Lessons in Motherhood

 

Mama’s Losin’ It

For this week’s Writer’s Workshop prompt I chose “Share a lesson you learned from your Mother that still sticks with you to this day”.

I struggled with this topic, because I didn’t glean many positive things from my mother. We didn’t share many Hallmark moments learning life lessons over a cup of tea or coffee. There was a lot of yelling, resentment, and dysfunction, but not so much with the touchy-feely learning.

I have felt compelled to write more about my feelings about my mother and Mother’s Day, since it is the first since she died.

I mostly learned the type of mother I don’t want to be. The kind of behavior I never want my daughter to see. The lessons my mother “taught” me weren’t so much taught with intention and thought as learned by me being witness to the person that she was.

From watching her, I learned to always stay on top of my mental health; there is a family history of mental illness and just like being proactive about a family history of breast cancer, I have learned I will have to be proactive about my mental health as well.

She taught me that yelling and rage don’t ever solve anything. All it teaches a child is how to fear confrontation, conflict, and how to feel ashamed and like everything is their fault.

It wasn’t all bad, I suppose. My mom also taught me to love and embrace being different. She exposed me to her generation’s music; the Beatles, The Who, The Mamas and the Papas and growing up, I was almost always the only kid in my class who even knew who those bands were.

She taught me how to love driving through back roads with no real destination, listening to music and enjoying the silent company of the person you are with.

I think one of the lessons I have taken most from my relationship with her is that just because I didn’t have a great mother doesn’t mean that I can’t be one myself. That just because I didn’t have a good example doesn’t mean I am destined to fail my daughter the way I was failed. I am learning to accept my life with her for what it was, not what I wished it would be. I’m working on finding the good lessons and good moments amidst the bad. In a way, I suppose that even now I am learning from her. Learning how to forgive, learning how to let go, learning how to accept. Hard lessons to learn – especially with no mother to guide me – but I’m working it out. And in the end, I know that it will help me be the mother to her that I never had for myself.

In Her Time of Dying: Mother’s Day

I’ve vaguely thought about the annual holiday that’s coming up in May, the first one that I will have in my life without the person whom the holiday is in honor of:

Mom.

Despite my complicated relationship with my mom, she was still my mom and I do have a few good memories of things I did for her on Mother’s Day: surprised her by showing up at an Olive Garden in Bloomington, Illinois (when I lived in Chattanooga, Tennessee), picked her lilacs from our neighbor’s yard when I was young, announced that I was pregnant with Nellie. I haven’t been sure how I feel about this first Mother’s Day without her, as I was not very actively involved in her life for the last three years.

I got an e-mail from a group I work with sometimes on my blog for a Mother’s Day photo caption contest and my heart stopped in my chest. I began reading contest’s description; send a special picture of you and your mother with a sentimental caption, and enter for a chance to win a gift basket. I stared at a beautiful black-and-white photo of a young bride on her wedding day, smiling happily at her beaming mother.

An overwhelming sense of loss, of sadness, of mourning a relationship we never had and all the feelings of disappointment over my life with her came rushing at me at once. I contemplated, for a second, submitting a photo into the contest and was at a loss of what photo to include. Even if I were to send in a picture, what could I possibly say?
“This is me kissing my mom on the cheek on my wedding day – the photographer made me do it.”
“Here we are at my baby shower. I invited her because I felt like I had to, she embarrassed me during it, and she looks zonked out of her mind on pain pills.”
“This one’s my mom at my bedside after the birth of my daughter – I was extraordinarily uncomfortable in this picture.”

As I tried to imagine what the hell I would submit and say, the knot of sadness in my stomach wound itself tighter. As Mother’s Day approaches – my first one without the woman who gave birth to me around – I am feeling those conflicted emotions all over again. Do I miss her? Am I glad she’s gone? What – and who, exactly – am I mourning?
I think it’s the relationship that we never had, and will never have. The glowing daughter, the beaming mother. The desperate phone calls begging her for advice on what to do while my newborn is screaming and I’m standing, helpless and unsure of what to do. The hugs, the tears, the laughter, the secrets whispered.  It’s something I’ve always wanted – envied others for having – and the holiday that celebrates the women who gave birth to us is just another reminder that I don’t have a mom and never will. I suppose all I can do is go forward and take these feelings as motivation to make sure my daughter never has to struggle and wonder what photo and caption to submit should the chance arise for her to enter such a contest, and be to her what I never had myself.