Happy Mother’s Day…
To all of you who have birthed and raised a child whether alone or with a partner, to those of you with stretch marks and bellies that will never be as firm no matter what exercises you do, whose sleep patterns and priorities are forever changed; thank you.
Every year, I think of my mother, who had no true memory of her own mother. She told me once that she tried all her young life to remember her. Robocop, the movie, has a scene when the cop-made-Robocop- returns to his former family’s home. He says “I don’t remember them, but I feel them.” When I told my mother about that scene she waited a moment, her eyes filling with tears and she said, “Yes, it was like that.”
In my fifties I began to know her as a person. She wasn’t a good mother. Not by today’s standards, not by anyone’s standards. She did nothing (I thought) to protect us from my father, the kind of predator we read about every day but knew nothing about 50 years ago. She didn’t encourage us to go to college; she clung tenaciously and foolishly to religion as the answer to all life’s problems.
As an adult, I realized life threw more at us than we could usually process at once. Think about it. Most of us figure things out after the fact. Some of us are lucky, and can use what we learn to make progress in our lives. Some of us aren’t so lucky and we learn far too late to avoid the pain.
My mother was a gentle soul. She was not prepared for my father, or the twenty years of pregnancies. She was timid, and she feared my father and society in general. She feared being laughed at, being ostracized, being left out. She grew up a tenant farmer’s daughter who never had the stability and security most of us take for granted. She lost her siblings and her mother before she was old enough to understand what she was losing. In school, she was bright, but it wasn’t enough. Being smart is never enough for truly poor people. Maybe you get lucky and some rich person takes you on as their project, but it didn’t happen for my mother. It didn’t happen for me or my siblings.
We grew up with a mother who loved us, but when my father’s figure darkened the doorway, she was reduced to a fearful child herself. We did the best we could and some of us grew into pretty responsible adults. Some didn’t. Most didn’t, actually.
For me, my mother became a human being to me in the last few years of her life. I forgave her all the failings she had accumulated in my list of “what I didn’t get.” In the end, she also forgave me for the snotty way I treated her on so many occasions. I loved her more, before she died, than I ever did growing up. I was in my fifties then and had learned none of us makes all the right decisions. None of us is the perfect mother, wife, partner, employee, or person. I’m still trying to forgive myself.
Every year, on Mother’s Day, I think about my mother’s soft voice, about the hundreds of things she did right, about all the wonderful gifts she gave me. Instead of all the ways she failed me-and there are many-I remind myself that she did the best she could with the few, and limited, tools she had. I remind myself that no one does it all right. She gave me a few gifts-my love of reading, writing, gardening, animals and life in general-that make my life joyful and rich.
Her smile warmed us when we bounced in from school. She laughed at our silly childhood jokes, hugged us at night and I never once felt my mother didn’t love me. Even when my father was making my life miserable, he was making hers miserable, too. I saw her as trapped when I should have seen her as a savior, yes, but never did I see her as loveless.
I wish, with all my heart, I could have helped her before she died. I wish, with all my heart, I could have made her understand that I loved her, that we all loved her, no matter what. I think she carried the guilt of our childhood with her right up to the minute she died, in pain, from a perforated intestine.
I know my mother is dead. I don’t think she’s “up there” watching down on us…or any of that stuff. I think she’s dead, so there will never be a chance for me to thank her for anything, ever again. There won’t be a chance for me to say anything to her, ever again.
What I can do is what people always do on holidays like this. Tell people who do have mothers to appreciate them, whatever their faults. Oh yes, whatever their faults. This is a huge thing I’m saying here. It took me most of my life to appreciate my mother. She allowed my father to abuse his children. And he abused us in every possible situation. You’ve heard of it, he did it.
And I hated her for years. Yes, I did. My quiet, timid mother. And she knew it. She took my sarcastic remarks, my snotty comments, like the beatings she once took from my father. I was in my fifties-did I mention that?-before I even began to understand her life.
So if you’re having a tough time with your Mom, acknowledge it. Own it. Then get over it. Look at your responsibility for yourself. She didn’t love you enough? Maybe she didn’t. So love yourself enough. She made you pull tricks for her boyfriends? OK, then don’t keep her in your life. Get counseling. Stay away from men-for as long as it takes to build your own self respect. Thank your mother for giving you life, for a chance to live, but don’t expect her to become someone she isn’t. She won’t. Breathe in the air around you, experience life and keep moving forward.
Every year on Mother’s Day I think about Mama, and the hard, mostly sad life she led. I think of her trying to find joy in the birth of her children in spite of the fact that she wasn’t sure how she would feed them. I remember her showing me how to make biscuits and meat loaf and tea. I remember her making me let the turtle go, “He lives in the woods, Kathy, he won’t be happy in a box.” I remember her words, profound even now, that taught me empathy: “How would you like it if someone did that to you?”
After everything is totaled up, she gave me more than she deprived me of, and I am grateful. If she were here now, I would drive the five hours to the shitty little town where I grew up and I’d hug her and tell her I love her. I’d sit with her and we’d talk about whatever she wanted to talk about. Or not. I’d see her graying, thinning, hair and the lines beginning to deepen along her face. I’d look at the skin on her hands and remember how they stroked my face when I was sick and smacked my butt when I sassed her.
None of us is perfect, mothers included. We’re human and we need to remember that, while we can. Forgive while you can, love while you can.
Happy Mother’s Day.
This is a wrenching recount of all the things you remember about your Mom. The good, the bad, the ugly and the memorable. I guess it’s a reminder that we’re all human, as you said in your closing. We can’t be perfect. All we can do is try with the short amount of time we’re given.
Best thing you ever wrote.
Thank you both for commenting. This was a tough post, but I do one every year in her memory. She wanted to be a writer and had high hopes for me. This is my memorial to her.