My mom is beyond excited to be a grandmother. “Mother” has been her main identity in life, and she never quite transitioned back to regular “woman” after my sister and I left the nest. Maybe nobody ever does; that’s what she tells me anyway. She held tight to the label of “mother,” even when both her daughters were grown and out trying to make the mistakes that could never have been made under her close watch.
Needless to say, it was very difficult news when I, at 24, decided to move 2,296 miles away from the rural town where I grew up, where Mom has lived her entire life. I remember the months up until I left, and how she fell to pieces. I still feel the guilt as if her feelings are my sole responsibility, even as I try to understand her feelings from worlds away. How it must hurt when the person you love most in the world wants to be on the opposite side of the country from you. I’m sure that to her, my moving away from Kentucky felt like a personal affront, since it’s rare that anyone in my tiny hometown ever does such a thing. But I simply moved where I felt moved to be, and over eight years ago, I found that Southern California was the first place I had room to grow into the woman I was destined to become.
I needed the thousands of miles to escape the expectations that weigh heavy over southern girls: do your learning in church, don’t ask questions, start a family young or else you’re selfish, get a sensible job and keep your creativity separate if you have any. I needed to completely blow my life to smithereens to find out what I was made of—to understand for the first time ever I didn’t need anyone but me to thrive. And then to find my tribe: the people who really understand this “me” that was underneath the constructs of that southern girl, trying to emerge but not knowing how until I got away.
And now that I am who I am, I get to add the word “mother” to my identity, too. But for me, it’s an addition, not a trade-off for all I’ve become.
My mom also gets a new identity. She can finally put this ill-fitting “mother” label in the back of the closet and don the new moniker “Granny.” I am almost as excited for her as she is, and she can barely think of anything else besides her three grandchildren who are all going to arrive around the same time this summer. She told me that my sister’s and my pregnancies were quite literally the answer to her prayers. (No pressure.)
You see, I want my children to be close to their grandparents. But where I’m from, the gold standard is for up to five generations to live within a couple miles of each other, and for baby and mom and grandmother to see each other nearly every day. My mom sees our relatives living that way and it looks so perfect to her.
I talk to her on the phone almost every day. And almost every day she “subtly” suggests that we move from the beloved city Kai and I call home, and return to the state I escaped almost a decade ago. She suggests this not for her sake, she says, but for ours. We wouldn’t have to stay forever; just long enough to save some money! Then we could move back out here! But I’m no dummy. I’ve never seen anyone move back out here after going back to their hometown. It’s not that I don’t love Kentucky. I do. But the prospect of leaving all I’ve found where my soul is truly happy, and going back to a rural place where I feel like a kid again, where only a few people “get” me, where my children would be indoctrinated with philosophies Kai and I loathe—well, that is what I call a last resort.
And I feel selfish. I feel guilty and selfish for wanting to live where I have made a home, even though I know that living one’s life out of guilty obligation to someone else is always a mistake. So my choices are: give up my entire identity just to be “mother,” too, so my mom can have the identity she wants, or I can stay here, deprive my parents of their grandchildren, and feel like a bad person. But at least I’d be a bad person who is living as me. There is a lot more to question and a lot more to say about this topic, but I will save it for therapy.