mothers and daughters

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“Looking down and Away”

Published September 23, 2013 by megdedwards

bb 061“I just smiled at a potted plant, thinking it was you”.

She thought she saw me at her table when I was having a long distance phone call with my Mom.

This was when her mind was beginning to go a bit wild.  I did not know it then but it was a sign of things to come.  I could see her in my mind’s eye, smiling at the plant and I felt her affection, it did not matter that the plant was receiving it. We laughed merrily about the absurdity of her giving her glowing loving face to a potted plant.

We laughed a lot in the last years.  We had as much fun as you can have when someone is evidently dying. On my many visits to Toronto the walk from the bathroom to the couch became increasingly like a marathon with pep talks and breaks along the way.  “This is fun”, said Mom, “a sort of fun, if a bit ridiculous…”  as we collapsed on the pillows in exhaustion and giggles.

“The upside of dying is having your kids come around, a compensation of sorts” said Mom, and also, “I can be insightful, in bizarre moments when I am not making jokes or confessing sins”.  Conversation was intriguing and unpredictable, full of unforgettable images, such as this description of a discussion, “We huddle like rugby players and figure out what next to tackle”.

There were times when her spirits lagged, tired of the tricks of her mind; “I have forgotten why I am here. I don’t know where I am, and, I have forgotten who I am”.

She began to live with one foot in the other world. She saw things; she described images in her mind, as you sat before her. Other images, other times, other space. “I see you looking down and away, most likely at your child ”.  I was sitting beside her, seeing myself in her mind, looking away.

Visions were dreams, objects were symbols, actions or fleeting moments were caught and symbolized. Her mind was making a film, writing a novel, dreaming a poem. Her mind was doing what it was supposed to do, move into the ethereal, leaving behind the earthly limitations of time and space.

My Mom’s main advice to me was to write it down. “You won’t have the energy later. Write it down now”.

I am writing.  And I am thinking about mothers and daughters and what they teach each other. What advice do we act on, what lessons are more bodily memories than lessons. Did my Mom teach me how to make bread or do I just remember her hands and what they did.

What did we learn by accident, what lessons were not meant to be lessons?

My Mom decided that 25 years was long enough for her marriage and that we were all old enough to handle the separation. She would make proud jokes about the 25 year deadline. Once I had been married 25 years I entered a panic. It was as if the due date was over, the marriage was ruined, spoiled, unfit to carry on.

But also I remembered how my Mom thought that her time was up when she was 63 years old, the age her mother died.  We set dates in our minds. I had set myself an invisible deadline.  I felt a surge of emptiness and a dread of the future. I was not sure what I was supposed to do.  I was not sure how to proceed.

When I was a young girl my Mom decided to put aside her married life and become a new woman.  I see now that although her actions destroyed the family unit as it was, it also gave me a very strong sense of what it was to be a woman and look after your own self. Her best gift may have been her destruction of herself as a housewife.

From then on I never questioned looking after myself, my rights, my ability to attract a man, or my right to a good sex life that satisfied me. I felt right about asking for and getting what I wanted. And my beautiful older sisters may have had more trouble with that, being brought up by the good housewife.

I did not question my Mom’s right to live her life fully.  What I did not realize was that I thought that I was disappointing her by living with the same man all my life. I slowly became conscious of my own assumptions about the 25th year of marriage and my own buried wounds.

It was her ball busting moves, limited as they were by her hesitant feminism, and not articulate or entrenched enough to give her a real release from her insecurities, that made me the woman I am today.  I was capable of falling unwisely in love and walking away when I saw the unhealthy nature of that love. Afterwards, I had fun searching for the right man.  I knew when I had found my partner, and I knew when monogamy was worth it.  I knew how to express myself so that we could argue if necessary, and communicate without lying.

Just as my mom must have thought her days were almost over as she aged closer to 63, I had an unconscious unarticulated feeling that my marriage would be over at 25 years. My Mom lived for another 20 years longer than her mother. And she traveled every year, enjoyed her younger boy friend, and did acid in her sixties just to see what it was like.

I see now that I can have the long term marriage that she later spoke of wistfully, watching her old friends who had ‘stuck it out’ in the hard patches and then had loving relationships in their elder years. She wondered what that would have been like. She did not go so far as to regret her actions, but she was not too stubborn or proud to question the path she took.

I recognize that a long term marriage is not a lapse of courage, or an easier path, but a path of my own.  I know she never meant to set up separation and ‘independence’ as the only path.  During the painful process of discovering who she was and what she wanted, she did give me the tools for a real and stable relationship.

She would have been happy to see my husband and me out on our 29th anniversary, laughing and kissing. “Oh Meg”, she says from her location in the ether and energy, “But, of course!  You know, I have always thought Joe was a gem”!  And I smile at our other worldly conversation, and I continue to follow her advice, to write it all down.

