I had a mother once, but not a real mother. She gave birth to me, but almost anyone can do that. I know deep, deep down, under and inside and probably wrapped up inside of something else and hidden in a corner of her, there was love for me.
I believe in childbirth we give up the body of the child, but left behind is this powerful seed. Some people tend to it and embrace it as a gift. Not everyone does. Not everyone has a mom who paid attention to that burning in their chests and aching in their stomachs and inability to get your mind to rest at night. Not every new mother understands that this tiny baby is theirs and you are going to give up anything you have to just to keep it safe and to let it know it is loved. Perhaps they are too young. Perhaps they are so distracted with their own problems, they wrap it up to silence it and hide it deep inside.
I know it is planted in my flesh because from the moment I laid eyes on my children, it hurt. Something is in you that wasn’t in you before. It burns as it germinates and tickles as it spreads roots throughout your being and every cell in your body knows your entire purpose has changed. You don’t sleep because you worry about your child. You are to protect this person you made and brought into the world. You are responsible for them and you have to teach responsibility to them. You already love them and you have to teach them to love. That is… unless you were my mother.
I was already mad at my mom before I had my own children. It isn’t fair because she is dead. She died when I was 19, unexpectedly, but I always expected it. When a mom dies at the end of a girl’s teenage years, you don’t get to “make up” and be best friends. You don’t get to shop for wedding dresses and have lunch together when you are in your twenties and thirties. You don’t get to laugh about the hard times you gave your parents and tell them you’re sorry you were such a rotten teenager, because you are a parent of teenagers yourself now… and you see the error of your ways.
Those things would have never happened anyway. She had forgotten she had that seed wrapped up and tucked away inside of her.
I loved her with all of me the way little girls love. The way little girls love with an open heart but with an extra helping of, “Please don’t kill yourself tonight mom. Please stop saying goodbye I promise I will be good. Dad does love you.” It was our normal. On the really bad nights, dad would take us to the drive-in movie for a double feature. We brought pillows and blankets and slept in the quiet.
As an older girl, I loved her by keeping her out of jail. I hid the knives in the wood burner when my dad went to work. Sometimes he would forget and call me from the office and tell me just to wrap them up in a towel and he will get them out when he gets home. We weren’t worried about her hurting herself anymore. She wanted to hurt us. I loved her with a protective heart while trying to keep myself and my little sister safe.
The teenage daughter was tired. Tired of trying to keep it all a secret, trying to pretend we had a normal family at school. Tired from sitting up all night while my dad was gone. I started sleeping up against the inside of my bedroom door after I woke up and found her pushing lit cigarettes into my mattress. She stood behind a door to pour hair dye on me on my high school graduation day. I was wearing a short white summer dress and I had black dye all over me. There are some things you cannot tell people until years later, because when they ask, “why?” you cannot answer. I don’t know why.
I was leaving for college and I was never coming back.
Then she died.
Sometimes, when women have children they don’t know they have to tend to that seed. Their souls and minds and flesh are hostile environments to grow anything but their own seeds of destruction. I know somewhere deep inside of my mother she had my mothering seed wrapped up and tucked away like she did with things in life. You would find pills wrapped up in tissues and tucked in the toes of her dress shoes. This was before Prozac or Paxil — before people talked about “baby blues” or “postpartum depression.” That wasn’t what was wrong with her though; there was a lot wrong.
She was probably bi-polar and it was probably because of some trauma she had inflicted upon her as a child. She didn’t get help and when she was grown she didn’t want any.
I went to a therapist for a year once. I thought that was the right thing to do before I started a family of my own. After a year of telling stories to my therapist, I asked him what he thought and how much “more” I needed. He replied that I never really needed a therapist. He told me he was waiting for me to ask how much longer. He told me I was “well-adjusted” and I had a “tremendous understanding” of how wrong and ridiculous my childhood had been. He said that the fact I can laugh about it speaks volumes that I am NORMAL. I am normal. That is why I did, indeed, need to go. As a child of a parent that was fatally flawed, you have so much worry that you are as well.
I turned 39 this year. I am now older than my Mother was when she died. I have always had a firm grasp on who I am, even thankful for all of my experiences. If you have had a challenging childhood you understand. There are a lot of us out there. I don’t mean the kind of childhood where you’re mad at your parents because they loved your sister more than you because she got to go to horse camp and you didn’t. I mean the kind of childhood that you’re happy you aren’t a crack-head or a topic for Dateline.
Turning 39 churned something up in me. I felt so much pity for my mom. She never had a chance to change. She didn’t live long enough to see the sympathy people now have for mental illness. I certainly don’t feel like I have anything figured out and am still continually finding out who I am. She didn’t get to try the medications that may have lessened her mood swings or calmed her anxieties. Some people talk about the moment they turned their lives around. Lying on the bathroom floor and the moment the drunk swears off the bottle forever or the wealthy man realizes that it is just money in the bank, but if given to others it could mean a warm blanket or an education for a fresh start.
My mom started her family at nineteen. She died as she turned 39. She never had a chance to go and find that seed and unwrap it. It wasn’t too late. Children love their parents — and they even love them when their parents hurt them. Perhaps one day she would have apologized for being rotten Mother and seen the error of her ways. Perhaps.
This Mother’s Day, I will spend the day with my beautiful boys, thinking a little about this one extra Mother’s Day that I have lived that my own Mother didn’t get. I will wonder if this would have been the year in her life that just the two of us went to lunch — for the first time. That extra year may have been the one that she noticed me instead of hurt me. Would this have been the year in her life I would have forgiven her?
I don’t know if I will ever forgive her. I know that isn’t how I am supposed to feel. But it is how I feel. I have that mothering seed growing inside of me and I pity her for not. Some days mine grows like kudzu and others it’s a little wilted from neglect. I am far from being a perfect Mother. I am far from being my own Mother and for that contrast, I am thankful. I don’t have those days where I am doubting all of my abilities to parent. I don’t have the mornings where I am crying to a girlfriend that I failed my kids the day before when I lost my temper. I know they will be okay. My mom taught me to love my kids with every cell of my body and to let them know — and mine do. I may not forgive her but I am thankful for her teaching me this lesson about mothering.
Not everyone has a Hallmark commercial memory playing above their heads when they think of Mother’s Day. That doesn’t mean I don’t celebrate my Mother and being a mother. Is Mother’s Day a day you focus on your own mom or do you relish in being a mom or both?