Saturday, May 7, 2011

Mother's Day

I have mother issues.  Is there a daughter who doesn't?  I am also a mother, so I guess that means my daughters have issues with their mother.  Throughout history, mothers have both been revered and blamed for the cause of anything that goes wrong in the universe.  Tomorrow is Mother's Day, the day of the year set aside to honor mothers.  It is also one of the most stressful days of the year for many women.  I know I'm stressed.

I have spent every available minute of the last week in bed sleeping.  I love to sleep!  It's my favorite thing to do when I want to avoid something I don't want to face, and I don't want to face Mother's Day.  It's depressing to me.  I listen to all my friends talk about their mothers with such love and I wish I had that.  At heart, I am still a little girl who wants her mommy, but my mommy is never coming.  My mother is still alive, I think.  I really struggle with all the emotions I have tied to her, most of which I don't understand.  I'm angry with her.  I'm sad for her.  She is a human being, and I suppose she did the best she could.....but I don't believe she did do the best she could.  How do I set aside a day to honor her?  Is she deserving of being honored?  I do not have an answer.

I try to be understanding of her.  After all, I am a mother myself and as far as mistakes go, I have made some big ones.  My mother was the eldest child born into an alcoholic, blue collar country family.  She has two younger brothers.  I know very little of her life except the bits and pieces I have gathered over the years, so I have little to help me to understand her.  Her mother died when she was around 12.  I have heard two versions of how she died.  Her father, my grandfather, told me she died "of brain cancer or breast cancer, I can't remember which."  She told me her mother died shortly after giving birth to her youngest brother, of complications from childbirth.  I don't know what kind of mother my grandmother was to my mother, but I know my mother resented her dying.  My grandfather was not one to be alone, so he remarried fairly soon after she died.

My mother's new step-mother, Evelyn, was not someone my mother liked at all.  She said Evelyn was a cold woman who drank as much as her father did.  I don't know much about her, except she died too.  My grandfather remarried again to a woman I would come to know and love as my grandmother, Dorothy.  My mother didn't care for her much, either.  As I think about it, I cannot recall anyone my mother did like.  As far as grandmothers go, though, Dorothy was the best.  I loved her.

I know life was hard for my mother.  Living with alcoholics is never easy, but my mother was also the victim of incest.  My uncle Danny told me the children all shared a bedroom growing up.  At night, my drunken grandfather would come into the bedroom to get my mother. My uncle did not go into any details, so that's all I know.  I think it's all I really need to know, anyway.  My grandfather had some brothers, but there was one in particular I remember.  Uncle Harry was the "fun" uncle.  When I was little he was at a family gathering with his five daughters.  Even though I was little, I knew exactly what my dad meant when he said "yeah, Harry got to all his girls."  It would not be a leap then to think he probably got to my mother as well.

My mother also developed early and she had very large breasts.  She told me she would skip school because the boys would snap her bra straps and try to feel her up.  Breast size was really important to my mother.  I was slow to develop, and graduated high school with an A cup.  Once I had my first daughter, my breasts decided to catch up and I wound up with a C cup, but my mother wasn't happy with that.  Several times over my life she made comments about my cup size.  I was happy with a C cup but she would say, "Don't you want bigger breasts?"  No, I really didn't.  Somehow, her perception of female sexuality and self esteem was tied to the size of her breasts.  

She graduated high school and married a serviceman.  While her husband was serving, she met the man who would raise me as his daughter.  He was older than she was, divorced with two teenage daughters, and had a good job at the local B & W plant.  She became pregnant with me while she was still married to the serviceman.  According to her, he offered to raise me as his own, very noble of him, actually.  My mother divorced him and married my father.  

It wasn't a happy marriage.  Both of my parent were alcoholics and my mother was not prepared to be a parent, though she was in her twenties when she had me.  She did what was expected of most women at that time.  She was a member of the PTA (Parent Teachers Association.) She was a girl scout troop leader.  She was a housewife and had dinner on the table every night at the same time.  The house was clean and her children were reasonably well behaved.  To an observer, it would appear she was a good mother.  At times, she could be a good mother.  When I was around 12, my parents were in a particularly vicious argument.  Out of the blue my mother yells "She isn't even your daughter!"  That was the first I heard my father was not my father.  He yelled back "What kind of mother tells her daughter her father is not her father in the middle of an argument?"   She yelled back "I already told her, she already knows."  Then she looked at me and said "Didn't I already tell you?"  She never said any such thing to me, but not wanting to be beaten I nodded my head in agreement.  Satisfied, my mother said "See?"  I don't know where the argument went from there, my head was spinning.  They got divorced shortly afterward.