Mom and the Old Bitch Above

Published June 23, 2012 by megdedwards

There was a time in my youth when I wished my Mom was dead.

As soon as I wished it I realized that it was a terrible solution. I knew that my Mom drove me crazy in various ways but it was certainly not fair to request her death in order to set me free from my reactions to her.

I knew that she enjoyed living and I did not begrudge her that.  I did not actually wish harm to her.  She did not need to die, I knew that. I just needed to separate myself from her.

Mom was always there for me but sometimes her love or maternal attention felt destructive. I would inevitably regret reaching out for help. Whether it was emotional or financial, her help was like the well intentioned rock walls that people put up to save their sea shores, the effect of her attention sometimes caused more erosion than protection.

There was something about my relationship with my mom that was claustrophobic and dangerous.  She had a way of watching and commenting on my life that was suffocating. And while she could be maternal and caring, even almost doting at times, she could also be cool and dismissive.

If there was a battle of the wills then she had to win, and she would use whatever tools necessary, mockery, sarcasm or even physical power in order to rule supreme.  She was competitive and fiery.

If I was in pain she assumed I was exaggerating and would imply that I was weak. If I was in love she would question my judgment. If I wanted anything at all she would suggest I was greedy.

Maybe I made our relationship more painful by wishing she was something that she was not. She could only be who she was. When I read about Martin Amis talking about his relationship with his father, Kingsley Amis, I saw that what I had with my mother was not unlike this relationship.  It was more competitive than maternal; it had a manly air about it. She nurtured and then she fought. She prepared us to fight.

I kept wishing for a soft mom with soft arms who was a refuge against the world, but I did not have that. And in fact my Mom did not have that either, with her steely blue eyed librarian mother with the feminist leanings.  As I age, my sense of certainty that I have managed to avoid the same pitfalls and personality faults of my mother fades into a more sympathetic notion that maybe my Mom did not fail.

Maybe mothering is not about constant nurturing and altruistic sacrifice at all times. Part of what we do in weaning our children is push then away from our breasts, even when they cry. If they don’t learn to survive without us then we will have failed.

We may sometimes push our children away in order to set them free. That might be true. But we also make stupid mistakes and have moods. No one’s fault, no one deserves it, it just happened. Not only do I not know what I have done already that has hurt my children, I don’t know what I will do in the future. I will try very hard to be a good mom, but at times I will fail, quite by accident.

As the grains of sand drop one by one into the hourglass, the witch watches us and laughs. This image, from the family favorite, The Wizard of Oz, is definitive of my mother’s effect on us. My Mom was not the bad witch, she was kind hearted and fairly powerless, but she conjured witches.

Mom created a feckless and humorous God-like character, the Old Bitch Above; this mythical creature had a looming presence over our lives. OBA, as she was known in our home, would punish those who became too confident. OBA may give you a bad hair day just when you thought you were pretty, or make you trip when you were proud of your shoes. She had that kind of power. She brought you down off your high horse. Like a Greek God, or even the emotional Hebrew God, OBA had moods and emotions and you never knew what she would throw at you next.

Looking back, I see that my Mom was the physical form of OBA. She was unpredictable; you had to watch your step. Sometimes she was nurturing and sometimes she was harsh.  And she never said sorry. I learned to keep my dreams or opinions to myself because if I turned to her for comfort it would come back at me like a boomerang at another time, with a sudden attacking reference to that private conversation.

Even now, while we embrace in love and forgiveness as her energy drains out of her body, she can still throw a knife.  While I was telling her about a business idea that I had (once again forgetting what this admission would lead to) I said, “If it is any success at all…” and she said without thinking, “Well, that’s not likely”.

I laughed in my head, back on the same ground, aware now that the constant negativity that had accompanied me all my life was just under the surface.  She was aware that she had done it again, but, true to fashion, would not take it back. We let it go. But sometimes I see my life, and those of my siblings, as plants struggling for light, twisting and contorting to find the nourishment that we need to thrive.

As I accompany my Mom around the track, on her last lap, our faults are forgotten and our desire is to show love and acceptance. She says wonderful things about my writing; we talk about philosophy, writing and ideas. In fact, even in our hardest times we have always been able to talk about ideas. That has always been our connection.

Sometimes her  past rises up to torture her, she feels ashamed and irritated with herself, acknowledging that her strong pride and stubborn nature may have been unnecessary or harmful  to herself  or others during her life.

But I have no argument or anger anymore. Life is like one of those mysterious Irish folktales that show life as a meaningless struggle punctuated by madness and magic. My Mom likes to quote from some tale that she studied, lost now, “A man longs and longs and nothing comes of it”. She likes this line; it satisfies her on some deep level.

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