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My Mama always told me

A daughter’s reflection on home away from home

When you kiss your parents goodbye and leave for school, time after time, it’s difficult to imagine what happens. How life goes on in our humble abodes. Besides the Sunday phone call – “How are things at home?” – it feels like our parents’ lives remain unchanged. Italian food on Tuesdays, new episodes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, et cetera. Christmas and Thanksgiving are like stagnant commercial breaks, allowing you some time to close your eyes before your made-for-tv-movie of university life swings back into action. And then it’s the New Year, and you kiss your parents goodbye once again.

Being the selfish twenty-year-old I am, I’ve always been quite content with this glossed-over version of Colizza family life, of brie in the fridge, of clean sheets. Before break, Mom made sure our creaky New Jersey house looked impeccable, taking the liberty to replace Radiohead posters with Grandma’s tulip paintings.

Yet this new, polished version of 3 Hillside Court felt like a museum of what our house once was. My mother, god bless her, had curated the perfect home in an attempt to not deal with the less-than-perfect present.

“I’m not good with change. I should have never even left Montreal. And now you’re all gone too,” she said sauteing mushrooms, too focused on her words to cry. My parents ended up in New Jersey, wide-eyed and in serious debt.

In typical Canadian fashion, they found Americans close-minded, bereft of good French fries, and self-interested. But with the help of family friends the Thoresons and the Maniscalcos, my parents managed – also in typical Canadian fashion – to make the best of it.

Originally New Yorkers, suburban New Jersey felt like a maze of social protocol for their families. So, along with my family, they wandered together through hockey games, Thanksgivings when they had no one else to spend them with, and parenting in the strip-malled pressure cooker of suburbia. With the help of one another, they adapted, and no one ever knew that we, all 12 of us, didn’t really belong. Parc-Ex, Brooklyn, and Queens only poured out with wine and laughter in our often- cluttered kitchen.

The kitchen was spotless and cold the morning I left to head back to school. Mr. Thoreson had tragically passed away a year earlier, and Mrs. Thoreson hasn’t smiled since. A day prior, the Maniscalcos had told my parents that they had already bought a new house, and were moving in the spring. My mother, much like our house, was creaking and crumbling. The structure that built our house was gone, and the weight of 17 years of memories rested solely on her shoulders.

My mother has taught me many wonderful lessons: to remember where you come from, to appreciate oneself, to saute mushrooms. Yet she never taught me how to accept change, mostly because she herself never has. Some lessons, however, are no longer theirs to teach you. New books, new classes, new friends, old heartbreaks. A new year.