Today is Mother's Day, and I've been fairly contemplative today. I think I started thinking about this day yesterday during a quiet period of planned contemplation. My relationship with my mother has always been a bit of sore spot for me. Complicated. Complex. Not comforting. The benefit of being 34 is that I finally see that in most ways she was doing what she knew to do. I don't believe there was any malice on her part.
From a very early age, I felt a disconnect from my mother. My mother is aloof, at times cold, and often emotionally unavailable. From my earliest days, she demanded a lot of me. When I was a first grader, I was so fearful of getting anything but A's and B's in school that I sat on the stoop of the school crying when I saw a "C" on my report card. The C was actually my reading level, and not anything bad...but I knew my mother demanded more of me, and I was fearful of her reaction, of disappointing her. My mother was never physically abusive or intimidating. She just did not know what to do with me. But, my driven-ness made her happy. And so I spent a lot of time trying to get better and better grades, to be the best at something. But I never felt like what I did was quite enough. Not that she said so...just my own projection - I felt inadequate.
My mother was (and is) hard to read. She shows little feeling, and so it's hard to know what it is she is thinking and feeling. Contrast this to me...and well, I'm sure I was a challenge for her. I have always been someone that is emotionally charged - I love to laugh and I cry easily. I have always been pretty social - I like to spend time with people - all types of people. I enjoy hearing what other people think and feel. My mother has always had a strong disdain for overweight people. Sometimes I think one of my chief hangups with my weight is some sort of defiant gesture aimed at her. My mother and I...well we lack much commonality at all.
When I was a child, she took me to church. Even in the years my father was "angry" at the church and refused to attend, she continued to take me each week. She encouraged my participation. She went to church really for two reasons I think - first it was what you should do if you were a good, respectable kind of person and second she didn't want to go to hell. She didn't share any part of herself with the people there, and she spent a decent amount of time judging those in attendance. On the other hand, I was attracted to the community and to the "feelings" I got from faith. It didn't start out as an intellectual pursuit for me. Although she introduced me to the church, the church really became my home - I don't think it did/does really nourish her the way it did me. I remember her being incensed with me for telling our pastor that my parents were talking divorce. They had been fighting continually - and I was fearful...so I told the person I trusted - my pastor. He called my parents in for a meeting. To say they were displeased with my betrayal of family secrets would be putting it mildly. I was taught a lesson in that instance, and never again did I discuss our family drama with anyone at church. But the drama continued, and church was my escape.
My mother and I...we've never really shared much about what we think and feel about things. Despite this fact...I do realize that she has done her best with me. She did what she knew to do. She made sure I was physically cared for and provided for. She encouraged me to go on to college, and made sure that I knew she still expected a lot from me even after I had moved away. What she couldn't give in verbal or physical affection, she gave in other ways. After the birth of my first child, she came to my house and cleaned and cooked one day. Anytime I have called, she has come. I have rarely called, because our relationship hasn't really ever made me feel entirely comfortable asking for her help. This week I was telling her how disappointing it was to me that my daughter's father is not more involved in her schooling. She didn't say much about it. But today, she indicated she would attend my daughter's first grade play tomorrow night. My daughter has one line in the play. But, to her, having her grandmother there is a big deal. So, she will drive an hour to listen to a moment. She is doing what she knows to do. And I appreciate her efforts more now than I have in the past.
Maybe my new found appreciation has something to do with wondering how my own daughter will judge her mother some day. Will she only remember what I was unable to do? Or will she remember the good things to? Will she judge me on how little I know? Or will she give me the benefit of the doubt because she knows I love her? One of the things I never understood about my mother was why she stayed married to my father. They fought often. And it certainly didn't seem that they loved each other most days. Why stay? Perhaps someday in the not too distant future, my own daughter will question why I left. It's hard to know how all this will look 20 years from now.
Regardless I am thankful my mother gave what she had to give. I hope I have learned the lessons she taught me, both in what she did do and in what she didn't do. And I hope someday my own daughter will grant me a measure of grace for those things I did and did not do for her.