mothering, a tribute to the cause – (waterbelle44)

This time of the year is all about honoring mothers. Over the next two weeks, we have International Bereaved Mothers Day (May 5), Birth Mother’s Day (May 11), Mother’s Day (May 12), and Step Mother’s Day (May 19). In recognition of this, we will be featuring a different post every day this week from a PAIL reader who has volunteered to share her thoughts about mothering. We hope you enjoy reading everyone’s posts this week! 

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Mama in the mirror

My son S and I recently went for a walk down our street on the first hopeful day of spring, doing the kind of stop-and-go meandering familiar to any parent of a two year old. Our neighborhood is too full of treasures ripe for poking at and climbing on for much actual walking to take place. We hadn’t gone far before we ran into a grandmother whose toddler granddaughter was helping her clean up their front yard. S and I stopped to watch them as they worked companionably together, but I knew that he and I were seeing very different scenes.

As he joyously joined them in gathering fallen branches, I felt the strong desire to sit down, overtaken by that sudden slap-in-the-face kind of grief, the sort you don’t see coming until it rips a new band-aid off a wound that you foolishly thought was healed. It was such a mundane thing – a little girl picking up leaves with her grandma – but I saw yet another example of an experience that he won’t get to have, since my mother is dead. Other things had happened that day that I wished I could have spoken to my mother about, and the combination of grieving for myself and for him – for the fact that he doesn’t even know what he is missing! – all of a sudden became too much.

Parenting without my mother can make me feel lost, like I’m wandering without a compass while my friends with kids are anchored to their family histories and traditions through the involvement – or at least existence of – their own mother. At the very least, they have a safety net. Babysitters, or someone to Skype with on a Sunday night. I know it’s easy for me to sit here and idealize it, but the truth is that if you are lucky, no-one loves you the way that you mother does. At the end of a long day with your toddler, it’s only your own mother who can reassure you that you behaved exactly the same way – or worse – when you were a baby, and whose well-meaning advice you can lovingly ignore.

I want to have the luxury of ignoring my mother’s advice. It’s strange enough to be thrust into the unfamiliar land of parenthood, a new territory to negotiate where just when things even out and you regain a semblance of confidence, the ground is usually pulled up from beneath you yet again. What I didn’t realize until I became a parent myself was how much it makes you appreciate your own mother – that the immense uncertainty of parenthood makes you crave solidity and familiarity, and that a box of photos alone is not enough to stand on.

When I was pregnant with S, the midwives kept asking me about my mother’s birthing history, what her pregnancies and deliveries had been like.  I had to say that I didn’t know, feeling for one of the first times how information about an important milestone in my own life was gone forever. (My dad was alive at the time I was pregnant, but of little help – he couldn’t even remember if my mother had needed a c-section!) My mother died almost 11 years ago, when I was 25. I was just embarking on a new career in a new city, and marriage, pregnancy and childbirth were not on my mind.  She and I never spoke about it.

So there were many times when, lost in the hormonal sea of pregnancy and new motherhood, I cried for the void that existed in the place where I should be sharing these experiences with my mother. I felt guilty and broken for never having talked to her about any of this, for not knowing that the last time I saw her was the last time I was every going to see her, for my last casual wave goodbye.

My mother was a force to be reckoned with, an independent woman who raised two children mostly by herself through countless difficult jobs while searching for a career that had meaning – and finding it, working in national politics for the leader of the New Democratic Party, whose values she passionately believed in. My brother and I were not always easy to raise – our food preferences, in particular, were horrendous and now leave me gasping in horror, especially as I struggle with S’s preponderance towards eating crackers over what I have lovingly made for dinner. I know now what it is like to work all day, come home and make dinner, and have that dinner pretty much thrown in your face. There is so much more that I know now that I didn’t know before I became a mother, and so many reasons to wish I could call her up and say, simply, I get it now. Thank you.

So what I miss most, for myself and for S, are the stories. Stories from my own childhood and from hers. I wish my mother were here to tell me how she managed with two young children, to snicker with S about the awful behavior of the kids she looked after during her years as an au-pair in France, and to make him think about how very hard it must have been for her to be an interpreter from a very young age for her deaf parents. I wish she could be here to bore her friends with countless stories and photos about her grandson. He would have been the light of her life, and she his.