When I think of my mother from a distance, and not how she relates to me, I feel so sad for her.  She is bitter and angry.  It consumed her to the point where she has no hope, no faith life can be good.   She cannot love, nor can she allow herself to be loved.  I understand she is a victim of her childhood, and of the times she was raised in.  She is an alcoholic.  She didn't survive her life.  When I think of her as my mother, however, it is hard to feel compassion for her.  I do try.  I hope one day to be able to.  I try to look at those few moments when she allowed herself to be a good mother to me and hold on to them, but I have yet to succeed for very long.  She was a cold, hard woman most of the time, and that is what I see, what I remember when I think of my mother.

I don't want to, and it makes me sad.  When Mother's Day comes around each year, I wonder what she is doing, what she is thinking, if she even misses me.  I am angry with her!  I wanted, needed her to be my mother. I try to hold on to the gifts she has given me, such as my ability to be tough.  I survived the traumatic events in my life in part because she taught me to be tough.  Like many things, though, that gift has cost me.  I am not as open and loving with my daughters as I would like to be.  I know I seem cold to them at times, and I do hug them, love them fiercely and deeply, but there is a wall there.  I would really like to be a warm, loving mother who gives freely of her affection, but it is difficult for me.  In that respect, I am handicapped.  Should I honor her simply because she gave birth to me?

Because my mother was unable to be a mother to me, I parent by exception.  I know what hurt me as a child, and what I wanted from my mother, so I don't do the things which caused me pain, and I try to give my children what I wanted in a mother.  That is not the same as parenting because your parents were good people.  I am often insecure, wondering if I am doing the best I can by my daughters.  The worst part about parenting is you don't get your grade until your children are adults.  That's when you see the fruits of your labors, and the results of your mistakes.  I am seeing my mistakes reflected in the lives of my adult daughters and I am sad.  I can tell myself I did the best I could, and I really did, but still, I am sad.  I loved my daughters fiercely and with everything I had.  I hope at the end of the day it is enough.

I understand the time and culture my mother lived in.  I try to give her the benefit of the doubt, but in the end I am still angry with her.  She was victimized as a child in the worst possible way a child can be violated.  She knows that pain well.  Yet, not only did she allow my father to do the same to me, she facilitated his access to me.  I just can't reconcile that.  Incest scars every single aspect of your soul; leaves no area of your life unaffected.  When I became an adult, I had no memory of what happened to me.  I did what was expected and got married at 18.  At 19, I gave birth to my first daughter.  When I discovered I married a pedophile, I went to the ends of the earth to protect my precious little girls.  I couldn't take away the pain of what happened to them, but I didn't have to allow it to continue.  

I instilled in my daughters something I never had; a sense of self worth.  Being born female meant your worth was diminished.  A female in my family was worth only what she could provide in service to the men in her life.  I never wanted my daughters to feel inferior simply because they were female.  I stressed education and self sufficiency from the time they could speak.  Although my children were victimized, I refused to allow them to be victims.  I taught them to be confident in who they were and to stand in the face of injustice.  I taught them to be all the things I could not.  I took my insecurities, my pain and used it to ensure my children would not have to live my life.  My pain would not be their pain, my failings would not be theirs.  In many ways, I did succeed, but I have also failed them.  I suppose I would not be human if I had not made mistakes along the way.

My daughters are too young yet to appreciate the sacrifices I have made on their behalf, or to understand the struggles I faced as a single parent.  It will be years before they can frame our relationship in any type of context.  They will never know the pain in my heart from feeling as if you didn't matter even to your own mother.  They matter to me.  That is what I cannot grasp.  Why didn't I matter to my mother?  She was so cold toward me, though I was desperate for her love and affection.  After the divorce, I was trying to cook supper for us and asked my mother to teach me how to cook.  Her reply was "No one taught me and I'm not going to teach you."  I thought my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world.  I wanted to be just like her.  I put on her make-up, wore her jewelry and she was furious when she caught me.  I had to sit in a corner holding the make-up and jewelry for hours, until her anger subsided.  She allowed my brothers to beat me, to hurt me and when I defended myself it was me she punished.  I was older and I should know better, she explained.  My brothers were 1 and 2 years younger.  She would often punish me to extremes.  I spent the entire summer once on a couch, looking out the window while she slept and my brothers played.  I waited for someone to come home so I could go outside to play, too.  

