Lima Al-Azzeh

Growing Up Means …

In Cultural Anomalies on August 30, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Photo courtesy of Joel Cran

In my early 20s I came to the big fat realization that I was at risk of upholding an Arab tradition I never wished to be a part of: to move from my mother’s house straight into my husband’s house. The thought of having no independence – to truly discover myself and my own living habits, good, bad or ugly – was terrifying. To me, it was the biggest failure I could think of. It was giving up on myself. It was too easy. I had to know if I could go it alone. If I could rely on myself solely and completely without anyone’s help. I simply wouldn’t be able call myself an adult otherwise.

Since coming to that realization, I’ve consistently sought to test my ability to be self-reliant: I moved to Toronto for a year by myself, having never visited the city and without knowing a single soul who resided there. I travelled around Asia and Australia for four months and survived losing all my debit and credit cards (but thankfully not my passport).

Yet, despite my best efforts, a year and a half later I found myself nestled safely in my mother’s home in North Vancouver, eating food that she had prepared, watching cable television that she had paid for and ignoring my pile of laundry just long enough until it invariably drove her crazy and she just did it herself.

Needless to say, the whole independence thing just never quite stuck.

During the time that I was coddled spoiled looked after by my mother, I sought to establish independence in small and symbolic ways: I made my own doctor’s, dentist’s and what-have-you appointments, I paid my own bills, I forced her into accepting rent, I even started seeing a financial planner to get a better handle on how to save my money. All very big girl stuff indeed.

But there was one thing my mother and I relentlessly argued over, something I felt was a massive symbol of my independence, and something, in her mind, was completely insignificant and futile: Owning my own luggage.

Christmas time always brought about this prickly subject. Amidst my shopping, I would be confronted by hard-to-resist sales on otherwise-too-expensive-to-purchase luggage sets. The shiny, professional looking ones that came with a large bag and sophisticated matching carry on. I would envision myself well-dressed with my fantastic luggage wheeling it around the airport on my way to jet set across the world. It was the icon of independence in my eyes. I remember thinking, “Until I have luggage, I will never be free.”

For some reason, living with my mother often meant having to seek her approval on things, particularly ones that involved some kind of financial investment. Being the type of woman who could justify just about any purchase, I knew if my mother couldn’t justify this, then I really need to rethink the whole deal.

Unsurprisingly, her answer to the eternal luggage question was always the same: “Why would you waste your money on that when you could use mine? We have a ton of bags in the storage room you could use.” And my answer was always the same, “Because mom, one day when I move out and I need to travel I’m going to need my own bags, so I might as well get them on sale now”.

Looking back, I realize that mine was a decidedly infallible argument, a perfect justification, and yet she always disapproved, and I always heeded her advice, however reluctantly.

I am now 26 years old. Two months ago, I moved into my own apartment, granted, with a friend, but it’s Vancouver and it was nearly impossibly to afford living on my own (how’s that for an adult decision?).

I do my own grocery shopping, I do my own laundry, I cook (or try to), I clean, I budget and do all the gloriously independent things I’ve long dreamed of but never achieved. And this time I really think it’s going to stick.

Only, I’m going on a wee trip this weekend and just remembered that I do not own any luggage.

If this wasn’t an ideal “I told you so” moment, I don’t know what is.

Rather than rub it in my mother’s face, though, I’ve come to the realization that perhaps the reason my mother never wanted me to buy my own luggage was that it was just too hard a fact for her to face. The same way my bringing up the subject of “finally moving out” would always ruffle her feathers.

It was yet another thing I would not need her for. One less thing to borrow, one less thing to come to the house and poach from her like all kids do with their parents, one less tie to one another, one less bond. As much as I wanted, or demanded, to assert my independence, I’d failed to realize the impact it would have on her. I had spent (almost) 26 consecutive years being her kid, under her roof, and now, seemingly overnight, I would be a 26 year old independent woman who can do things on her own, including buy her own luggage and fly away with it at a moment’s notice.

What I had completely failed to realize, overall, was that what, to me, was a profound symbol of my ultimate independence must have been, for her, a desolate symbol of her worst fear realized: loneliness, abandonment, and being left behind.

All this time, I was so blindly and selfishly stuck on amassing this laundry list of “symbols” of my independence, these insignificant trinkets that I thought were the ideals of what growing up really meant.

But it’s about none of that, and I’m glad I had this insight now before I turned into a ridiculous caricature of an adult as opposed to just actually being one.

So, what do I intend on doing? I intend on calling up my mother tomorrow and asking her to borrow a duffel bag, that’s what. Because the reality is, there is nobody’s baggage I would be more honoured and privileged to lug around than that of the woman who has birthed me, raised me, fed me, cured me, listened to me and been so fucking patient with me for 26 years (and counting).


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