Author Stacey Aaronson had a highly unconventional upbringing, allowing her complete freedom to be her authentic self, wrapped in a tapestry of playfulness, equality and unconditional love. This is her story.
I clearly remember my college graduation day. I had given myself to the nth degree toward taking that esteemed walk down the middle of Elm Tree Lawn at Scripps College in Claremont, CA, and the fact that our commencement landed on Mother’s Day, smiled on by a cloudless, sun-kissed sky, made it doubly meaningful.
It wasn’t just that I had spent six years reaching for this gratifying achievement, or that so many people I loved were there to share it with me. Or even that I was the first in my immediate family to graduate from college. It was the unparalleled gift from my mom that meant the most to me—and it’s likely not the gift you would expect.
After the ceremony, with my group gathered around me, one of my cherished friends said to my mom, “Oh Briana, you must be so proud of Stacey. You’ve done such an amazing job raising her.”
My mom smiled and said matter-of-factly, “I didn’t raise Stacey. Stacey raised me.”
My friends laughed. Then my mom said, “I’m serious. If it weren’t for her, I don’t know who I might have become.”
The laughter faded into sentimental expressions. No one, including me, knew quite what to say. It was clear my mom was being genuine. And it was true that we’d both joked many times about how often I had been the mother within our twosome after she had me when she was still a child herself. But to hear her say it like that, and to my dear friends, deeply touched me, and them.
“Well,” my friend finally said, “I’m sure you’ve been more of a positive influence on her than you realize.”
My mom tipped her head humbly as I wrapped my arm around her waist. “Believe me,” I said. “She has.”
And here is where I must take you back in time a bit to understand how profound that exchange was—and why it had the impact that it did.
When I was born in 1969, my mom was a mere 16 years old. But despite her immaturity, she instinctively chose not to mirror the model of her rather traditional mid-century upbringing. Instead, without making a conscious decision to do so, she followed the nudging of her heart, which meant boldly and unapologetically giving me the childhood she believed was ideal: allowing me complete freedom to be my authentic self, wrapped in a tapestry of playfulness, equality between us, and unconditional love.
In place of my mom coercing or yelling, we had open, respectful conversations from the time I could talk. Our personality quirks couldn’t have been more varied, yet she never made me feel like I was anything but amazing (well, except to tease me at times for being so bookish and parental!). Instead of forcing me to do anything I didn’t truly want to do (taking naps, being more adventurous with food, and swimming come to mind), she let perfectionistic little me openly express what didn’t feel right to me and follow my own inner compass. I know that might sound like the makings of a brat, or a smart mouth, or a rebel, but none of those things were who I wanted to be—or needed to be—in the space of unconditional love I was raised in.
Within our particular dynamic, my mom’s intuition proved to be precisely what allowed us both to thrive: looking out for each other in a sometimes role-reversal relationship that beautifully fed my soul—and hers.
Yes, I bobbed through some choppy waters with my mom at times when she needed to grow her own wings, but even during those times, we always maintained great adoration of each other, and our uncommon closeness never wavered. When she resolved to seek out her birth mother, I was by her side; when I ended an ill-fated engagement and decided to go to college at age twenty-five, she was by mine. When we needed a confidant to share heartaches and dreams, disappointments and joys, I was there for her as much as she was there for me.
And so, on that lovely day of my graduation, when my mom surprised me with a beaded vintage handbag she knew I would treasure, with a generous gift of cash tucked inside it, I hugged her tightly and gushed with gratitude. Yes, I appreciated the material gift immensely. But I appreciated even more what she’d given me all the years leading up to that magical day: my unconventional upbringing with her that had brimmed with affection, acceptance, and freedom; taught me my voice and opinions mattered; and encouraged me never to be anyone but my authentic self—idiosyncrasies and all.
And, having “raised” her in my own way, you can imagine my delight in discovering that my mom relished similar, yet distinctly nurturing, gifts from me.
About Stacey Aaronson
Stacey Aaronson is author of the memoir Raising, and Losing, My Remarkable Teenage Mother. She is also the founder of The Book Doctor Is In, where she takes writers by the hand as a ghostwriter, editor, book and website designer, and publishing partner to bring books of excellence to life. Stacey lives on Whidbey Island, WA, with her soul mate of twenty-one years, Dana, and their rescued Maine Coon kitty. Visit Stacey Aaronson at www.staceyaaronson.com and www.thebookdoctorisin.com.