After my parents got divorced, she set aside any pretense of appearances.  She didn't seem to care anymore if she did what was expected of her.  She didn't take care of us kids, the house wasn't clean anymore, and she spent all of her spare time in bars.  That was the only place I could spend any time with her.  Back then, a child could hang out in the bar if the parent was drinking there.  She taught me how to be sexual with men.  She taught me my only value was in my sexuality, how much men desired me.  She beat me more frequently and with greater severity after the divorce.  She beat me so badly once that even my father was concerned and wanted to notify the police.  I didn't want him to call the police, but my mother lost custody of me and two of my brothers.  She was permitted to keep one of my brothers, though I didn't understand it.  Even now, I find it ironic my father was concerned about my mother beating me.  From my perspective, it was like the pot calling the kettle black.  

When I was 16, she took me out to breakfast after the bars closed to have a talk with me.  She told me she was dying and had only a few months to live.  I was devastated.  For the next few months, I went over to her house as often as I could, doing things for her, cleaning the house. I doted on her.  She lived across town, so it was difficult for me to get to her house.  She never came to pick me up from my father's; I either took the bus or walked. She never got sick.  I never knew what disease was killing her, but it was never mentioned again.  My mother used it to gain attention.    She used my fear of losing my mother to her advantage. I do not understand her.

After I had my daughters, I tried to incorporate her into my new family as grandma, but it was difficult.  I tried to have a relationship with her, talking to her about the problems I faced as a new mother, but I never received any type of support.  When I talked about how my husband had become physically violent with me and I wanted to leave him, it wasn't her who stood by my side, it was her husband.  He was a kind, decent man.  He offered to shelter me and my two children in their small apartment, but my mother wouldn't hear of it.  He stood his ground with her though, and told me I had a place to live if I wanted to leave.  I never forgot his kindness during that time, nor did I forget my mothers' lack of it.  

I did leave my husband and entered The Battered Women's Shelter.  Again, my mother was nowhere to be found but by this time I wasn't expecting her.  I entered into counseling and started to heal the scars of my childhood and become the parent I desired to be for my daughters.  I came to see the relationship with my mother as toxic to me and I stopped going to see her.  I had little contact with her at all for years.  I healed much of my pain.  I missed not having a mother in my life.  I saw the relationships my friends had with their mothers and while they were not perfect; I wanted that.  I needed my mother.  I felt it was time to reconnect with her.  I was older, wiser, more mature.  I felt I could accept my mother as she was, devoid of what my expectations in her were.  I would never have the mother I wanted or needed, and if I was to have a mother at all, I needed to accept her at face value, just as she was.

I started to spend more time with her.  We went to yard sales, and shopping.  We went to bingo halls.  I came over just to visit.  When she had her gallbladder removed, I opened up my home and cared for her overnight.  Nothing had changed, my mother was still the same, but I accepted her with all of her faults.  For a while, it worked.  I tried to talk to her about my childhood.  I wanted to gain some understanding and insight into our lives.  I was careful how I phrased any questions, so as not to place blame on her, not to judge.  I did not receive much information.  Her answers were short, contrived.  Once, I tried to bring up the sexual abuse, to see if she would offer me anything to it.  I said "Dad molested me when I was little."  She had no reaction.  I could have said "the sun  just ducked behind the clouds."  She replied "that's how men are." And it was the end of the conversation.  So that was our relationship and I accepted it was all it was going to be.

When my second husband left, my life fell apart.  My mother was no help at all.  I became sick, so depressed I required hospitalization.  When I returned home, I was talking to my mother on the phone, telling her how much it meant to me that my father had come to visit. (She did not come to visit, but, I never expected either one of them to come.) I don't think I finished my train of thought when she hung up the phone on me.  And so that was the end of that.  I have not spoken to my mother since.  I can only guess she felt I was implying some sort of slight by telling her dad had come to visit, and since she hung up the phone I will never know what was on her mind.  

About a year ago, someone called and left a message saying it was urgent I return the call.  I did not recognize the number, nor did I recognize the voice.  The caller did not identify me by name, nor did they identify themselves.  I thought it was a wrong number.  I tried to return the call and received an answering machine stating some office hours, so I hung up, not wanting to leave a personal message at a place of business.  The caller called the next day, saying that the message I heard was the correct number.  I tried to return the call several more times without success.  The line was either busy or I heard some strange tone.  I played the messages over and over.  Something about the caller's was my mother.  The last message she left she said "well I guess there's nothing more to say." I may never know what she was trying to contact me about; she never answered her phone and I never got the answering machine again.  