I want her to be able to tell S about her life, but there are selfish moments when I also just want to hear about mine. I want someone to help me see myself reflected in his sleeping face. When you are left without those who remember you when you were young, the parts of your child that contain you and your family history are hidden from the light.

I sometimes think about how much of my mother I can see in myself. I know that we look alike, that our faces are similar.  I know that I want S to share her values, that I want to raise him to be the kind of person that she strove to be. I can see her sometimes looking over my shoulder, reminding me to let S sort out the dispute over the shovel at the park with his little friend, to not intervene so quickly, to care so much what the other mommies think. In my lowest parenting moments I know that she would have been there to build me back up, to remind me that the job is hard, and that it is enough to do my best.

If you are lucky (and I know not everyone is), your mother is your best cheerleader. The person to whom you can show the 27 identical photos of your baby laughing, and who will exclaim over each one. I know our relationship wasn’t perfect, and she probably would still be driving me crazy in a lot of new, unimagined ways – like the time she ironed on a label with my name onto every piece of clothing I owned when I went away to University, or the time she threw me a party when I got my first period – but the thing about death is that you don’t care about the imperfections anymore. Just give me the person back. Just one more minute with the person, is that too much to ask?

It’s up to my brother and I now to recount our early lives and to tell S about his grandmother, to pull out the photo albums and point out the smiling faces. And sometimes it feels like too much at the end of a busy day, and when it doesn’t happen, I feel guilty that I am not doing my part to keep her alive for him.

We have aunts, uncles and cousins who can be touching stones for us. But it’s difficult for people to know how to bring up their memories of my mother – we, the legions of the bereaved, know that others often feel that they no longer speak our language, and so they say nothing at all. I need to do a better job of letting people know that I want to hear their stories, that I am relying on them to fill in the blanks. I’m so thankful for my in-laws, who live far away, but who are amazing grandparents to S. As S grows up I want them to tell him stories from their richly textured lives, to anchor him in the history of the house they live in, the one in which his father grew up.

So I try to remember to look for my mother in the mirror, to point out to S the things she would have liked to have shown him, like the tulips in the city where we now live and where I grew up. I have a photo of my mother and I sitting next to those tulips. She is clearly pregnant with my brother, and my heart aches once again for not being able to share with her the sorrow of my lost pregnancies. I long for a little girl that I can name after her, to keep her alive in that one small way.

As I stood and watched S with the little girl and her grandmother, I resolved not to allow my childhood, the relic of my own mother’s mothering, be a mystery to him, and not to beat myself up for stumbling on this bumpy path. Being a mother is joyous and hard. The onslaught of Mother’s Day cards and commercials is upon us, the pink hues tinged in sorrow for those of us who have lost our moms too soon. This is one of the times when I need a little mothering myself. I will honour her by waking up joyful on Mother’s Day, thanking her for everything that she did for me, and telling her grandson just how much she is missed.

waterbelle44waterbelle44 of honest: status update in her own words: As an academic and mama to a lovely 2 year old boy, I’m dealing with unexplained infertility and two – sigh, now three- miscarriages. We continue to try for another bebe while I head into the second half of my thirties with no fewer than six different baby wraps currently sitting forlornly on a shelf.

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Comments

  1. Man, this post just brought me to tears. I purposefully didn’t read any of the submissions ahead of time because I wanted them to be “new” to me too. I cannot imagine losing my Mom so young. 😦 Big hugs to you this Mother’s day.

  2. Reblogged this on honest:statusupdate and commented:
    I’m the featured blogger on PAIL’s special series this week!

  3. elizabethkbaker says:

    Such a powerful post- I am so sorry for your loss. You reminded me to be mindful of how blessed I truly am to have my mom alongside me as I parent.

  4. oh gosh I can’t imagine not having my mum, I am so sorry for your loss. One of my closest friends lost her dad when she was younger and she still mourns his passing every day. Especially as her first child draws closer and she is having a little boy.

    Being a mother is joyous and hard (whoa two posts and already a theme?!) it is that and more.

    Hugs to you on mothers day and know that your mama is still there watching over you.

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