Tag Archives: mother

Dear mum


Well, Margaret Warner, actually. Unsinkable, certainly.

I’m thinking of you today. I’m not sure why this bright winter day brings you to mind, but maybe it’s a confluence of two things I’ve read. The first was “Dear Fatty”, by Dawn French – her memoir, written as a series of letters to people she knows and loves. We never shared Dawn – she came on the scene here a little bit after you left. I know you’d have loved her, her crazy humour – that is, if you could get past her being so round and the occasional shocking bit.  I can hear your voice saying something like, “She’d be so pretty if she weren’t so heavy,” much as you said to me on more than one occasion that I needed to lose weight but, I “could still move well.” And I had “such lovely skin.” I think you’d have loved her parish council in The Vicar of Dibley, given your work with the church and probably a very similar council.

I don’t think you’d have liked French and Saunders – I think something about their drinking and fooling around would have left you profoundly uncomfortable, as you seemed to be with Monty Python. Do you remember when Life of Brian came out and there was all this fuss about the sacrilege? You came down on the “not to be seen” side, as I recall, but I saw it anyways and it remains one of my favourite movies.

Thank you for being that someone I could test myself against, push my ideas against, form myself against. We didn’t think alike in most ways, and now that I am about your age when you discovered your cancer, I realize that I missed getting to really know you. We spent so much time butting heads, politely, always politely, but I missed getting to know the fun you you shared with my cousins and your friends.

You had mothering goals with me and I suppose I am the same with my kids, trying to be accepting and encouraging and laugh endlessly with them but always having that motherhood light attached, blinking concern at the wrong moment, putting my foot wrong. I used to think I was such a good mom. Funny how that changes as you grow older, how you see the gaps where you could have done better, where you missed that bit, where that little bit of mothering knitting dropped a stitch, purled when it should have knitted. I wonder if you ever felt that.

You always seemed supremely confident. But maybe you, like me, sang “Whistle a Happy Tune” as you stepped into new situations, faking confidence, you with such élan. I wish I knew. Maybe if I thought you’d had doubts I would have felt closer to you, as I fought my way to adulthood. As it is, I felt all weakness was an embarrassment to you. God knows how you would have taken my bouts of depression. Mental illness, to you, was a sign of weakness. And scary as hell. Because of this we barely saw my father’s family with their admitted mental health problems – though to tell the truth I often thought your family could have done with a little counselling now and again.

But maybe, maybe, it was so scary to you because you knew it, fought against it, dreaded the contagion that comes when a depressed person gets pulled into another depressed person’s circle. I know that feeling. I hide, too.

The other thing that brings you to mind is a short story, “The Woman who Sold Communion” by Kate Braverman (McSweeney’s early fall, 2004). In this, a woman is denied tenure and falls apart, heads down to meet up with her mother, a woman she ran away from, a woman who lives like a hippie out in the desert. She goes there because she knows she is safe there, even though she and her mum don’t seem to have much in common.

Once, when my marriage was falling apart, in the early days when I was expecting my youngest, I called you. I had had enough, I said. I couldn’t bear being with such an angry man. Your response was: “Come home.” I was shocked. You were, above all, a staunch Catholic. Leaving a marriage was a big thing.

I sometimes wish I had trusted you and perhaps taken that step. Instead I thought you were looking for company, and resisted. But the fact that you said what you did to me made it safe for me to continue on, to stick it out for another 15 years, some good, some bad. Because you gave me permission not to, and a safe place to go.

Miss you.

Motherless daughters and sons…or why I avoid card shops in May

I might have said before about how much I hate Mother’s Day.
First, I hate it cos I always review how I coulda, shoulda, woulda been a better mother. It’s kind of like New Years Day resolutions with no way for recovery. I mean, I tried to be a good mum – I used to feel pride in it, felt I knew something about it.

