Mother’s Day is coming soon. I’ve always resented the holiday, even before my moms—adopted and biological—died. Well, not only Mother’s Day but every holiday designed to play on our emotions and guilt/pressure/manipulate us into feeding the consumer machine. More than that, however, I resent the notion that our love and gratitude, (for those of us lucky enough to have parents we love and are grateful for), must be dictated from some unknown THEY and expressed on one designated day of the year.
Does this mean that I skipped Mother’s Day while Mom, (adopted but from here on in to be known as the one-and-only), was alive?
*sound of me laughing*
I had my mother in my life for twenty-eight complicated years. (Don’t worry, this won’t be one of those Grab A Kleenex While I Tell You About All My Feels posts). I have been motherless for almost seventeen much less complicated years. I miss her but I do not miss having her in my day-to-day life.
Does that sound harsh? It should. It’s the truth.
In the days, weeks, months, and years following my mother’s death, I had to fight down the If only’s at every turn.
If only I’d spent more time with her, she would have been happy.
If only I’d put aside my pride and worn pink dresses and grown my hair long, she would have been happy.
If only I hadn’t married my first husband, she would have been happy.
It was not in my power to make my mother happy. Mom’s unhappiness started long before I arrived on the scene. In rare moments of honesty, she would tell me about her alcoholic and abusive father (a grandfather I never met). She had spent more than one night out on the street, hiding behind dumpsters with her sister and her mother. At the age of thirteen she had to swear in front of a judge, and her own father, that she wanted to live with her newly divorced and penniless mother. Those are the bits of her past she felt safe enough to share; I assume there were many she didn’t share. I can’t imagine what kind of scars that leaves on a person.
Oh wait, I can. I lived with my mother and her scars, which sometimes faded but never disappeared.
She loved me and my sister, but she did not love herself. Not even a little. We were her avatars in a way, the better versions of herself that she would make perfect. We would have the life she never had—two loving parents, stable home, nice things. But you cannot control children completely and whenever we deviated from her plans, which happened more and more as we aged, she would come undone.
There is a story she loved to tell about a time she took me out to the park when I was a baby. Mom had trussed me up in a frilly dress and had struggled with the pale fuzz that was my hair—topping it all off with a dainty bow—to make me into a little princess. Before she was even out the front door, she said, I had ripped out the bow, tangled the hair-fuzz, and messed up the princess dress.
And so it went for the next twenty-eight years—me always ripping out the bow and wrecking everything.
It is easy, now, to look back on my mother and see how her disappointment with herself was projected onto me, my sister, my dad, etc. But in those moments all I felt was anger. Why can’t she love me for who I am?
When I say I do not miss my mother in my day-to-day life, this is what I mean. I can love her fully now and miss all the good things about her without dreading our next phone call, my next visit, the inevitable guilt, the crushing weight of her disapproval.
On May 11th, I will not pick out a sappy card that cannot possibly express the web of emotions I feel, and a meaningless bouquet of flowers that’s expensive enough to make it look like I made a sacrifice, and spend an afternoon biting my tongue and trying not to rip the bow from my hair. On May 11th, I will remember the woman who would come home exhausted from her full time job and spend her evening sewing sequins on my dance costumes. Her absence has given me the space to love her genuinely, to be grateful without bitterness.
I don’t want to misremember my mother. Her life reminds me that we have to speak out for victims of abuse, seek help for our scars, refuse to let our past define us, and accept the person in the mirror no matter how imperfect they may be.
I never was and never will be the daughter my mother dreamed of but I am everything I know she would have wanted me to be: whole and happy. In the end, she did, in fact, give me the life she never had.
In my world, every day is Mother’s Day.
Until next time, I hope this finds you healthy, happy and lovin’ life.