Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day

Being a mom is a complicated thing for me.
You don't have to know me very well to know that I never had a mother.
At least that's what I tell people.
She was an alcoholic, and she was distant, and we never had much of a relationship even when we lived in the same house.
Now that I have my own kids, I've struggled since the day each of them were born to understand the woman who made me, partially out of fear that I would be just like her, and partially out of remorse for giving up on ever having a relationship with her when I turned 18. 
As the years have passed, I've come to understand her more, and also less at the same time.

Mother's day always makes me think of her though.
She never asked for anything, always seemed grateful and appreciative for the handmade cards or the occasional store bought gifts we gave her.
But I never felt like she deserved an entire day dedicated to her. 
I'd wake up, tell her happy mother's day, give her whatever I had for her, and then run outside to play with my friends. There were no breakfasts in bed, or fancy dinners that we took her to. I didn't see the point.

The relationship between mothers and daughters always seems so tenuous and delicate. Difficult at best, and unbearable at its worst. We rebel against our mothers because we are them. We share their gender, their features, we're told from the time we're little that we look just like them. We walk like them, talk like them, date the same kind of men, make all the same mistakes.
We push them away, blame them for our issues, because they are the closest things to us. 
When we struggle with our own selves the most, we take it out on them because they are an extension of us, and us of them. 
When Lainie was born, I didn't know what I was having, a boy or a girl. 
I was sixteen, so right up until the end I was secretly hoping it might be kittens. 
She emerged, and the nurse declared it was a girl, and all at once my heart soared, and sank.
I recalled the ambivalence with which I treated my mother.
I recalled all the blame I placed on her, and understanding and forgiveness I refused her.
I was overcome with sadness for the fact that I had refused to see her for what she was: an addict, a product of a broken and unbelievably abusive home, a wife to an unbelievably abusive man, a victim, a woman, a broken spirit who was doing the best she could.

I'd never considered the fact that we are who we are, and for our own flesh and blood to not only refuse us understanding, but also to refuse to even attempt to know us as people is the most heartbreaking rejection of all. 

I know now that a daughter is a mother's clearest critic, her most magnified mirror, her most treasured love.
A few months ago one of my clients mothers was talking to me at her daughter's wedding reception, and she asked if I had any daughters. I told her I did, a ten year old. 
She smiled a knowing smile, and said "Oh boy. That's the beginning of the hard stuff for mothers and daughters. You must have a lot on your plate!"
I laughed and agreed that I did, and then she said something that stuck with me ever since:
She said a daughter is your sweet little girl for 9 years, your worst enemy for another 9, and then your best friend for life.

I'm sorry now that I never got the chance to experience the best friend part with my mom.
I know enough to know that that isn't all my fault, but I also know enough now to know that it wasn't all her fault either.

She wasn't a perfect mother. She wasn't even a great one.
But I remember one day after my dad had broken her leg in a particularly heinous fight, she was on crutches, her leg in a cast, and she took me to school because I woke up late and missed the bus. 
I hated school when I was a kid, and I hated leaving my parents all day, so much so that I usually cried through most of the morning in my early grades. 
I stood at the entrance to the school, not wanting to leave, and looked back and forth from the long hallway to my class room, and my mother's face. 
She was tired, she had a huge black eye and a broken leg, but she looked down at me and said "Do you want me to walk you to class?"
I nodded, and she did. It took forever, and she was clearly in pain, but on her crutches she walked with me, all the way to the back of the school to my classroom door. 

She was my mother.
And I'm glad she had me.

Happy mother's day.

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