Saturday, May 17, 2008

Myself, My Mother

Charmed had a moving piece recently about how she feels P@ige gave her back her father. That is, without P@aige dying, and her mother flipping out for the umpteenth and final time, she would've never resumed contact with her father. It's an odd gift to come from a dead child who never walked the earth (usually isn't it a live child that finally melts hearts and minds?), but a gift nonetheless.

And it got me thinking about relationships in my own family. So for your reading enjoyment, I'll dissect a relationship I got back, too.

Perhaps "got back" is too strong. My mom and I weren't remotely "lost" (ok, enough with that) like Charmed and her father. We were probably your typical loving mother/daughter relationship with a touch hint plethora of friction, stemming from the angst-ridden ages of 12-17. I realized a few things during my first few months at college when we were all sitting up in the wee hours trying to get to know each other and marvel in each other's backgrounds. One was that now, retrospectively, with a bit of context, my parents were pretty cool. Some of the other stories I heard were decidedly not so much. The second thing I realized, quite belatedly, was that I never really acknowledged all that my mother did for me -- in no small way to make sure I wound up in a better place than her: an English major hausfrau who went back to work during the Reagan years in order that the family might eat and I might attend college. She drove me everywhere (traveling soccer team, violin obligations), bought me nice accessories for my extracurriculars, and all while doing the same for my brother AND feeding us, clothing us, and not denying us such necessary items like turntables (shut up) and attending rock concerts.

Just how much thanks does one owe her mother? And what are good times to ask for and express this gratitude?

Mom also did a lot with the guilt thing. There was always an underlying sense that she wasn't thrilled with what she was doing, and hence the pressure for me to be something better. She realized early on that I respond very well to guilt. She never had to ground me because she could simply look at me and say with just the right tone of voice and just the right dismissive look "well, I'd stay home and work on that paper if I were you." And it worked.

We had a rather contentious five year period there when I was a teen, but I felt it rather melted away when I moved 2,500 miles away to attend college. I suddenly felt free to tell her stuff about boyfriends and whatnot that I never did when I was busy sulking in my room over my calculus homework. And it worked for quite some time.

Cut to my wedding, which was slapped together rather last minute at my aunt's home after we fired a wedding planner (long story). My aunt, obviously being the property owner, and only living three hours away, was as one can probably guess somewhat involved in the planning. So when my mom showed up 4 days in advance, a lot had already been done (phew), and what needed chewed through had to be pronto, without a lot of backing up and explaining how we arrived at the conclusion to use so and so as the caterer, or how we did the math that dictated we needed so many cases of wine. And mom flipped. According to my father, who for some reason instead of telling her to chill told me these things, my mom started down this "she loves {aunt} more than me" road which is hilarious if not ill-timed. And then there were furtive conversations with Dad asking me, "could you just tell your mom you're happy she's here? that she's important to you?"

And I realize I probably should've done this better all along, but IS NOW REALLY THE TIME?? I mean, isn't it self-evident I love her more than my aunt, her being my mom and all? And can we cut it with the whispered conversations already?

And on and on with the ridiculousness, which got so out of control that on my wedding day, as I was getting dressed, I heard my dad call up the stairs and I was so sure given the prior meetings that this was AGAIN about my mom's feelings that I went screaming out the door in advance of him saying anything about how I SIMPLY CAN'T DEAL WITH HER RIGHT NOW! I'M GETTING MARRIED FOR FUCK'S SAKE! CAN SHE JUST CHECK HER INSECURITIES UNTIL TUESDAY WHEN I HAVE SOME SPACE TO DEAL WITH THEM? and emerged to see my father with one of my grad school friends: "um, M's here." (Cut to friend looking at me with Deer in Headlights look. She was apologized to, and bribed with alcohol delivered to her door following this bridezilla episode.)

Cut now to Maddy's birth/death. My parents were here "to help out" which translates into: read the paper until 10 a.m., and agree to "help" with whatever it is I need done -- right after they make a few phone calls, launch a 30 minute discussion about what to do about dinner, and another 45 minute discussion on a movie/art exhibit/political issue they just read about in the paper. Maddy dies. I do what any mother would probably do in the next 48 hours, which is cry a lot, drink gatorade exclusively, cry some more, spend copious amounts of time with my living toddler. To be greeted with a "I don't think you're taking care of yourself" lecture from my mom, replete with airplane/putting mask on yourself before the child metaphor.

Oh, and at least one visit from my father, asking me "could you just tell your mom that you're glad she's here?" met this time by a stream of expletives about just who was here for whom.

Needless to say, when they left a few days later, I decided I needed some time away from them. And didn't speak to them for about two months.

I started up again with trepidation. I simply did not have the emotional reserves to deal with both my own overwhelming depression, and my mother's insecurities. I expected the worst.

And she was amazing. During the time I didn't write her, she would simply sit down and send emails, never asking me to respond, always ending with "call when you're ready. We love you." I'm not sure how she found Jesus in there, but she did. And she abides. And when she fucks up (asking Mr. ABF about the birth of his brother's baby) she apologizes and then analyzes what she did wrong and verbalizes out loud that she'll be more careful in the future. She listens to me talk about Maddy. She asks about her, how I'm doing, if we've heard any news. How Mr. ABF is doing. That she thinks of her. While my in-laws were standing me up at December's memorial service, my mother, 2,500 miles away, arranged her own candlelight service and asked for a picture. On Maddy's birth/death week, they sent flowers, asked us what we needed, and then lit a candle every night to represent her short life. For Mother's Day I donated money to "Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep" in her honor, and she was thrilled.

