Two Things:

One: Because Today is Mother’s Day

When I was young, my mom was in her forties. She was on the older end of moms in terms of my peers, and I liked to give her a hard time about it. One time when I was a kid, I was razzing her about being in her forties, and she said, “I don’t feel like I’m in my forties inside.” Which prompted me to ask one of the wisest questions I’ve ever asked: “How old is the you that you feel like?”

She didn’t hesitate: “27,” she said.

All the stories she’d ever told of her college life and young adult life were full of vitality and independence. The mom I knew was always strong, but the stories of her 27 self and younger were almost invincible. The mom I knew was sick, and had to go to the doctor’s and do treatments, and sleep a lot because she had Lyme Disease. She was a mom who sacrificed a career to stay home and raise us, and teach us (we were home schooled for elementary school). She was never a “house-wife.” But she made it clear that she took her “mom” title as a professional status. She didn’t take raising us or teaching us lightly.

But her stories of her younger years had always captured my attention.

One time we were walking through a park and smelled some marijuana smoke. “You smell that?” she asked me.
“Yeah,” I said.
“That’s marijuana. That’s what weed smells like.”
“Oh. Weird. It kind of smells like skunks,” I said.
“Yeah, kind of,” she said.
“I like the smell of that better than cigarettes,” I said.
“Me too,” she said.

I was too young to know to ask how she knew that. But the reality was, I always took my mom’s word for stuff like that. Her childhood, her family, and her career before kids had created one badass woman who had full-heartedly and willingly resigned herself to stay-at-home mom hood, and later, less willingly, to illness.

But the stories she told of her college days, of her days as a probation officer or working in the juvenile hall — those were the stories that showed me the empowered woman she was. She may have to take naps several times a day, she may be on an IV, she may be the woman that cuddled with us on the couch as we read the Little House on the Prairie series, or the Narnia series aloud for the umpteenth time — but inside she was still the 27 year old who wasn’t afraid of delinquents, injustice, poverty, or oppression. Inside, she was independent, caring, free, and fearless.

At least, that’s how I saw it. That’s what I finally understood when she answered that question. That badass from the stories, and that mom standing in front of me — they were the same woman. Still. One just happened to wear horribly-styled “mom dresses” from Costco. (A sin which she has since remedied 100 times over, for the record.”It was the style then!” she still defends…)

Two: Because Today is the Anniversary of my College Graduation

When I was about to enter college, my mom told me, excitedly, that she was praying for whoever I would meet and become friends with. She was so excited for me to enter this new chapter, probably remembering her own seemingly wonderful college years.

“You’ll make some of the friends that you’ll have forever,” she told me.

I’d grown up knowing one of her college roommates, and at least hearing about some of the others. I doubted that it would happen that way for me though, for some reason. Maybe because I had a few solid “life-long” friends from home already. I honestly thought I was set.

But she was right, as moms often are.
While the people who I thought would be forever friends has shifted a little over the years, it hasn’t actually shifted much. The difference has been additions, mostly. The most significant of which happened during my college years.

Of the life-long, day-to-day friends who have stayed in the circle since high school, a few remain. But while college held a lot of fun adventures with a lot of peripheral people, my solid circle of friends I rely on, look to, lean on, support, and stay up to date with has stayed pretty steady. My connections, and my friendships are the biggest gift that college gave me. My education was honestly a close second (because it was also really good).

But here I am, 6 years from the day I graduated college, and my long-time best friends and sisters were made or grew stronger either at my college, or during my college years.

And I’m so thankful to have had this beautiful, diverse, wonderful group that makes up “my people” for the better part of a decade (or in some cases longer).

My mom being excited for my college years was something that helped me embrace moving away from a home I loved so dearly to tread new paths, and to pave new bridges and connections.
So today I am thankful for an empowered, badass mother, and for the ways she empowered me to embrace life and friends along the way. She has left and continues to leave me a grand legacy to walk in.

Today, as I write this, I am 27 both outside (literal age), and inside (the age I feel). And I think I know what my mom meant all those years ago.

I am not a mother. I have no children to arise and call me. But…

I. Am. Blessed.

P.S. Sorry, mom, that I cussed. But you are badass, and there’s no substitute for that term or sentiment. I love you.

Jo O’Hanlon is an adventurer and storyteller. She tries to be honest about the ugly and hard parts of life, and the beautiful parts too. This blog is one of the places she shares her thoughts and stories.

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