late night of wine and amusement parks, I headed to the kitchen for a snack, and in forgetting to put the large (and much coveted) container of cheese dip back in the fridge, left it out on the counter and practically ruined it by morning. I wouldn’t do this at home, in my “adult” life. And yet, when I’m around my mom and older sisters, my sense of responsibility just melts away. Mostly, it just affirms to my family that I think they still see me — as that little, somewhat flaky girl they love but kind of roll their eyes at. It’s not who I am in my life (mother of 2, business owner), but it is who I am when I stay with my mom. Bizarre.

  2. Elena Adams

    So terribly true! I’ve moved continents and yet my family and old friends have a magical way of bringing out the awkward, teary teenager in me every time I visit. I’m glad you’re finding ways to unite the old and new yous. If you have another epiphany of how to pass that onto your children, I’d love to know the secret.

  3. Ashley

    This post made me tear up a bit, in a good way. So poignant and so well-written.

    “What I noticed was that as soon as I land, I turn into an awkward teenage girl all over again, all the benefits of my age and wisdom quickly dropping to the wayside.”

    I can absolutely relate to this. I spent six years away from my family in college and in my first job, and every time I came home, I felt like I regressed a lot. Then, at 24, I moved back in with my mom in order to pay for graduate school without taking out loans. It was difficult at first, because I was 24 and felt 14, but I started realizing that my mom was really proud of the way I had grown up, and when I started acting like a grown up again and asking her for advice on grown-up things (relationships, weddings, house-buying, etc.) we grew closer than ever.

    Family is a weird thing, but a great thing, and spending as much time as you can with family is important. I’m glad you had the time to make this trip, and I’m glad you could share it with us.

  4. Kathy Whittaker

    My dearest Mary Lee…being part of your lovely family sees so easily how this happens to every single one of us. As an example, my mother and I had always been extremely close, geographically as well as familialy. I literally was with her every single day..all through my growth, challenges, triumphs and so on, I thought nobody knew me better than MY MOM! When I hosted our 2000 family reunion (which none of my siblings attended), mom was heard telling them all “you should’ve been there! Kathy was fantastic! You’d have been so proud…SHE WAS A TOTALLY DIFFERENT PERSON”! What? THAT’S who I am..MY MOM doesn’t know that? Good Lord! I hope to see you this summer when you and the girls roll through town!


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