Mom

Talitha Bihun has been spelling her name for the past forty years. Her name, Talitha, meaning “little girl” or “damsel” in Hebrew, is from a passage in the Bible (Mark 5:41) in which Jesus revives the daughter of a king. It also happens to be the name of an X-Files episode, a fact that I eagerly shared with my mother when I watched it. From living on a farm in rural Iowa, to a sailboat in the Carribean, to the coast of New England, Talitha has lived as interesting a life as her name.

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The second child of hippies, Laura Jean and Curly Bihun, Talitha is the third child of the family and has suffered from middle-child syndrome throughout her life. She was a troublemaker, always fighting with her younger brother or older sisters. In high school, she brought her older sister, Sadja’s, birth certificate and her younger brother as a witness to the RMV to get a fake-ID made. The ID had her photo, but her sister’s information (if only it were that easy nowadays). To this day, I still don’t think my aunt knows. Whenever I got in trouble with her as a teenager, I just reminded her that her own antics were in no comparison to my own and that she was lucky I was as good as I was—this usually worked, but also usually ended in me getting called a smart ass.

Although the family was never well off and money was tight, they made the most of what they had. When they lived in a farmhouse in Waterloo, Iowa that lacked running water, the family used an abandoned chicken coop as a bathroom. But, after a tornado ravaged across the the county and their chicken coop-bathroom was destroyed, they had to become a bit more creative. At that same house, my grandfather discovered a patch of morel mushrooms. They were in a patch of overgrowth and my mother and her brother discovered the odd looking mushrooms while trampling through the brush. My grandfather collected the mushrooms with the children and then made a soup with them that my mother still raves about. Now, we go into the woods ourselves, in search of edible mushrooms to make delicacies out of — we’ve never found morels, but remain hopeful that one day we will.

When she was about five, my mother and her family packed up their belongings and headed up to Maine. There, my grandfather had a sailboat waiting for them. The plan was to sail down to the Virgin Islands, where they would live and make a living by chartering out the boat to tourists. For a few years, this is exactly what they did. Sailing from one island to the next, my grandfather would charter out the boat and captain it while the rest of the family would work on the boat and live onshore. Some of my favorite stories of my mother’s childhood are from these years. Without getting into too many details, my grandfather was not necessarily the best guy (I personally never met him before his death). Finally having enough, my grandmother packed up the kids and headed back to Iowa. There, my mother and her family moved into my great-grandmother’s house in Cedar Rapids—the same house my grandmother grew up in, and the same house that I visit every summer.

Talitha stayed in Cedar Rapids until graduating high school. After graduating in 1992, she began her undergraduate education at the Kansas City Art Institute in Missouri. There, she majored in illustration and printmaking and met my father, Daryl. They were friends throughout their undergrad years, but were never a couple until their junior year. About a little over a year after getting together, the young couple found themselves with an unexpected surprise—me! Born the beginning of their senior year, my birth did not deter either of them from finishing their degrees. Instead, I was brought along to studio hours and critiques, sat on the laps of professors and carried through art shows and openings. I wore their graduation caps when they finished, and forced my grandmother to miss the ceremony with my incessant crying. I ask my mother about this a lot, about what it was like to have a child at such a young age and so unexpectedly. And although she and I know that she could have done things differently and made other choices, like every good mother, she always says that she would never change a thing.

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As a teenager, my mother and I would butt heads a lot. This became worse as she opened up to me about how unhappy she had been in her marriage. It was tough for me to hear this, as every child expects their parents to be together forever. But, I knew it was true. The tension between them had been building for years and was beginning to break the surface. I made her promise to wait until I was finished with high school to separate and divorce my father. Looking back on it, I know this was a selfish thing for me to do and that maybe it would have been easier if it was done sooner rather than later. But, like my mother said about my birth, I wouldn’t have changed a thing. Although it wasn’t the easiest thing for them all the time, being able to share those special moments of my senior year with my parents together was important to me.

Now, my mother and sisters live together in the town next door to my father and I. I had the chance to live with my mother when I moved back home after my freshman year of college, but the physical distance between us was the best thing that we could have done for our relationship. Growing up, my mother always pushed me to try my hardest in everything I did. I think this was a result of her middle-child syndrome—always having to compete with her siblings, she strove to be the best at whatever she set her mind to. But, it made me stronger and able to stick up for myself and my beliefs—although sometimes it makes me a little too strong-headed, and that’s where we always bump heads.

My mother is my best friend. We go shopping together, I give her relationship advice, we’re each other’s work-out buddies and share recipes and vegetables from our gardens with each other. And I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.

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