I’m 24, and I still get separation anxiety when I’m away from my mother
It’s Mother’s Day! In honor of all the amazing moms, grandmothers, step-mothers, older sisters, aunts, godmothers, and female role models out there, we’re celebrating today with stories of our relationships with our mother figures.
“Will I have to leave my mom?”
At twenty-four years of age, I’ve made most of my life decisions through now by asking myself that one question. I’ve adopted the mentality that everything will be okay, as long as my mom is in “the other room.” The other room has gone from the kitchen of the suburban New Jersey house in which I grew up, to the Skype window on my laptop, to where it resides now: on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, two subway rides away from my walk-up apartment in the East Village. I simply cannot be away from my mom.
Separation anxiety is relative, and I’ve come a long way. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and I never went to daycare or was left with a babysitter for more than a few hours. My earliest memory of being traumatized by leaving her is when I was three years old. My older sisters were at school, and my mom and I had gone to the YMCA, where she put me in daycare so she could work out in the fitness center. It didn’t occur to me that she was in the room next door, and I thought I’d never see her again. I sat hopelessly abandoned in a pink Little Tikes chair, eating tear-soaked peanut butter crackers and rejecting any invitations to play on the carpet with my toddler peers.
In first and second grades, I cried every morning on my way to school. I’d grasp onto my mom’s arm until we got to my classroom door, where my teacher would try to lure me away from her with the promise of stickers and Junie B. Jones. Why did I have to leave her? What if she forgot about me? Would she remember to pick me up at 3:05? I could only be consoled by something – anything – from her purse, a piece of her to hold onto during the day. In my eight-year old mind, I reasoned that if she forgot about me, surely she’d remember to come get her purple pen. I’d reluctantly walk to my desk and watch my classmates stare at my blotchy face and puffy eyes. I wasn’t embarrassed but confused – how could they sit so comfortably and chit chat when they had moms to leave too? It blew my mind.
I was an idiosyncratic child, scared of everything from vomiting, dentists and dads to birthday parties, sleepovers and music class. The only thing that could quell my anxieties was my mom’s presence. As I grew up and my worries matured (dentists turned to gynecologists), my mom still possesses a therapeutical power to turn her comfort into my confidence. It’s not so much that I vent to her my thoughts and feelings, I just like to be in her orbit.
When I studied abroad for a year during college, I racked up Skype credit and international text message costs to hear her voice. I called her when I was babysitting in Paris as if I were at our next-door neighbor’s house and asked her what to do when a toddler won’t go to bed. After I broke my elbow and spent a fuzzy day at a French medical clinic, I went back to my apartment and cried at the computer screen as she tried to show me how to fold a scarf into a sling over Skype. When I have a bad day now, she takes me to the Impressionist rooms at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and buys me frozen yogurt for my mood to turn around. At my most attached, I fear that I’ll become the Little Edie to her Big Edie Bouvier, but I know we’re much too sane for that.
Mother-daughter bonds are one of the most special, and trickiest, things in life. My mom isn’t my best friend and she isn’t my closest confidante. She’s just, for lack of a better word, my mother. Sometimes I crave being around her so much that I rush to her apartment after work, only to revert to my most immature self and pick at everything she does. Most family dinners end with her resolutely telling me to “take my attitude to my own apartment,” yet some of my best weekends have been spent watching Masterpiece Mystery on the couch next to her.
I often wonder if I’d be a different person had I not grown up constantly seeking my mom’s companionship — would I be more self-sufficient? Less of a homebody? Maybe. Probably. I know I’ll have to leave her side eventually, but until then, I’m good.
Elaheh Nozari is a writer and editor living in New York City. She likes crossword puzzles, Nora Ephron, and chicken pot pie. She contributes to xoJane and Bustle, and posts the occasional life musing on her blog. You can follow her on Twitter.