Wednesday, 9 May 2012
18. Mommy dearest..
Mother’s Day is coming up again and it always puts me in a reflective state of mind. I think of my mother. Wonder where she is and what she’s doing. I wonder if she has regrets about her decisions concerning my two brothers and I. And then I think, what a shame, to go through all that trouble of having not one, but three children; and then display such indifference. When curious friends enquire, I always feel embarrassed because I cannot provide them with a coherent reason to her nonchalance. “But she’s a mother..” is a melancholy refrain I hear again and again.
Truth be told, I used to find it really hard to understand. In the beginning, I made excuses for her. It was because her mother was terribly cruel to her – she had told me. Then, it was because my father had cheated on her and broken her heart. Life had been so frustratingly unkind to her. Then, as a young adult, I conjured other reasons for her callousness. If she got moody if any of her friends congratulated her on her beautiful daughter (ie me), it was my fault. When she played schizophrenic mind games alternating between the wounded ‘bird’ (who called me at all hours in tears, greedily siphoning reassurances of her worthiness) and the spiteful spoilt child who thought nothing of dealing out crushing blows to my own self-esteem, it was also my fault..somehow. My two brothers thought me a sucker for punishment because they had figured her out a long time ago. But I was trapped. In a vicious cycle where I lunged between trying to ‘save’ her and wondering what the hell I had done to deserve the latest onslaught. “She has nobody else”, I told myself. “I just have to learn not to be so sensitive.” And this went on for years. Until I fell pregnant with Faith.
I still remember the day clearly. I was sitting on the bed, on a beautiful sunny day in Bondi, staring at my impossibly large belly, when I experienced a flashback. In it, my mom was tying my hands to the top bunk of a bed. She then told me to make sure I was a good girl, turned around, and left with my older and younger brother – to go out for the day. WHAT?!? I shook my head in disbelief. Did that really happen? Actually, it happened many times but I had forgotten. And then, another came flooding into my already startled memory. My younger brother, sleeping next to Mom on her bed. My older brother, sleeping on 5-ply-stacked mattresses next to it. And me? I slept on a carpet so thin, I can still feel the hard floor beneath -- across the room.
I caught my breath. Shocked. And then shakily picked up the phone. I held my breath as I waited for her to answer. “Uhm, hi Mom? Its me, Michelle. I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions. Can you talk now?” What happened next was like World War Three. I was searching for answers as to why any mother would single out a child for that sort of hurt. She was indignant I dared to bring it up after so many years. I struggled to contain the years of built-up unexpressed hurt that threatened to steamroll all the hard work I had accomplished in convincing myself I was a good (if not “great”!) person who deserved love. Why did my mother not love me? What was so fundamentally wrong with me that she consistently banished me from her presence since I was knee-high?
Did I get any answers or peace of mind in that conversation (or ever)? No. But what I did learn (and it took me SO long to learn this!) was this: even if the reason/s were revealed, it did not necessarily lead to enlightenment or peace of heart. Sometimes, it just is what it is.
And so, three beautiful daughters later, I work very hard to make sure they know how loved and worthy they are, but also equip them with tools in life so they can also have the wonderful life I now am blessed with by making nourishing choices (and no, I am not talking about food!) for themselves.
And wherever she is, my mother, I hope she has found peace of mind and heart; and if we ever spoke again, I would tell her I now finally understand the past. I would say this to her: “I know you tried your best -- the only way you knew how, with the ‘tools’ you were equipped with to deal with your life. Its not fine by me, but I understand.”
Of course there are times when I watch my friends and their mothers, wistfully wishing I had that history and relationship with mine. But that only strengthens my resolve to make sure my daughters will have wonderful childhood memories to look back on when they too are one day living a 40-something life.