The Friday before we were to go camping
I got very sick. There was a bloody undertone to my throat and I could not get my environment to fit around me in a comfortable way. I fought my clothing, the chair, the taste of my food, the feel of water on my skin and my back felt like it was twisted around. I was cranky. My son got it. Katie got it. Jay got on Saturday and turned into a meanie. I get him a strawberry Halls cough drop and he spits it into his hand and then says, “I hate these cough drops!” In a way suggesting perhaps I had mixed the batch myself and then sneaked them maliciously into his mouth. I told him I was only trying to be helpful, knowing full well that he would be intolerable if he really got it. The next day was Mother’s Day and I did not want him to have any reason to forget to help Katie make me a macaroni necklace. We spend the first day of vacation lazing about, all feeling better, putting off camping. I knew it was Mother’s Day because Jay got me a card and some azaleas and Katie picked some dandelions and clover which she brought to me with a grin, “Happy Mudders’s Day, Mommy.”
This really helps me. I have always had a weird emotional thing about a day where all the nice-mommy images are all around us, mothers making big ‘ol biscuits or sweeping the hair from the fevered head of her babe. Mothers in cashmere twin sets, spinning in new kitchens with armloads of orchids, or pushing children on a swing, always very lovey eyed and wholesome looking. It is an even stranger thing to be one of those women now, without having seen how it should be done except for these ridiculous media images that manage to create all the right guilt feelings. I do not send my mother a card for mother’s day. I can not seem to bring myself to do it. I am justified. If it were possible to pour out the whole strange reasoning and backlog of how we got ourselves to this point of not speaking to one another, you would believe me when I say that going to the store to find a card that sums up my feelings for my mother is almost impossible. She taught me this. She would have the same thoughts regarding her mother, year after year a sadness would creep in around this time as she would search for something to say to her own mother. She would stand in the aisle and shake her head, scoffing at the flowery generic gratitude, unable to find a card that was not a lie.
You have always been there for me…You are my best friend…Thank you mom, for all he sacrifices you have made for me…I am sorry for every bad thing I ever did…Thank you for bringing me life…You are a dear, dear treasure…
Hey Ma, thanks for fucking.
I am afraid that I am teaching my children to some day stand in the aisle and shake their heads, searching for a nice thing to say because it says on the calendar and all over the grocery store that this day is is meant for mothers and that we are all lucky and need to say thank you. I think about this all the time. I am torn. My mother hates her mother. My feelings for my own mother border on hate, but I will not come right out and say so because I would not want to incur the wrath of those who have great Mom’s, or those who have made up with their parents. I can not make up with my mother. My therapist tells me that I do not have to. My friends who have met my mother agree that she is one of the irritating people they have ever met. My husband bristles when I mention her. Usually mellow and forgiving, when it comes to my mother he has a slew of violent comments. I have that same bitter anger, made worse by all these perfect mom images used to sell biscuits and soap and greeting cards. As a mother myself I am all for Mother’s Day. I deserve a special day. I try SO HARD, to make up for all the things I did not get. I listen to my kids very closely to drown out the stupid things my mother said to me…You have been a thorn in my ass for twenty years…TALK TALK TALK, don’t you ever shut up…God, are you retarded or something…That was stupid…Don’t you know anything?…How would you like my foot in your ass?…Fuck you…He did not rape you, you liked it…How could you embarrass me like that…
It is so hard for some people to understand that some things are unforgivable. Even if I can manage to put my Mother’s whole shitty life into perspective, to peer into her psyche and focus on the few nice things she said to me and the good times we did have and my earlier tendency to defend her, to acknowledge that she was born to screwy parents, to make excuses for her drunken stupor, her non-stop inappropriate commentary, the foot permanently lodged in her mouth…Even then I can not just forgive. And for this I have felt an uncomfortable guilt that would have driven me crazy by now if not for the validation of my sister who was there, who saw, who remembers all the crazy shit we went through, who remembers finding out we were not like other kids because we did not have a regular Mom. Other kids moms said things like, I love you, thank you, I am proud of you, you are my sunshine, let’s go play with water balloons and then I will read you Charlotte’s Web again. I want to hear what you think. You are valuable.
