When I started menstruation my Mom celebrated with me, she laughed and hugged me and said I was a woman now. She was just starting menopause. With her menopause came a huge life change. She felt like she could be a woman again, and not just a mother.
Our nuclear family blew up like it had been hit by a bomb. Mom and I were close, I was a child with an easy temperament. She clung to me for support when she took the plunge and broke up her marriage.
My ‘coming of age’ was less dramatic than her “coming of middle age’. I did resent that later. At the time, I just accepted it, as kids do. She said she did not feel loved and she wanted to be loved. Later in life I wished I had more of an invisible mother, one who was behind me and not in front of me.
When I became a mother I had in my mind that I would be a better Mom than my own Mom. I would put my kids before myself. What did that mean to me? No affairs, yes, but I also believed I should be invisible. I have put my children before me, but I have discovered that It is hard, if not impossible, to be invisible. In fact every emotion in your body is visible to your children. And you cannot pick and choose what your children see or feel, and what lessons they take from your life.
Now that my Mom is dead I realize that she was my best friend. She was as annoying as any friend can be, but she was loyal. It was when I wanted her to be a ‘Mom’ that she was most disappointing. I wanted unconditional love and support; I wanted her to talk about me, not about herself. But she wanted a friend. I can see everything very clearly now.
I can see my years ahead as a Mom and how I might be like her. I am trying to reconcile that part of my parenting, the desire to be heard. And I am struggling with the model she set up before me. I am traveling paths she rejected. I am clearing new paths.
When I was a young girl my Mom started writing for a living, and later went to university and tapped out essays on film criticism on her clunky typewriter with a piece of carbon paper between two sheets of paper. She would sit at her typewriter with her finger on her upper lip, and when she was in this position you were not supposed to interrupt her. We would wait at the door of the study, our breathing irritating her while she tried to keep her line of thought.
I wrote for the local paper for the last ten years. I interviewed people on the phone, waving frantically at the kids to be quiet and stop carousing outside the door. I tapped away at the keyboard. I studied too, getting my Library Studies certificate while my kids were studying.
I have a loving portrait one child took of me at the time; it is the back of my head with my hair tied up loosely in a hair clip. I showed them my bylines or grades just as she would show me her newest triumph.
When I was very little my Mom went on the pill and it affected her mind. It was early years for the pill so the amounts were too strong. She was living in rural New York and looking after four children. I was the quiet fourth. Apparently she lay on the bed while I played, or sometimes went for long walks in the forest hoping she would get lost. She loved us and fed us and cared for us but a sensitive child may have noticed her depression.
In such an odd life coincidence, I did the same thing to my kids. I got the Copper IUD when I had a bunch of kids and lived in a rural area, and it gave me cramps and anxiety. I lay on the bed in the play room glad that I had found a talking dolly that amused my little one as I tried to calm the cramps. As the mind whirling began to settle into anxiety attacks I lost some of my cheery smiling self. My kids felt it and were affected.
I want to talk to my Mom about these life patterns. I want to tell her my dreams. She loved analyzing dreams. And so my mind reaches for the phone, as my older friends told me it would, and I have that empty moment every day.
When she knew her time was almost over she was much more generous with compliments and support. She said she had ‘nothing left to lose”. Having a Mama who felt she did have something to lose when supporting her kids was sort of tough. She wanted to win, she never let us win. She was notoriously negative about our pursuits; her character assassinations were tough, and plentiful. If you did try to call her out on a mean remark she would deny she made it.
She said I was very tough with her. I only tried to hold my own and reflect what she was doing back to her. She moved on very quickly, leaving her destructive remarks behind her. She would move in to charm the next time, to make up for her casual cruelty.
The last few years were beautiful because she did not want to fight anymore and she wanted to make up for all her mistakes. I enjoyed it because I don’t like to fight. I am happy with kindness and love. We had a good time just talking and laughing.
I remember returning from French Camp after Grade 9, and a boy said to me as we looked out the bus window, “That’s your Mom?” with an incredulous tone. She was wearing some sexy sort of dress, and standing there with her new boyfriend. But I was not embarrassed, one way or another. “Yes, that’s my Mom”. We did not judge each other.
In the end we were friends. More than friends, the deepest sort of friend, the one who knows all your faults, and you know all their faults. And all is forgiven.
In her last act of mothering, which I see now is not necessarily a simple act of nurturing; she showed us how to die. If she had the remotest particle of energy, she would make a witticism. In her essence she was Natalie; a charming beautiful woman with a sharp tongue. But she was a Mom too, showing us how to be brave and still trying to hear us and respond to us in her last moments.
My Mother’s round stomach in her last year was the only part of her that was unwrinkled. It would protrude, unbidden, bubbling and groaning. It showed her pain, distorted, bloated. Her back was twisting, her bowels tortured. It groaned and bubbled with life. It only went quiet when her appetite for life diminished.
When she died she had no fat left on her body, no breasts; her stomach was flat between her delicate hip bones. It was as if she had never born children. She had returned to her child self in front of our eyes. Her hips were girlish and delicate looking; they did not look strong enough to bear children.
I know that we were very alike. I know that she was irritating and I must be too. I know that I cannot help being who I am, and neither could she. I know that my children will grow up having their own opinions on how to be a better mother.