Mother’s Day is confusing for me. When my mother-in-law was alive, I focused my good wishes on her and felt the warmth of her radiant smile over the phone right to the root through the layers of chilly damp dirt that covered my heart.
I had come to her late but when I married her son our two hearts snapped together like Legos. As artists, me with my music and she with her theater, we played our parts for each other in perfect counterpoint. As mother and daughter we filled an unexpected place in each other’s puzzle and there was no question that we adored one another. We shared our secrets and were confidantes. I was her Irish daughter and she was my Jewish mother and we were a perfect pair of hearts. “You are not my daughter-in-law, you are my daughter”, she declared as she sat for the last time on her bed before she died.
There were no tentacles of regret, sadness, or grief to dement our relationship. We had a pure and a happy run and I am grateful to have had the gift of her love in my life. She was intuitive always knew how I really was before I ever admitted it, the way a mother does. She never missed the mark and I felt like she knew me better than anyone. I miss her.
Now she’s gone and I’m back to my confusion. I have loved my natural mother all my life but a limiter seemed to set her heart on low, maybe from losing her first son before I was born. It felt like I wasn’t the child she wanted. Out of the nine of us, I’m not sure if any of us were what she wanted but she made the best of it and fed and kept us until we could feed and keep ourselves. She is alive in a quiet life with my father on the other side of the country in Floridian assisted living, nearly ninety now. She is pleasant on the phone with me the way an old acquaintance is pleasant.
“How’s life in Seattle? Oh, that’s good” she says. It’s not clear if she can hear me, she hates her hearing aid and refuses to wear it, so I yell about the weather and say “I love you, Mom” and without exception she says, “Let me give you back to your father.” As I wait for her to hand him the phone, a dead tone in my ear tells me we’re back to the sound of nothing and the call has been dropped. This has been going on for years now. It’s not her fault. She does her best and I love her no matter what. I just can’t seem to reach her.
I’ve sent her flowers that should have arrived by now and hope they make her feel happy and loved. I wrote her a card this week full of my news, as though we were sitting at the kitchen table over the Lipton’s tea I remember her drinking fifty years ago. I send cards because she loves to get mail, not because Mother’s Day was looming. I just missed her and wanted her to know that I think of her. She doesn’t write me back but that’s okay. She doesn’t have to. I’m okay. I accept the way she is.
My Mother’s Day heart changes direction to see my children. I wet my heart to feel the weather like a finger in the wind. The waves in my heart loosen to rise and fall in the magnetic hold between push and pull and moonlight shines on the surface of my soul. When I close my eyes I can feel the love for my children rise up and fill a thick shell of regret and the brittle sadness softens in the lining under my skin. I stop to relish them in my mind’s eye, the small details they can’t feel me watch and take in. I see their beauty and fears and whisper a silent prayer to protect and nourish them.
I have an insatiable appetite to connect with my daughters. Most of the time, it’s invisible because they look past me to the ones they’ve come to rely on. But my hunger to love them as their mother is there and it has always been there – since the beginning. I learned to contain it when I gave up my first child as a teenager. By the time I gave up my second child ten years later to divorce, I was pretty sure that anyone was better than me to be a mother.
I met my first daughter when I was thirty-seven years old. I had been in reunion with my second daughter for a short time when Cathy came back into my life. A tsunami of conflicting forces stirs between both of my daughters. I can feel the storm brewing to break over the storm wall that holds them back from telling me the truth, like banshees in the wind, and wish me into their lives as the mother they needed and wanted then, not the mother who left them to forage on their own. The mother they have now can’t be the mother they lost. They are two different mothers and I am both of them.
The cruelty of regret is that we are not allowed to return and replay our parts and catch up from there. No matter how good it gets, the damage is done and nothing I can do now will kiss and make it better. The mother I am yearns to tend and heal the cuts of broken trust while the mother I was hides ashamed and sad in a deep well where she will never, ever be found to bother anyone again. She is still in exile underneath my rewoven life. I repeat my vow to be here now and come back to the surface, take a deep breath and rededicate my heart to each of my children, no matter what, to be here for them as long as life is in me.
Even my boys, my two handsome stepsons, know me as a complicated mother. It’s not as hard for them because their mother is in the middle of their lives and I’m more simply an extra, an understudy, an afterthought, who came to love them in her borrowed mother guise when their dad fell for me twenty years ago. I feel gratitude for the love they show me. I don’t nag them with expectations and our attachment is different from what they have with their mother. I adore them and give them plenty of room. If they need me, they know I’m here and I’ve got their backs 24/7. We’re close in a way that works for each of them. I’m lucky to have them in my life. They allow me to love them as sons to a second mother and for me, that is a great and precious gift.
With my daughters it’s different. So far it doesn’t seem to matter how much I try to connect with them and to be present, day by day, year by year – the visits, the voice mails, the texts, the cards, the gifts – or how much I express my love in the words I say (or contain) to prove it. The hunger, sadness and anxiety is there and it’s never satisfied. Our attempts to be close are distracted by pain. Is this the same disconnect between me and my mother? I don’t know. Maybe. Maybe I’ll never know and it’s just the way it is. Even in my prayers and dreams, I am left to trust and hope in silence that my true mother love will find her way to slip in and sink deeply into the tender hearts of my beautiful girls, and soak them in warm comfort that no longer feels the chilly void of my absence but instead keeps them swaddled close to my bosom and nourished in lasting mother love; this mother, here mother, first mother, me mother, real, true and connected-by-heart-body-and-soul mother, as the mother they missed most becomes the mother who croons to her babes in their sleep as they slumber softly and safely in her arms at last.
To read my daughter’s counterblog, visit ReunionEyes.