My Grandmother died right before Mother’s Day. I had planned a trip out so I could see her for the holiday. I was busy. I didn’t call to let her know. And the next thing I knew, she died. She lived a long life, over 100 years. I made two trips out on two consecutive weekends. One for the funeral. One for the trip I’d planned, though I didn’t get to visit her.
My mother is a more complicated story. If you have or had a good relationship with your Mom, please don’t take me or mine as any sort of commentary your experiences.
My story is different. It was hard to love my mother. I didn’t know she was an alcoholic until I was in my mid-to-late teens. I just knew she was difficult, prone to rages, generally unhappy. That weird things would happen and that we wouldn’t talk about them. That I, somehow, was often the crux of her discontent. After I left, it was my father. It wasn’t until we both left that my younger brother, the golden child, got a larger fraction of the experience; Dad claimed my younger brother hadn’t seen Mom in several years when she died. I know I hadn’t.
I think she needed a needy child, and I just wasn’t. Not that I think my Mom would have been good with a needy child. Not that, in all honesty, looking back, that she was much good for anyone during the time I remember. I wonder if she ever was a good friend, or a good employee, or a good teacher … because none of that is what I remember.
The good things: she could cook, and I enjoyed eating her food, but I also remember the unholy wars that would be fought over dinner time. She took us to all the different parks in the area. The Lion Park. The Turtle Park. They all had names, we’d go to one maybe once a week. Maybe more, when you are that little, it all blends together. I remember her taking us out to family swim at the pool every weekday morning, and meeting my cousins there. Yes, in writing this, I feel she is damned by faint praise; it is all I’ve got.
I never understood all the poison in her, the near-complete inability to function in a healthy manner. It was years and a gigantic anxiety problem later that I wondered what her demons were like. I’ve seen her ugliness in myself a few times, some recently. I hope I learn from her mistakes, so that as I battle my own demons, that they don’t suck the good out of me, like they did to her.
I realize every once in a while how much those early years mold you. You spend years trying to understand, trying to get it, and on some level you do. But there are boundaries with people that you just don’t know how to set. After a while, they are more internal than external; detachment is difficult. You realize how much that early parenting affects your whole life.
I have no “Happy Mother’s Day” to offer. Mostly bitter memories with a little bit of sweet, and a backpack full of hard-won wisdom.