What’s It’s Like To Live With Mommy Again At 45

By Leslie Gray Streeter
The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A very touching article about life’s unexpected turns, and the people who are always there for us at the end of the day. Family. Enough said.

The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

“Hey,” my friend said. “You wanna get together tomorrow?”

“Sure,” I answered. “Let me ask my mom!”

I turned 45 a few weeks ago, and if you had told me that I’d be celebrating that particular milestone while checking social plans with my mommy, I’d have laughed. Heartily. With some derision and light scoffing.

But here I am, once again sleeping one bedroom away from Tina Streeter, the woman who gave birth to me, who lovingly packed me peanut butter and honey sandwiches for lunch as a kid, who made me a Pocahontas costume out of curtains in two hours when I “forgot” to tell her I needed it for history class the next morning, who every Halloween mails me pumpkin-shaped cookies made out of yellow cake mix.

Well, she used to mail them to me. By last Halloween, we were sharing a kitchen and she just handed them to me.

When any two adults find themselves suddenly sharing a living space, a cable account and air conditioning controls, it’s going to be an adjustment. But add that latent, deep-seated mother-daughter stuff they write scary fairy tales about, and we could have had a “Maury” show-level disaster.

But a sudden plea uttered in a whirl of grief and momentary panic has become one of the most level-headed, practical and now deeply enjoyable decisions I have ever made. At this stage of our lives, my Mommy and I — and yes, I still call her Mommy — have more in common than just DNA and a face. We are two widows, raising a kid together, eating late-night popcorn and watching “Murder She Wrote” marathons. We’re practically a sitcom.

About 20 years since we lived in the same time zone, let alone the same state or house, this is not where we planned to be.

But when the worst thing I could ever imagine happened to me, I needed my Mommy. And she came. Because that’s what mommys do.

My mother was supposed have moved to Lake Worth in August, into her own fancy apartment not far from the house I shared with my husband Scott and the child we are caring for. It was all planned out. But as I am learning more succinctly every day, plans are crap. I went to bed one night married and happy and woke up in a nightmare, standing at the end of my driveway willing an ambulance to materialize, then watching through my living room window from outside as they tried to save Scott’s life after his heart attack. But they couldn’t.

So I did the only thing I knew to do — I called my mom, and just hours later she was folding me into her arms in that same living room. And in that moment, I heard myself say “Don’t move down the street. Move in with me.” Without hesitation, she said “OK. I think we can do that.”

My mother could not save Scott’s life. But just like that, she saved mine. She had not planned to live with me, to be co-parenting a toddler in her late 60s. But she’s a champ at the unexpected plan.

She and my dad hadn’t planned to have twins the day after their first wedding anniversary, just a couple of years after graduating college, so she adjusted accordingly, going to grad school when we were in diapers and getting her Masters in Social Work months before we started kindergarten.

She hadn’t planned to basically be a single parent to ten-year-old twins for a year when my dad got an amazing opportunity to work in Saudi Arabia, or to uproot her life and move there the next year and work as a counselor to nurses in a country where women couldn’t legally drive.

But that’s my Mommy for you. She has a talent for making people feel good, like they belong, and it’s one she honed for the next several decades, wherever they moved — back to Baltimore, then to Cincinnati, to Miami, to Little Rock, to Charleston and then back to Little Rock. When life changed, or the scenery shifted, she shifted with it.

For instance, she lost her sister to cancer in her 50s, and inspired by the nurses who’d cared for her and a nursing shortage at the time, Mommy went back to school, slamming coffee in early-morning study groups with kids younger than her own. At 56, she had her first nursing degree, and kept going, because she is an over-achiever, and kept going even after my dad got sick, studying by his bedside when she had to. At 65, she had planned to be moving to Florida with him, not finishing her second Master’s degree without him.

But, again…plans. So when her daughter found herself sobbing in her arms and begging her to move in with her, to make something normal out of this thing that would never be normal again, Tina Streeter did what she always did — she shifted. And two months later, her mail, and then her stuff, started arriving at my house.

“It’s too late to change your mind now,” she said before she got on the plane to head here. “The truck’s on its way.”

And so I went from talking to my mother on the phone every day from several states away to groggily waking her to ask if we have any toilet paper left. We are both adults, with our own cars and our own lives. She’s meeting people and is going to start working soon. We were always our own people, in separate lives, and now we are redefining who those people are at the same time, in the same space.

I admit it’s been both comforting and jarring, not only because we share a space, but because she is not visiting. She lives here. If there is anything about the person I’ve become that she doesn’t approve of, like that second glass of wine or the number of grisly “Investigation Discovery” shows about murder on my DVR, I can’t just temporarily grit my teeth until she goes home.

She is home.

So how are we doing this? First of all, we don’t just love each other — we like each other, which in this instance is almost more important. And as much as we are buddies, we are not equals. She is still my mother, and although I make my own decisions and she respects them, I still respect her as my parent, and defer to her wisdom in most things. She will always get the last chair, the last piece of cake, the biggest end of the blanket as we watch “Murder She Wrote” on the couch.

Here’s the other thing — we have been given the unexpected opportunity to do something that I think would obliterate 95 percent of the family rifts I’ve ever heard of. And that’s because we have time to talk, to dissect decades-old disagreements we thought we’d let go of, to amend what have turned out to be mistaken impressions of family history, and to occasionally yell and overreact and follow each other down the hall until one of us calms down. And when it’s over we pop some popcorn and put too much butter on it, and see what Jessica Fletcher is up to.

I have no idea what’s going to happen next, because I’ve now learned that predicting is kind of stupid. All I know is that for the moment, my mom is my roommate, my partner and the love of my life. She is brave, and beautiful, and kind, and wise and silly and is so good at resurrecting leftovers into a gourmet meal that my dad used to say she could make dinner out of newspaper.

Which is good, because I work for a newspaper and I have a lot of them. Which means that even though I do have to check with her when I go out with friends, sometimes I’d rather just stay in with one — my mom.

And knowing that feels like the most grown-up thing I’ve ever done.

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