Sunday, May 10, 2009

The mother that I needed

Mother's Day.  All of my life, I've made sure that I talked to my mother on this day, even if I could barely think of something positive to say.  My relationship with her has been fraudulant for a very long time, since adolescence at least.  And as I became an adult, I made a conscious decision to tell her the truth, but also to not intentionally hurt her.  This sometimes proved a difficult, even impossible proposition.  I thought of how I approached her as standing on an ocean beach as the tide rushed in and out.  When a person stands in the surf, the sand beneath one's feet erodes through the power of the waves, making it feel like the feet are moving, even though they're stationary.  This is how I tried to deal with my mother.  No matter what she said, how she cried or yelled or manipulated, I simply stood still.  Sometimes she felt I'd changed--moved--into being a hurtful person, because I'd stopped caving to her.  And I have to say, it was very unpleasant at times.  She'd say she was a terrible person--a wrong person--and I'd say, "That's not the issue.  We're talking about a behavior, an action, not about your worth as a human."  She didn't like that I'd stopped playing the game with her.

So Mother's Day would come around and I'd call her, find something to tell her about what I appreciated about her--her commitment to her husband, her children.  Her ability as a teacher. But I only told her what I could say with integrity and truth.  From her on Mother's Day, I often got cards that were flowery and sentimental, full of words difficult to believe from someone who was so eager to criticize and take offense.  My mother didn't like the way I parented, for the most part.  Everything I did that was different from how she had done she took as an indictment that I thought she was a bad mother.  And there was more than a little truth in that accessment, I admit.  I was purposeful in doing things I believed God intended me to do as a mother, and much of that was very different from the way I was raised.

It's hard to admit such things. It doesn't reflect well on me, I admit, and trust me, I wouldn't be doing it if she still knew how to read. It would hurt her deeply to hear me speak so of her, even as it confirmed all the things she's believed about herself.  Here's the truth: my mother loved me as well as she could, given who she was, how damaged she was.  It was a far from perfect love, but it was what she had to give.  The biggest flaws in our relationship came from within me.  It was me who couldn't accept her as she was, me who just plain didn't like her, found her needy and pathetic. Me who cringed when she criticized my children, my home, my life, especially when she'd say, "I was just kidding" after such criticism.  See, most people I know who had a difficult parent, who never pleased their parent, still crave that parent's love even when they're parents themselves--or grandparents, even.  Not me.  I can't remember wanting my mother to love me.  Most of my life I simply wished she'd leave me alone.

Yes, this is the ugly underside of my life to write this.  To be this honest. I'm not proud of it.  But here's the thing--this is the first year since I can remember when I won't talk to Mom on Mother's Day.  She no longer knows what a phone is when it rings, probably barely knows what today is, or that she's a mother.  And it's a funny thing that this year is when I can't talk with her, because finally, I love her again.  I really do. This sad, lost little-girl mother of mine, this vacant, confused speaker of sentences I cannot understand, is someone I care deeply about.  I know that if God snapped His fingers and gave her back her brain, my feelings would likely move right back into what they've been for 40 years, but today, thinking of her sitting blankly in her recliner in her room in the Alzheimer's Unit, I'm thinking fondly of her, feeling thankful if not exactly for her, at least for the love God gave me again for this woman.  I am glad she gave me life, taught me to read, to tie my shoes, helped me learn to write more legibly with my left-hand (my penmanship is one of my vanities and that's thanks to her!),  made all those meals for me, cared for me when I was sick, listened to my stories, laughed at my jokes.  I may not have had the mother that I wanted, but I believe--I really believe--that she's the mother God intended, the one that I needed.  And finally, I'm fine with that.
Happy Mother's Day, Mom.  I love you.

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