I Don't Want To Be That Mysterious Parent

woman reading journal

One mother's quest to end to the unknowable mother syndrome.

My mother is 85. She and I laugh together, shop and organize, watch movies, play gin and go out for meals together. I know what she likes to eat, her favorite hairstyle, her playing card strategy and where to buy her pajamas. And yet I don't think I really know her.

I've asked, believe me, but I get abbreviated answers, folded arms, the faraway stare. I have only vague and unconfirmed ideas about what makes my mother tick. She's not what you'd call a quiet person but, on the topic of herself, she's frequently silent.

Once, while helping pack up the house where I'd grown up, I came across a pile of composition pads on a high shelf in my mother's closet. I casually flipped one open but, before I read anything, before realizing it was a private journal, she sprang over, slamming it shut.

"Sorry. What's in there?" I asked.

"Nothing. It's just about me," she said. "You can read them when I'm gone." She was only 55 then, and in good health.

It's not that I think I should be allowed to read her diaries... only that I hungered to know something, anything more than what she typically revealed.

Perhaps parents of her generation weren't encouraged to share intimacies with their children. But when I began having kids, I wanted something different. I wanted my children to know me. It isn't always easy. Why You Should NEVER Hide Your Love Life From Your Kids

One of my sons once asked why I no longer ride horses, something I did at a rather intense level for 20 years.

"A lot of reasons," I said.

He wasn't satisfied. "Such as?"

"After I had you and your brother, I got extra busy. Then I gained a lot of weight, which makes it hard to ride. Plus, riding is way too expensive now."

"But maybe you could try, once in a while," he said. "I mean, you loved it, right?"

"Yes, I loved it. And I miss it, I really do," I said. I added, "I'll think about it. But you know, if I did ride again, I might want to ride a lot, and we'd have to buy fewer X-Box games."

"Well, you should get to do cool stuff, too."

In our house, I let my children see me cry and, when asked, explain why (adjusting details for maturity levels). I don't hide disappointments or gloss over difficult situations. I'm hoping they won't then have to vaguely guess at questions about who I am, who I was, the way I do about my mother. I could be wrong. Maybe they don't need to know. Maybe it is, as they might say, TMI.

Still, when (if?) I get to 85, I want them to know more about me than that I prefer fish over beef or cotton instead of wool. I also want them to understand that parents aren't just parents, that we have inner lives too, and a past, that we made decisions we both love and regret. How To Be A Mother, A Wife—And Yourself

I don't want them, as I will, to someday find a bunch of old journals, read them and think, "I never knew that."