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We Don't Want to Make the Same Mistakes Our Mothers Did

I think people my age, more than generations previously, have friendships with their parents. You talk about things you maybe shouldn't. For women our age, there is less of a physical and intellectual generation gap between mothers and daughters.
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On Valentine's Day, I turned 26. Two days later, my mom came to visit.

We had 10 days where I cried, we laughed, got dressed up together, drove around listening to rap music and spent no time apart.

I think people my age, more than generations previously, have friendships with their parents. You talk about things you maybe shouldn't. For women our age, there is less of a physical and intellectual generation gap between mothers and daughters. Though statistically they had us later in life, our mothers aren't old.

For the average 26-year-old your mother was a career-woman, a feminist and she didn't want to rely on anyone. She's still pretty. I look at my mother and my girlfriend's mothers and I feel little difference -- we all have dating problems, career uncertainties. For most of us, especially as we get older, our mothers feel like our friends. Even if you aren't friends, you are probably acutely aware of your mother's regrets. At this age, I notice the shift in the relationships between parents and children. More and more, we're the parent now. They need our help, too.

I think it's fair to say our mothers are losing it. Their parents are dying or have died. They are thinking about how and with who they want to spend the last few decades of their life. Maybe they're still with your dad but, most likely, they're not. Though we have been inspired and buoyed by the successes and strengths of our mothers, "Don't do what I did," is something my girlfriends and I have heard on a loop.

But is that possible?

I am supernaturally close to my mother. I feel her heartbeat like my own.

Sometimes, I think people are irked by our closeness. Sometimes, I am. We work together. When I'm in Toronto, we live together. She's my best friend. Should I know every intimate detail of her life, and should she know my secrets, too?

"You and your mom are like the same person," people say.

I wonder if they're right. I've long believed the only thing that survives people is their DNA. At my age, was my mom exactly like me? At her age, will I be exactly like her? Are fate and circumstance just variables as life moves in a series of patterns you can't break out of?

Last week, my mom and I took a road trip from Los Angeles to Ojai. John Steinback said, "Perhaps, it takes courage to raise children." On the road, I realized he's right. Despite her best efforts, my mother is watching me make the same mistakes she's made. Like her, I keep so busy that I don't really have to feel things. Like her, I want to fix everything, especially what is most unfixable. Like her, I try to understand the men I love to a fault.

She spent a lot of this past week reminding me of what she told me over and over as a girl.

"What did I always tell you guys?"

"The only constant in life is change."

This is a shifting period for her, too. In the few months before I left for California, I watched my mother as she visited my grandmother in Toronto's East General. My Nan is sick and she's not coming home. I know my mother is looking at her mother thinking, how did this happen? When will the same thing happen to me? Will Katie be feeding me before I know it?

In my Nan's hospital room, my eyes dart around and I smell my grandmother. It is a sweet smell and a chemical smell. When my mother's brushing my Nan's hair, I know the smell makes her sad because in this room, to my mother, everything smells like leaving.

And leaving's hard. Without sleeping pills, I still wake up every night and I'm not sure why anymore. In the darkness, with both my eyes closed I roll over again and again. Eventually I do settle.

I'm in the analytical stage of my relationships now. Will I only love men who are in some ways, a version of my father? Without even knowing it, will I recreate my parent's marriage again and again? Will I do so out of comfort, or in an attempt to fix what went wrong?

At the restaurant in the Ojai spa, my mom and I celebrated my birthday. There were white Christmas lights everywhere. It was the most beautiful place I had ever been and I didn't want to cry.

"A broken heart is like a broken leg. It takes time to heal," she told me. "I didn't think mine ever would."

I thought about a quote I'd read earlier that day. It told me, hearts heal whether you want them to or not. They keep going. I thought of my mother. In the past year, I'd watched her heart heal many times and regenerate completely. As we finished dinner, she grabbed my hand.

"Look how beautiful it is, sweetheart." Then she sighed. "I just keep thinking of Nan, her lying there in the hospital. That could be me in twenty years."

"That won't be you," I tell her.

But maybe it will be. Maybe it will be me, too.

Lately, I keep picturing my mom when she was my age. I keep thinking, Mom was pretty much my age when she met Dad. That thought lands and I look at the state of my own life. Their marriage, the hard edges of their romance, it all makes a lot more sense. I see her when she met Dad as myself, a black-haired 26-year-old who waited until that moment in her life to deal with all the feelings she's been trying to keep a lid on forever.

As we drove home, we fell into a silence. My mind was far-gone. She interrupted my thoughts, answering a question I hadn't asked. "I'm just thinking about that time your father and I went to Cuba when I was seven months pregnant with you. We had fun."

It was wistful, searching and sad. I could tell she is, in her mind, close to who she was then and still trying to figure my father out. I've realized, in that moment, that behind everything there is a story: the wedding ring made of silver that my father gave her, the lipstick she always wears, the scar under her eyebrow.

"What was Dad like then?" I asked.

"Fun. We had fun. There was a little gay guy who drove us around Cuba. He thought he was funny." She paused, "We had fun."

Children are always the summation of their parent's mistakes and successes. My confidence is my mother's confidence. My spine is built of her bones, my cells are copies of hers. I will carry her tenderness, her strength and her laugh with me as I go forward, as I become a mother, after she's gone. Her legacy will become mine to give away. Even though we are more aware of our mother's mistakes than generations previous, we are going to make them still. I think, for better or for worse, behind all my stories will always be my mother's story, because my story was hers to begin with.