I'm stunned. It's as if it took this massive tragedy in order for her to finally just be a mom -- one who just gives without asking, and takes in return simply the love from her grateful daughter. I do know that her best-friend's daughter-in-law is a grief counselor, and it may just be there were some harried phone calls and exchanges of literature in there. But the fact that she took it upon herself to even do that (and I don't know for sure that she did) speaks volumes. She's moved from someone needy to someone I need, she's become an advocate and a shoulder and a comfort.

I'm not sure I'm ready to enable her fantasy about moving to my neighborhood, and she still drones on about movies she's seen (often giving away the critical parts as I check them off my Netflix list with the phone on my ear), but she's been terrific. I guess if I had to do a quicky analysis I'd say: mom tries to make sure daughter winds up ok; mom flips a bit when daughter is independent and no longer needs her; mom comes around when daughter does in fact, need her.

I remember when I had a foot problem around age 11 (I know! Foot problems then too! Clearly a chronic problem) the doctor told her she would have to buy me better soccer shoes. We researched who made the best shoes, and she drove to the one store in Phoenix that sold them, and forked out what was then a fortune for children's footwear. And she poured herself into soccer, not knowing much about it at first, and now she looks forward to World Cup like I do and tapes all the matches, and even confesses that sometimes at halftime she has to pour herself a glass of wine to calm the hell down. She always helped me become better by involving herself in my life to the best of her ability. And she's done it here, too. She's involved herself with Maddy, and with my grief, but in a good way. And I certainly don't thank her enough.


Newt said...

What a beautiful not-sugar-coated tribute to your mother. I'm glad she's been so great lately.

And my mom gives away too much about movies, too. What's up with that?

STE said...

That's a wonderful post. A mom learning to be a mom. Overcoming insecurities to just be a mom. Learning how to take care of you in your new role as grieving mother/ daughter. Not perfect, but trying.

Sorry to gush.

It reminds me of my own process to realize that, despite their faults, my parents were also the cool ones in some ways, and that the things they did for me and for my sibs, was borne of a deep love for us. Even when they were making us crazy, even when they were making mistakes.

Thank you for sharing this.

Coggy said...

I enjoyed your post Tash, I'm glad that you have the closeness with your Mom now and that you have both come back to being so close.

I have a slightly more bizarre family set up. My Dad died a few years ago and I haven't seen my 'real' Mum in over 15 years now. I do have a step-mum but since my Dad died we have a reversed relationship where I am the adult and she is the needy one. Weird. She was the same at my wedding as your Mum though, throughly needy and I spend most of the run up to the wedding worried sick about what she was going to behave like. In hindsight, since Jacob died, I sometimes feel a little shit that I wasn't more supportive. She was grieving my Dad, still is I guess. Trouble is now she just wants to compare notes on grief, as if we finally have something in common. I just don't really want to be doing that and I don't think the two griefs are the same.

Families are way to complicated...

Beruriah said...

Like Newt said. At this point in my life, I too have a bit more sympathy for my mom's issues.

I'm glad she's come around, and has been there for you in ways you can more obviously see and appreciate.

CLC said...

That was a really nice post Tash.

I don't think I realized my Mom was human and had feelings until I was in my twenties. And it was really disconcerting at the time. But I guess Moms have insecurities as well. I think we grow up thinking our parents our perfect, and it's hard to accept they're not when we discover their flaws.
Anyway, I am glad she has come around and has been supportive of you during this awful time. I can't imagine dealing with this alone.

Antigone said...

"..dealing with this alone" - CLC

That would be me. And it truly sucks. I get that this is one of those times when having a supportive mother would mean the world.

Which Box said...

this is a really moving post. That progression of need is really profound. I'm glad she's been there for you.

Mrs. Spit said...

I'm so glad that your mum decided to join the mothering world. And I"m glad that you get this time with her.

janis said...

Beautiful post, Tash. It made me realize that mothers are not born, they are MADE. It is to be learned. Very humbling to know that. Your mom is something to be proud of, really.

MsPrufrock said...

I'm glad that your mom came around to play that role that she was always meant to play. Though it took awhile, it's good that she got there in the end.

Azaera said...

That's wonderful that your mom has been there for you, even if you didn't have the best relationship to begin with. I'm too terrified to even tell my mom about losing Sophie. I don't know how she'd react. We're pretty close, but I don't know..

luna said...

lovely post, tash. so glad she finally came around. I hate to say it and it's a shame that it's true, but sometimes tragedy really does bring out the best in people, even if it's a learning process.

niobe said...

The twins' deaths have destroyed my relationships with almost everyone I know. Including my family. Especially my family.

c. said...

This is beautiful, Tash. That you have been able to connect again is wonderful.

I often think of my own mother and the pain she must feel knowing I hurt this much - losing her daughter in a way and her grandson. It cannot be easy for them. They must feel such helplessness; a feeling that is all too real for us as well.

Julia said...

Wow-- what a story. It is almost more than what you said there at the beginning. It's almost like she found herself.
Now, tell me, why is it that *I* have stopped caring about soccer? I can sit there with my nose in the laptop while JD watches our taped games. Including, if I can admit to it, the Chelsey-Man U final. What's wrong with me?