I wonder how long I will grieve the loss of my mother.  I never really had a mother, and she is not dead (that I know of) so it is strange to me to grieve the loss of something I never had to begin with.  So that is why Mother's Day is stressful to me.  I want to forgive my mother, because she is the only person she could be.  I just don't know how.  I understand horrible things happened in her life, but instead of protecting me from the things that hurt her, it was as if she wanted me to suffer as much as she had.  I go back to the "no one taught me how to cook, so I'm not teaching you." Since she suffered, then I must suffer with her.  I don't understand.  I don't understand because I love my daughters so much I would never want them to experience pain and heartache in their life.  And to the extent that I am able, I will protect them from it.  

                   Mother's Day Pancakes, Sunday May 8th, 2011

There can be many sides to the same story, so this is the flip side of Mother's Day, the side of the day which fills my heart with joy despite the heartache hiding from within.  My children opened my heart with love, such love that nothing of my mother clouded a moment of my day.  Children replace heartache with heart.  It is impossible to feel insignificant when the eyes of a child shine into your soul.  I may not have mattered to my mother, but I definitely matter to my children.  

I can have thousands upon thousands of moments when I feel I am an utter failure as a parent, but it takes just one second of love from my child to wipe away the mountain.  Today was my day.  I was not able to be with all of my children in presence, but I felt them with me in spirit.  Everything I did with my daughters today was something I wanted to do; they did not take one second for themselves.  We watched Lady Gaga's new video,"Judas," (which I loved) and she sat patiently with me while I compared it to the Madonna video, "Like A Virgin."  She let me explain the allegorical content, and we compared the two videos with respect to style, format and artistic value.  She usually doesn't like to hear anything I have to say if it sounds like learning might take place.  We even discussed Lady Gaga's choreography and musical influences!  I loved it! 

Next, we went to the grocery store and picked up some very fresh and flavorful blackberries.  Blackberries are one of my favorite fruits to eat because when I eat them I almost feel the fresh country air of my childhood  calling me back.  I feel the warm sun shining on my face, I feel the solitude and safety alone on my beloved farm but most of all it reminds me of a time in my childhood when I was happy.  All of that from eating a blackberry.  We picked out a bottle of wine and she bought me exactly what I wanted for supper...the new chicken salad sandwich at Arby's.  We came back to my apartment and watched a movie.  What a nice day.

Most of my writing originates from darker sources.  When you are in the presence of love, however, the darkness wilts away.  It is still there, a silent soldier awaiting its call to duty, but when love enters it must recede.  My children taught me what love is, they taught me the strength of love, and they taught me love is greater than my darkest fears.  My children allow room in my heart to remember my mother in a kinder light.  I love my mother simply because she is my mother.  I love my mother because I choose to love her, despite anything she has done.  

Growing up, I had impossibly curly hair, especially for a white girl.  The curls were so tight I could not get a brush near it, so the hair did what it wanted to do.  Of course the style was 1970's poker straight and my hair would never go near a straight line.  There were not straight irons or great hair products, and I washed it with VO5.  The humid air made it frizzy and the winter air made it electric.  My name was Charlotte at a time when the book, "Charlotte's Web" became wildly popular and children were not kind to me.  Some of the children chased me around the playground pulling at my hair trying to find the spider in "Charlotte's Web" of hair.  I hated having curly hair.  This was one of those times my mother was a good mother to me.

By the time I was in high school, chemical hair straighteners were hitting the market.  It was a very expensive process.  I don't remember asking my mother if I could have it done, but one day she took me to the beauty salon and paid for me to have straight hair.  The stylist flipped and feathered it just like Farah Fawcett and for the first time in my life I felt beautiful!  I still recall how much I loved my mother for doing this for me.  I appreciated her taking me to get it done because I knew she did not have much money, and this time I mattered.  She put me first.  My senior pictures were scheduled for the same day, so I have the moment I felt like a movie star memorialized in my high school yearbook.  It is the only picture I have of all my yearbook photos that I did not ink out my picture.  I was beautiful.  The straightening process lasted only a few days before my stubborn hair returned to its naturally curly state, but the picture and this wonderful memory of my mother have endured through the decades.  Happy Mother's Day, 2011.  And to my mother, wherever you may be, today your memory warms my heart.  


  1. Anonymous4:21 AM


  2. I had that hair! And I wanted Cher hair! My mother cursed my hair, and my father for passing it on to me. I remember as a toddler, hair brushing sessions from Hell which always ended with both of us in tears. She would yank and pull, curse me for crying, and finally throw the brush across the room and tell me to get the fuck away from her. But I also love my mother just because she is my mother. Thank you for expressing that complex decision.


Feel free to leave a comment. I'll answer as I am able. If you enjoy my writing, please consider making a payment thru this easy PayPal link below. It is secure and easy, just copy/paste into your browser and you will be on the PayPal linked site. Thanks for your support!