Truth was, my kids did ok because they are pretty fantastic people and probably the best thing I did was to get out of their way. Well, and maybe lay a few crumbs to show them some optional paths.
And of course love them, fiercely and unconditionally and with every cell of my being.
But that’s not to say I don’t regularly wish I’d done better. What mom doesn’t? It’s part of he placental hormones…

The second reason I hate Mother’s Day is that other people still have mothers and I haven’t had mine for the past twenty-one years. For the past many years, every Mother’s Day feels like a cavity, the more so because my mum, in one last fit of competition with my dad, passed away on May 10th. Right around Mother’s Day. (My dad had left us a few years earlier on Christmas Eve) I’d like to say she didn’t make it then deliberately, but my mum was a very organized person. Once it was apparent she would lose her battle with cancer, I’m sure she thought hard about a time when her passing would have the most impact. She always liked to make a grand entrance and exit…and could do both, anytime, with the lift of an eyebrow or a turn of a phrase. She knew the art of pausing at the entry of a room, waiting for heads to turn toward her before moving into the centre.

She was formidable, funny, smart as anything, and fierce. And yet, I think, a bit afraid under it all.
She never went back to the law after I was born and the family moved to the US. She would have had to write the Massachusetts Bar, something she likely could have done with ease. For some reason she never tried. I suppose my father’s verbal support didn’t translate to real support. Who knows? Sadly, I never really asked her about things. Too busy trying to live my own life.

I wish I’d asked. I wish I’d known her better. I wish we’d been able to get past out mother/child boundaries to talk more, woman to woman.

So every Mother’s Day I think about those missed opportunities, as mother and daughter, and wish I’d done better. Seeing all the pink-framed schmaltzy sentiments and discounts on shopping trips and spa treatments (something that wouldn’t appeal to either me or my mother) doesn’t help.


“She’s her mother, but I birthed her…”

One day, while sitting in a greasy spoon somewhere, I was treated to this shouted explanation of a child’s presence.  The child in question sat between two huge-bosomed women in tight T-shirts.  Their greasy dirty-blonde hair matched their greasy skin.  The child, a smallish, grey-coloured girl, looked unsurprised by this comment. It took me a while to work it out in my  head, and ever since then, when I introduce my children, I have to restrain myself from saying, “well, I birthed ’em”…

There’s more truth in what the women said than it initially appears, for all of we mothers. We give birth to these marvellous creatures and we help them through their first steps and before the blink of an eye, they are out in the wide world, and from then on, we share them with other mothers and fathers.  These friends and stand-in mothers and teachers and bosses and others all take a part in raising these things we’ve birthed, for good or ill.  Luckily, it’s often for good. Mothers like me, who are quickly tired, enjoy sharing their kids with others to help parent. Not that I had much chance to do that, mind you – my kids’ dad was away a lot, and the kids viewed most babysitters as the enemy and a puzzle to be solved – as in “how can we ensure they NEVER want to babysit us again?” I foolishly let them read Calvin and Hobbes, and they used this information to tie up one babysitter because she smoked. SHE didn’t come back. So I didn’t get to share them much.

The influence of others grows as the children grow and as we gently let the tethers out. I used to visualize a virtual umbilical cord between me and my kids – I could sense how they were through vibrations in that virtual cord.  I even had the dog on it. The cord is too stretched now for easy contact – they’ve broken off entirely, and instead I am treated to the occasional invitation into their lives and, rarely, the real treat of them asking my opinion. I like this phase. They are grown up, independent, and I like the relationship we have with each other, for the most part. It only gets irritating when they advise me.  I haven’t quite become senile yet, and think that maybe I can still manage my life. No doubt they think they can manage theirs.  So we’ve made a pact not to tell each other what to do.  Mostly, we abide by it.

They are still a big part of my brain and heart, though. I think of them daily, I send them my love, I hope their new families of friends and advisors are good to them.

Twenty five years ago today, on another Friday the 13th, I started this parental journey with my dear daughter Chris. She’s off tree-planting or something wild today, but she’s also here, in my heart. I’m sending her my love, eternal and unchanging, though she probably won’t accept it. But maybe if I send a happy birthday hum down that so-stretched virtual chord, she’ll know I wish her well. Happy Birthday, dearest daughter. Love you.