I am a mother of daughters and a son who doesn’t like to take pictures with just girls….
…and here he is with his dad.
But before I became a mother, I was a daughter. All mothers are daughters.
“For we think back through our mothers if we are women.” – Virginia Woolf
My mother lives 20 minutes away and I see her once or twice a month. We don’t talk on the phone and if we do it is to confirm dates and details. But she is always in my thoughts. Always. And as the children get older, and especially my daughters, she is in my thoughts A LOT.
My mother was 17 when I was born.
“This is what we do, my mother’s life said. We find ourselves in the sacrifices we make.” – Cammie McGovern, Neighborhood Watch
This could have been my mother’s quote. This was my mother. Multiple jobs. Night school. A single mother until I was 12. It was rough. There were spans of time when I didn’t see her much. Summers with my grandparents. During the school year, I remember weeknights and weekends with my aunts – her older sisters. I remember a happy childhood full of large-scale family events and sleepovers. I remember vacations to Disney with family and my first trip on a plane when my mom saved up so we could go to the Dominican Republic with some of my aunts and uncles who didn’t have kids yet. I remember school and daily lunchtime with my cousins at my great-uncle and great-aunt’s apartment across the street. At one point, there were 8 or 9 of us all at the same school in different grades. I didn’t feel like an only child.
Then my mother remarried and I became a teenager – a pretty difficult teenager that carried a lot of baggage. I criticized my mother for not spending enough time with me as a child and I didn’t hesitate making her feel guilty for all the things she didn’t do. Then on my 16th birthday, she gave me this book:
If I Had My Life to Live Over : I Would Pick More Daisies (edited by: Sandra Martz)
I recently gave this book to my own daughter when she turned 16.
There are poems and short stories of women of different ages and backgrounds that illustrated the difficult choices that women face. I’m pretty sure that when I read that book at the age of 16, I didn’t get it. I really didn’t understand the motive behind the gift because my mom wasn’t sentimental. I was so self-centred at the time that I didn’t even think to read between the lines. I stashed the book away and forgot about it. Re-reading it now, I get it.
During those teenage years, I felt that my mom often talked in riddles and innuendos, dropping things here and there that only now as a mother do I piece together. The light bulb moments are coming hard and fast as my children grow up.
We’ve had our fair share of challenges through the years, and still do, but she will always be my mother. For the longest time, I only remembered what I missed out on as a child and never focused on remembering what she did right. She is my mother. The woman who chose to give birth to me even when she truly could have chosen not to. The woman who worked day and night, sometimes 7 times a week, so I could go to Disneyworld. The woman who moved us from apartment to apartment, always trying to better her, and therefore my circumstances. The woman who gave me lettuce with ketchup and mayo in it and told me it was a salad with thousand island dressing to make it seem fancy. The woman who refused to call us poor and who always said we just aren’t as “well-off” as other people. The woman who was able to save up enough money so she could buy a place for the two of us when I was 9. The woman who would surprise me by taking a half-day off work to pick me up to bring me to the local mall to see Ronald MacDonald. The woman who stayed up with me to help with projects because I needed them perfect and didn’t realize she had just worked a 10-hour day and would have probably wanted to have a break.
All these things she did and more that she’ll probably never tell me about.
This year I told her how much I understand and how the riddles make sense and she was ultimately right, I would never know the extent of her love and sacrifice until I’ve had my own children. I understand her more. I understand that life was never black-and-white and her choices have always been difficult ones and sometimes I paid the price for her own sanity. She just had to put on the airplane mask before putting it on me. She had to make sure she kept breathing and trusted that I would understand later. I understand that she had emotional limitations from her own story of being a daughter. I understand how difficult that choice can be and those choices are on my horizon. Those choices are at my door especially as my daughters begin to decode for themselves that I am no superhero – I am flawed and I make mistakes.
“It is the province of mothers to preserve the myth that we are unburdened with our own problems…We mask the needs as the needs of others. If ever there was a story without a shadow, it would be this: that we women exist in direct sunlight only.”
– Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds
There isn’t a lot of pictures of me as a child with her but this one is my favourite. She had this face a lot.
I remember her looking tired all the time. I thought it was because of me, because I made her weary and exhausted. I thought I made her age faster than she should have. Now I look in the mirror and see that face of fatigue staring back and I understand now that I was never the true cause of that face. It is the face of a mother that is giving far more than she thought she could ever give. It is the face of a mother that loves so much it can hurt. It is the face of sacrifice and the face of self-doubt. Doubt that motherhood is what I was meant to do. Doubt if I could ever give my child or children what they really need. It is the face of every mother.
“A mother is always the beginning. She is how things begin.” – Amy Tan, The Bonesetter’s Daughter
As I try to define my own way of mothering, my mother is always there. And now as I talk in riddles, I will keep the secret that I am their beginning and hope they will remember that someday.
How has being a daughter affected the type of mother you are? Thoughts on the mother-daughter relationship?