by Conlee Ricketts
I’ve been talking to my mother a lot lately. Wandering from kitchen to living room to bedroom to bathroom. Asking her if it’s normal for the 51 year old body to betray you so much—even without cancer. I laugh out loud comparing the shitty things I said to her, to the random ostracism I receive from my daughter about to exit her first year as a “teen.” My daughter’s firm belief at one moment that I have no clue will flip to her needing to be stuck to me like Velcro. Then in the span of a day there is a loud ripping sound of the Velcro as she snaps ferociously at me for something she didn’t mind less than 24 hours ago.
It’s all normal. I don’t get my feelings hurt (that much) anymore. She has to pull away, she has to solve her own problems, she has to stand on her own, she has to fail, she has to succeed, and she has only one way to do that—with her intellect. What that looks like is that she points out my flaws, she criticizes me, she rolls her eyes, or glares, or heavy sighs, and she isolates herself behind the YouTube videos, homework, and books. It will be okay; I know she will come back to me.
It makes me wonder though. It makes me think about my mom a lot, and how I “see” her in my mind, how I remember her. My mind holds three distinct women: the 70’s mom who looked like Mary Tyler Moore to me; the 80’s mom who I remember as Maude, and the 90’s mom before she died that looked like Jane Fonda does now. The mom I remember, who visits me in my dreams, mostly resembles the mom I had in the 70’s. Free spirited, creative, firm and frightening at times, a little cold but also loving enough to sew doll clothes for me. I understand that version of mom much better now, and those clothes she sewed have become a memory that ties together the mother I had with the mother I think I had. It turns out she was absolutely doing the best she could.
I wonder which version of me my daughter will remember. The picture that will reside in her mind. The list of words she would come up with to describe me, what would those be? I’m sure it will depend on how well she knows herself, because if she were to make a list right now it might actually reflect more of the insecurities she has about herself and her overall life. She sees me as “fake” sometimes. I see myself as socially awkward, and trying to be friendly. She sees me as annoying. I see myself as doting. She sees me as embarrassing. I see myself as hilarious. She sees me as frustrating. I see myself as creative and perhaps overly helpful.
The beauty of all this, and the painful part I guess, is that she won’t appreciate all these things about me until she successfully separates from me and finds her independence as a woman. Then she will understand that the crazy, erratic, worrying lady that dotes, asks too many questions, and is socially awkward, is also a woman who has experienced love, pain, joy, defeat, shame, sadness, redemption, and so many other things both wonderful and horrible.
I used to think my parents protected me from their humanity, but I think it is really more of the fact that as a child and adolescent, we really can’t see our parents as fully human. We are so self-absorbed and worried about what is going on with us that parents are simply supporting characters in the movie of our life. The fact that my mom had “things going on with her,” during my entire childhood was completely lost on me. As I guess it should have been; I was a child.
But, I can say that I now understand why Mom cried when she broke the “scrambled egg bowl” that was her mothers, why she felt under-appreciated, why she wanted me to be able to take care of myself, why she had regrets, and why she took charge. I understand the layers of her life that kept her emotionally distant from everyone, what made her furious, what made her laugh, what caused her pain, and what brought her joy. So much of the time as a child I thought I caused all this, that I was somehow responsible for evoking all these emotions in my mom. That is the purest example of the egocentric nature of children. Our parents spend so much time caring for us that we simply believe we are the center of the universe. The truth however is clear to me now; I was not responsible for my mother’s humanity—she was. Her past, her life experiences, her choices, her movie. Her history shaped her actions and reactions, just as mine has shaped me, and my daughter’s will shape her. There are countless things my mom would have protected me from if she could have, and I would do the same for my daughter, but I can’t, just like my mom couldn’t for me.
So, I will suit up with my emotional armor and enjoy this ride called Motherhood, because while I didn’t get a chance to tell my mom that “I get it now,” I know that someday my daughter will get it too, and she will be a better person because of it.