Leaving the Light On
My mom turned 90 this year. Her story is a fascinating one but the journey was not easy. Born in 1927, she is a product of the Great Depression and grew up in rural Pennsylvania with limited means. She was in high school during World War II, and married my dad, a combat wounded veteran, soon after the war. Despite being gifted with an unusually beautiful soprano voice, she gave up the dream of a career in opera and the opportunity to study at a prestigious conservatory in order for my Dad to go to college on the GI Bill. Soon thereafter she moved back home with her new husband to take over her parent’s farm, where life continued to be hard and at times thoroughly heartbreaking. She had 6 kids and tragically lost my sister to childhood cancer at age 6.
There is no one I respect more in the world than Mom. I don’t really like to challenge or argue with her because of the respect I have for her, but we are the embodiment of the differences between the Greatest Generation and the Baby Boomer generation.
I was her youngest child, born at the tail end of the Boomer generation. While my mom was preaching about self-sacrifice and duty and the value of hard work, I was listening but plotting a different course. I felt it was my right to seek what I wanted in life, not sacrifice everything in order to be a good wife and mom. I felt that what I wanted was important. Freedom was the thing. Fun. What was wrong with being self-indulgent if you earned it and hurt no one else in your pursuit of this?
Yes, I loved and admired my mom, but the generation gap was wide. I got out of that small town as soon as possible, and left to “find myself.” Isn’t that such a Boomer term?
Now many years later, things turned out alright. In the attempt to find myself, I had a blast, got my education, and traveled the world. I became a mother myself. Now I’m an empty nester, so I have much more time to spend with my mom and participate in her care. I consider myself lucky for the opportunity. I guess all those things she taught me weren’t lost after all.
I find it amusing that in my 50s, the generation gap still divides. The philosophical differences over the notion of self-sacrifice vs. self-indulgence are subtly played out in a minor but distinct bone of contention between my mom and I. It involves leaving the light on.
I love lights. My house is full of candles and sparkly string lights and strategically placed nightlights to keep the ghosts at bay. Light creates a mood that makes me feel a certain way—my lights are much more than a practical necessity.
My mom has a problem with this extravagance. When she comes to visit, she asks me to turn off each light in the house except the room we are settled in. There is one very small lamp I always insist upon leaving on because I like its soft and pleasant glow, and she always politely but firmly mentions the fact that there is no need to waste electricity. So while some cohabitants have thermostat wars, Mom and I have light skirmishes.
And so it goes. The thing is, despite your disapproval Mom, I’m going to leave that light on. It’s helping me, you know, find myself.