So, now I am an official grown up. Two lovely children. Married my best friend of twelve years. I am writing a book about motherhood and birth. I have friends who are charming, talented, sincere and genuine, I am comfortable with most of the choices I have made, I can see the good parts of having grown up the way I did, where much insight and strength has come from. I have love and respect and a million creative projects, I have been pronounced sane despite my best efforts…but still. Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat, dreaming of my mother. She is there with her mad face on. Or worse, she wants sympathy. She needs me to tell her that I love her and forgive her. She wants forgiveness for all the wrong things. She does not listen when I tell her what my needs are. She goes on pretending that we have made up properly, trying to act familiar with me via comments like, “Wow. You sure are fertile. All you have to do is smell sperm and you will get pregnant.” She said this to me when I told her I was expecting my second child, a happy general announcement she happened to be around to overhear. I nearly turned myself inside out with revulsion. I want to be nothing like her, now or ever. At the same time I yearn for her to be the kind of mom she has never been. To actually listen. To be funny but not at my expense, to love me as myself. To be proud of me without competing with me.
And I freak out because I wonder how to resolve this without having her in my life. Let’s face it, some people are toxic. When the toxic person is your mother pointing it out taints you. You are subjected to the general social rule that anyone can criticize a mother and the choices she made except the child of said mother. So if you have a relationship like I have had with my parent, you suffer the additional sorrow of A) not living up the standards of your parents and B) Not living up the standards of society. You find that you have to pay someone to listen to your problems. It is a heavy weight, you are expected not to burden anyone else with it, and you are also expected to do it right by your own children. It boils down to me trying to be nothing at all like my mother, and trying to balance this alongside the unrealistic myth of the perfect mother. If I straddle both can I one day have an adult relationship with my kids, where they see me as a real person, and acknowledge my good and bad parts and are well adjusted and able to forgive me my own transgressions? Or am I teaching them too much about bitterness and wallowing? Or am I teaching them to ignore their true feelings based on what is socially acceptable? And will it be too late to guide them once there is a recognizable pattern? And how much shaping is really expected of me to fulfill my good mother mission? How much of their growth is dependent on letting go, and how much depends on learning to hold on?
I can not ever really escape my own mama drama conflict because I have children. They are sweet and separate and very smart. They think thoughts. They make kind gestures. They are funny and easy to get lost in. The last thing I want to teach them is how to hate their mother, the way my mother taught me. I can remember each mother’s day being about my mom getting drunk and telling my how much it hurt that her mom could not see her or hear her or understand her. How her mother sat around complaining about her own mom, and how powerless it made her feel. And then she would do that same thing to me. And though she should not have been expected to stifle this pain, I wish she had found a better counselor than me, just a kid, trying to wade through my unpredictable time. I feel like I am supposed to make it right for me, my kids, and my husband. That for those who know my toxic mom I am supposed to shield the blow if I need mention her. Or make it sound like I really like her for the new acquaintances who don’t get it. Who have never seen me turn green and throw up because of her presence. Because hating your mother that much is not socially acceptable. It almost seems easier to pretend that I love my mom when someone asks me how I will honor her on Mother’s Day. It is nicer for them if I pretend to have a pot of azaleas and a box of candy and some poignant card waiting in the wings. There are plenty of people who have patched up their familial relationships and will love to tell you how you need to do the same. They evangelize forgiveness with the fervor of the newly born again, slinging the arrows of guilt, implying that I should be ashamed of myself for bearing this grudge. Ignoring the verbal abuse of this woman I am to forgive, or downplaying it, sometimes accusing me of making it up for sympathy. But I tell you I am not making it up. In fact I am leaving out the most painful chunks because if you are already poised to condemn me for my honesty, you would really flip if I gave you a bigger truth.
This is where Mother’s Day leaves me, every time. Thinking that maybe I do need to forgive, that some way I can fix it so my mom can see me for who I really am and my kids will love me from who they really are. That somehow I can deny her all credit for how well I have turned out, and still receive praise for how well my kids have turned out.
Who said motherhood was easy must never have met a mother.