My Mother, My Life

MomDear Mother.

I wish I had understood you better in our years together. I’ve had a lot of time now to come to see you from my own perspective as a mother and as a daughter.

A mother who is a bundle of unresolved complexities is never easy. Our culture glorifies that woman who is a great comfort – a nurturer who looks into her child’s eyes and understands. Whose touch is a comfort and whose words are drops of wisdom raining upon the parched soul of her child.

Well, maybe there was some of that…

But what I remember was a woman who was always striving. You were a malcontent who wanted to learn. You strove to be the best parent and wife, but you also wanted to learn each next thing: gardener, singer, writer, teacher, preacher… Your dissatisfaction with the status quo may have been a curse for you, but it taught me.

I watched and learned that I could do anything. There were no limits set by education or by age. After all, you received your high school diploma at 33 years old and began taking college courses. I see photos of you in the college choir and a women’s quartet and have no memory of you leading a separate life that gave you joy. But I must have assimilated the possibility.

We took you as you were, but in a culture when women did not leave their families, you traveled to visit your sisters when you needed emotional sustenance. Or they came to visit you. With them you were happy and lighthearted. Are my sisters my stronghold of support because of you? Are you the reason we can  share our deepest joys and sorrows?

Do I expect to laugh with my sisters because of you? I loved hearing the three of you sing. And laugh. And laugh when you were singing. (I wonder – did we sing at home when they weren’t there?) You must have taught us to sing. It’s strange that I have a distinct memory of when one sister and I sang in a church trio and got the giggles. We had to quit and go to our pew but I don’t remember you chastising us. (How could you  have when you had doubled with laughter while singing with your own sisters.) Your fine sense of silliness probably overcame your need to have us behave in church!

In many ways your life was an example.

You were health conscious before your time. You were adamant about healthy food.  I lusted after white sugar and white bread as a child but never tasted lunch meat or Velveta cheese. How did you know that this would be our path of a healthy life? Although I hated weeding long rows of organic vegetables, I still yearn for those dry land apricots hanging in golden clusters in our little orchard.

And though it was difficult to have a voice in your life as a preacher/Sunday school teacher/song leader’s wife in a fundamentalist church, you must have been quietly questioning. I wasn’t paying attention. You were reading Dianetics and church hopping while I was learning algebra. I didn’t recognize your burgeoning openness to all spiritual paths. As a young adult I dismissed you as “new age”. I was uncomfortable in fundamentalist beliefs but uncomfortable with you. Still, as I was ignoring your spiritual thoughts, I was learning by your example.

There are so many things that I didn’t recognize and appreciate during your lifetime.

I hadn’t heard Dr. Christiane Northrups contention that we age as our mother’s age, and so I didn’t appreciate how ageless and timeless you were. Now I know your that seeing yourself as unbound by an age bracket has given me great freedom to feel vital as long as I choose.

I didn’t value your great intelligence, your drive, your entrepreneurship, your independence, your tenacity. Instead, I saw it all as manipulation and self-absorption. I was childish in my desire to have a “real” mother like the Hallmark cards.

Now I still learn from the difficulties that I dismissed at the time as reasons to fault you.

I hadn’t yet read or learned about being present. Now when I constantly distract myself or go so deeply inside my head that I miss the life around me, I remember your unfathomable distance and pull myself back. It is a practice.

When I am driven by perfectionism I remember the misery it caused in your life and try to embrace my flaws and the lovely imperfections that make us who we are.

When I am feeling unloved and unremarked I think of how joyous I am when I give love.

Most, dear Mother,  I remember our last few years of acceptance of each other. I revel in the deep satisfaction that unconditional love gave to both of us. Thank you, Mom. Thank you for giving me life, love and lessons. You are forever embedded in my heart.


P. S. Nineteen years ago you gave me the great gift of waiting until the day after Mother’s Day to leave this earth. I thank you for that.


Originally published May 10 2015

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