Tag Archives: motherhood

Christmas Work

Photo by cottonbro studio on Pexels.com

In my family, we always thought of Christmas as my dad’s day. It’s not clear why, and after having squeezed the life into a few family Christmases myself, I can empathize with the repressed rage my mum must have experienced over this.

She’d spend weeks, months even, baking, cleaning, getting us new clothes, preparing us and the house for big parties with neighbours and friends. When family visited from far away, she sorted out beds and meals and church and every bit of the framework. And then my dad would step forward and lead the festivities. He’d gather us at the piano, and we’d all sing or play along on whatever instrument we were torturing at the time. He’d dominate the jigsaw table, hiding pieces from us, only to tap them in place with a braggart’s finger, triumph on his face. Just him and us. Mum wasn’t a part. She was in the kitchen.

We’d be honoured to accompany him as co-conspirators when he asked us to dash about with him at the last minute, seeking just that perfect present, running in and out of shops before the final closing on Christmas Eve. We’d be forcibly marched out of Lechmere, a shop filled with all sorts of cool technology, the clerks glaring at us as the overhead blared that, “The store is now closed. Please make your way to a cashier now.” He was either extremely lucky or had spent more time thinking about things than it seemed. He’d always find the perfect gift for my mother– a soft green velour pantsuit that highlighted her gorgeous eyes was one I remember. I don’t remember many others, focused as I was at the time on my own goodies, but I do remember her cries of delight.

Mum never got the same reaction. She’s have spent weeks in agonies over what to get him, and whether he’d like it, only to get a lukewarm reaction from him. Her gift somehow was always the wrong size or not wanted and dad’s disappointment would show.

Tension inevitably grew as the day passed. At the time I was unsympathetic, but back then I didn’t know the Christmas fatigue that overwhelms mothers, or whoever else gets the task of making the day happen. Now I do.

Dad had fun, though –the clown at the party, he came on stage and managed the presents (most bought by mum). My older brother, an acquisitive lad with some Smaug-like tendencies, was forced to exchange one of his past items for the coveted new one while Dad looked on with glee. My brother collected cameras, so my dad would gift my younger brother a piece of the new camera my older brother wanted. He would have to sacrifice one of his treasured older cameras to get the piece he wanted, and he visibly hated that thought. Both boys would eventually be happy, my father could economize, but we always knew his real joy lay in watching the reluctant exchange.

Then, just like the Grinch after his heart growth, dad would preside over the dinner table to carve the Roast Beast. Ever the perfect host, he’d regale the table with stories and jokes, puzzles and games (and far too many puns). Meanwhile my mum would carry in the meal she’d prepared, serve it, clear away the dishes, and tidy up the mess. We kids would all flee the table and follow him like imprinted ducklings into the living room to play with our new treats, abandoning mum to the kitchen tasks.

We were heartless.

Still, at Christmas, I always think of my dad, of his smiles, his music, his obvious love for us shining forth. Meanwhile, the softer, more hidden love that showed in all the backbreaking labour my mum did keeps getting forgotten.

My dad even died on Christmas Eve, taking his light away on the day we most associated with him, ensuring we’d always think of him first at that magical time. I’m sure he’s laughing about that even now. Somewhere.

My mother is probably laughing, too. She died on Mother’s Day a few years later, a final kick at the ‘who’s more important’ can. So she has her own spot where we can never forget her.

I wish she’d been around longer, long enough for me to let her know how much I enjoyed her efforts, understood her holiday fatigue, was so grateful for all of it. I don’t think I ever did.

Christmas (or any holiday) magic takes time, effort, hard work. Cheers to all who manage to create it for those you love.

Wishing from afar…

My daughter and I are estranged.  We have been for the last four years. The reasons why aren’t important; in fact I really don’t know the reasons why.  I’ve been offered some hints over the years – perhaps too much information during the time of my breakup with my ex, perhaps something else.  Through the various grapevines, she tells me that it isn’t me. But then sometimes it is me.  Sometimes I’ve done something wrong, but I am left to guess at what it was.

It’s been impossibly hard , and heartbreaking. I can’t help but think of other families I know, where parents were terribly abusive, and yet children still speak to their parents. I know this wasn’t the case here, and I remain baffled. I remember being angry at my mother on several occasions, often not talking to her for weeks, but if she called me, I always spoke to her.  I loved the woman, no matter how difficult our relationship was at times. How could I hate her or treat her so hurtfully?

Last night my ex, who still speaks with my daughter, texted me to tell me that she had finished the last course for her BA. He ended his text with a cheery little smiley. How sweet. How destroying. I don’t even know for sure what her BA is in. I hear it’s a double major. I have to send my congratulations  to her through him, not knowing how or if it will be delivered. I am hungry to hear of her, devastated to hear of her.

As the years pass, I find I miss her more and more, not less and less. I read books and I think about how she might enjoy them also – but I don’t know, for sure, since she has grown and changed so much in the past four years. I wonder about her hopes and dreams.  I fret about her a little, knowing that she has had some challenges to overcome. I know she is dealing with them admirably – at least I think so. My ex is an imperfect translator  – we’ve always communicated with our kids differently, and I find it frustrating to hear what he thinks she is about, without having the chance for a coffee or tea or whatever it is she is drinking these days and a good long chat of my own.

