“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden, fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends who rejoice with us in our sunshine desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.” –Washington Irving
I love my mom.
Writing about her proves a little harder than writing about my dad because I have always been a daddy’s girl. On the other hand, I had quite a few years where, at best, I maintained a shallow truce with her and, at worst, was furious with her. Perhaps that is every adolescent girl’s fate. Perhaps it is the timeless Greek tragedy, the younger determined to tear down and defeat the older. Perhaps these are just excuses. The truth is, I said and did so many things that I now regret. This shame is why it’s hard to write about my mom. I didn’t have a life-long friendship, a close companionship. I have guilt and deep, unquenching love.
I spent a lot of time angry at my mom. I was angry because I had two little brothers. I was mad that she babysat other children. I hated that she was a dedicated teacher that loved her students. I hated that (I thought) she had all the time in the world for every other child. I wanted her to myself. I can seen now how much I craved her affection and attention. She was in no way distant or absent–it was just never enough for me. No matter how present she was, I needed more. To this day, I don’t know why. I may have been a deeply unhappy child, lonely and unpopular, that just wanted someone to fill that emptiness. Maybe my jealousies just got the better of me. Whatever the reasons, I resented her. I also burned with hatred for her rules. She was so strict with me, lenient with my brothers. She was unreasonable when I wanted to go out in high school, unwavering with her rules when it came to boys. She wasn’t like the other moms who bent curfews and trusted their girls to make good choices.
Because she wasn’t like other moms. She has lived a harder life than I will ever understand because she shielded me from it. She struggled more through childhood than she let me. Her family was unstable and fractured–she held ours together. Her mom still works endlessly to support her children–she spent years at home so we were not alone. She saw what drugs and violence do to people, and put up her iron walls to protect us from those evils. She is a stronger woman than I ever knew.
As I’ve grown, I’ve understood her better. My dad told me this time and again, but I now see how deeply she loved us, loved me. She is not an overly affectionate woman, but I never went to school without a clean, ironed uniform. My lunch was always full and fresh, my hair washed and combed. Our home was clean and comfortable, our homework checked and complete. Our birthdays were photographed and Christmases video taped. She crocheted me afghans and sewed my bedspreads. She stitched me Easter dresses. And Christmas dresses. And birthday dresses. And Halloween costumes. She found the perfect stocking stuffers and underwear. She made dinner every night and birthday cakes, snacks for class and cookies for the fair. We never went without.
I would have prefered more cuddles and tender moments. But I see as clearly as the keys beneath my finger tips that this was how my mom loves us. This is how she knows to show her love. She spent every last penny, every moment giving to us. She gives things, does things, and makes things to show her love. She doesn’t say it often and doesn’t talk endlessly about it, but she gives it.
As I grow older, I see what this has done to me. I send cards every holiday. I send gifts every birthday. I buy things that remind me of my friends when I see them. I don’t regret spending money on others. I am happy to run errands for them. I bake for people. I do for people. I try to be better than she is about telling people how I feel, but without realizing it, I have taken on her generosity, the physical form her love takes.
Today, I love my mother just as much as I did when I was young, if not more. I know more of her, have had more of her, and have been given more of her now. I like to call her and talk about the television shows we both watch. I like sending her websites to look at. I like making her recipes myself. But I also love making her laugh. I like to make people laugh in general and want to be thought of as funny, but there is a pride that comes with making her laugh that no one else gives me. I want to make her proud. I know that there really isn’t a lot that is remarkable about my life right now, but there was a time I loved to call and tell her about tests or papers I aced, programs I coordinated, projects I completed.
I loved her so much more deeply when I was young than I realized. My anger and pain eclipsed my devotion to her. Now that age has tempered that angst, that love is clear and easy to find. It courses through me, it crosses the miles, and it beats like the life blood she infused me with. I wish there were no asterisk to our relationship, nothing that I want to forget, but the reality is that life and relationships are complicated. I would rather not think about the monster that I was, the cruelty that she loved me through, and focus on the now, the true friendship that we have forged. My mom may not be the easiest person on earth to love, but neither is her daughter, and we both overcome that. I am so proud of her, so amazed by her strength and resilience, that “love” seems too small a word, my heart too weak to hold all that I feel for her.
“All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” –Oscar Wilde