Spring break had just arrived. In less than five minutes, I would see my mother for the first time that year. I am incredibly fortunate to have one truly kind, giving parent, and this meant that I could always be certain of one thing: My mother would be excited to see me. Likely, she’ll have come pre-stocked with homemade goodies. And certainly, she’ll want to hear me talk. Endlessly.

We spent the first couple minutes catching up—well, catching up on my life. I’d ask her ‘how’s the family?’ and she’d ask me (with a much greater show of urgency) ‘how am I doing?’ She’d told me that I looked pale, that I needed a warm meal. Meanwhile, I worried that she looked tired. Yet I didn’t say anything. Why? She worries that I’ve been working too hard, and, if I do not interrupt her, this barrage of concern could go on for hours. I could indulge myself, placing my shiny new college life on display as though my life were the only one that mattered. 

And this is what I did. I talked and talked. It felt like I had spent the past six months working nonstop, and now it was my time to espouse every new-learned fact, every annoyance, every, last superficial development in my life since the last time my mother had seen me. Yes, I wanted to ask her how she was doing. I wanted to show her that I did care. But, once I’d started talking, I couldn’t stop. This, I told myself, was my only chance to be self-indulgent, to think out loud and purely of myself. My mother was the only one who would listen, who would bear through all my exhaustive, egotistical self-reflection. At some point in the past year, my mother became the emotional outlet for my every pent-up thought.

At a younger age I would have stopped here, seeing my mother as the justification to why I, certainly, was not selfish. I could never talk the way with my friends that I do with my mom. I would be ashamed of myself. I would be taking from them, and offering virtually nothing in return. I had always looked at this time with my mother as a gift—a short period of time where I was allowed to be selfish. I could purge myself of all these self-indulgent thoughts so that later I wouldn’t need to bother my friends with the same self-referential observations or another meaningless grade on a paper. Beyond that, it seemed like my mother enjoyed listening to me. Or, at least, she wouldn’t say anything if she didn’t. 

Deep down, I know that a very integral piece of my ego needs to believe that my mother is interested in my life. To a certain extent, I think this might be inevitable. But now I worry … how much am I missing from her life? I ask her to pay attention to me, constantly. I want her to listen to my every whim, and I get annoyed when she doesn’t. I love my mother, but how is anyone supposed to respond to an endless bucket of support? How can you ever express your gratitude to the person who, beyond giving you life, would still give up anything for you, regardless of the mistakes you make? I’m beginning to wonder if part of “growing up and growing out”—or that inkling that this relationship just isn’t the same anymore—is recognizing that these other halves are humans too, and it’s as much up to us to acknowledge their existence as they do ours. 

I want to offer some piece of sage advice about how we can have our cake and eat it too. Maybe, there really is a way where I can lean on my mother’s willingness while also treating her with the decent respect she deserves. But I haven’t found it. What I can say, however, is that I’ve resolved to stop talking so much about myself and start focusing the conversation on her. And it’s hard. There are times where this display of respect only seems to divide us. Part of it requires me pulling back and going out of my way to make sure my mother has her fair piece in the conversation. I have to remind myself that, just because I’m away, it doesn’t mean that her life has slowed down. Sometimes, I worry that respecting her creates a certain distance between us. Maybe—if I’m giving her the respect she deserves—maybe I can’t be as personal with her anymore. But I don’t think this is true. Our relationship is different now. I don’t think I can turn to her with my every problem anymore. But I can’t talk to her about her past, about what she’d lived when she was my age. My mother was hesitant to share anything at first. But the more she opens up about herself, the more I remind her that I want to hear about her life … the more we seem to find in common. For the two days she gets to visit, I get to discover and explore the things she’s always loved, and this makes our limited time together all the more precious. I find I look forward to her visits now more than ever. But I’m also confident that, when she departs, she’ll head home knowing that I worry about her just as much as she worries about me. She always worried that the distance between campus and home would lead us to grow apart. But I think I’m just growing up.

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