I get differing advice about how to deal with this.  Some people, therapists, mainly, tell me to let it go.  There’s nothing I can do to repair the situation if she won’t even see me, let alone speak to me. I should move on.

How does one do this with one’s first-born, only daughter? The child I spent years with, dreamed of, held to my breast? It is intolerable.

Others say I should confront her. So I tried that, a year ago. Let’s just say it didn’t go well, but I’d like to add I think I was more damaged by the encounter than she was. After all, she had her father to comfort her.  I had no one.

I know this happens to so many other parents.  I know of at least three other parents who are in my same situation, and one who may end up in it if his ex has her way. To my knowledge, none of these people have done things that deserve such estrangement – no abuse, no cruelty, no neglect. Just love, and perhaps a difficult life situation. One that had to be dealt with. Unfortunately.

What I don’t understand is how these kids can be so openly hurtful to the parents that raised them.  What went wrong in the raising that they feel they can inflict such callous cruelty? Do they even realize how horrible this is for we parents left out in the cold? Why don’t they care? What piece is missing?

I’m lucky.  I have two sons who love me even in my imperfect state.  It makes me feel a bit better – perhaps I really am not the horrible person my daughter seems to think I am. But, after this length of time, I’d really really like to hear from her what this is all about.  She can go away and never speak to me again after that if she chooses, but I’m tired of being left hanging. It’s unfair, painful, and cruel.

I’ve remained living in central Canada to be within easy reach should she ever wish to contact me. I’ve given phone numbers and emails and contact stuff to everyone around her, made it easy for her to find me. And still she does not.  I even moved to a town which I knew she’d visit, hoping for some sort of contact, however brief. When she is in town I am told to stay away from family gatherings lest I upset her.

I don’t know how much longer I can do this. How long does a mother wait? Forever, of course. But I’m getting angry now, angry at being held hostage to her behaviour.

I’m moving again, probably next summer, farther away.  Once I do that, I realize I will probably be seriously severing any hopes of seeing my daughter for years. But perhaps it’s time for me to stop trying to fix this. I can’t have my heart broken every time she comes to town and refuses to see me. It is destroying my soul.

The loneliness of the long distance mother

I’ve spent a lot of my parenting time alone.  I remember days of sitting in parks, smelling freshly bloomed lilcas, mown grass, tulips and hyacinths, mock orange and dog poop, while my baby slept on, in blissful silence.

I remember waiting in parking lots, hesitating to enter schools or preschools, wanting to give the growing children their freedom from hovering, listening to CBC or some rock and roll station, dancing in the driver’s seat, solitary.

I remember long long nights of watchful relaxation as the kids snored or dreamed or wheezed (asthma) upstairs, waiting for the cry out and hoping it didn’t come, waiting for that last late feeding when the youngest would finally settle, burping gently, breast milk pooling under his lip.

I remember months and months of taking the kids to parks, only to have them run off, free, shouting to one another, plotting games where I had no part, making up stories while I sat and thought and could do nothing else as any shift of focus would bring them screaming back to me, for adjudication, attention, complaint.

I remember years of going to watch games – rugby mostly – where I would sit alone peering through my ready for disaster eyes as rucks piled up on top of daughter and son. I remember watching my youngest perform, well after the age of parental bondings, sitting alone among them.

We never knew anyone much. My ex was busy with work, always work.  And we moved every year for a while there, making friendships with other parents difficult to create or maintain.  As the kids grew, the parental involvement lessened – no more hanging out at the pool sharing “almost drowned” stories with other parents, mixed with chatter about other parenting challenges – toilet training, feeding, disciplining.

Things became much more distant and secretive once the kids became teens. The kids didn’t want to share, and other parents, fearing what might be revealed, went for the one-liners about amounts of food eaten or the size of shoes. We parents lost our shared experiences and instead competition filled in the spaces.  Tales of outrageous successes by every teen hid the not-related-tales of shame, arguments, drugs, alcohol, sexual activity.

I try not to brag about my kids – my mother went on so much about us, even to each other – that I vowed to never accomplish anything worth bragging about. It almost worked, until I overheard her marvelling to an aunt at how clean I kept my house…so I had no tales to contribute.

Now, though, the separation from my kids is even greater. I don’t even have them to look at anymore – they’ve spiralled outwards into their own lives as well they should and its only occasionally that I am permitted a peek in, always hesitant as I am of stepping too firmly on their newly established selves.  They call and rant to me  about the unfairness of a life that doesn’t give them all they want at 18, or complain about the costs of living or the lack of a job, or the misery of university life or various things people have done to them (including me).

It takes a lot, as a disabled 51 year old, to be sympathetic.

But I long for their voices, for their contact, however brief and sometimes critical.  So I continue to parent, long distance, sending my love along long-stretched almost detached umbilical cords, hoping that somewhere in all the lonely watching over the years, the message of love has come through.