Today, it is calm, though rainy, where I live. I have been enjoying the day move from sunny and warm to overcast….and still warm. The rain started and somehow its building rhythm distracted me from the book I am readying to thoughts of my Mother.
Most of my life, I felt a disconnection from my mom. She defined what I didn’t want to be, while I found comfort and security in my dad. She was loud, had huge mood swings, while he was always even keeled and calm. She pushed me to want to scream, and he soothed me. I always considered myself more like my dad, and I would emphasize that in numerous ways, year after year. I wasn’t ashamed of my mom, really, but the things I recognized in her I wanted to minimize, and the things I saw in my dad I emphasized.
Having the benefit of age, of days like this that allow me to gaze back on the years that brought me here, I realize so many years were wasted with my myopic view of my parents. I don’t mean to suggest the hugely important and real impact my dad has had on my life; but like many things we humans do with people, I created a fantasy of my own truth that I suppose I needed, but nonetheless fractures upon inspection. I cannot separate from the goodness and love my dad provided for me, but my mom was not the woman I believed her to be, at least not the extent I manufactured in my mind for too many years.
My mom, born in a generation where many words used were not considered racist, was the first person I really knew who accepted all walks of life without hesitation. She raised eyebrows by having friends that were black, Chinese, Jewish…..the list goes on. I don’t recall her ever saying a certain race was bad or anything negative. She never said I couldn’t have a friend due to their race. She divorced an abusive man when the stigma for being a single mom was worse than being a prostitute. She bore on her shoulders the thought that her own mother did not love her and was often a shadow in her own family history (distant relatives I’ve come across through Ancestry knew of her brothers/my uncles or even met them, but never knew they had a sister). She always seemed to want to be loved, but somehow built scenarios in which even the strongest love didn’t work. She definitely had her demons to content with, many of which I witnessed throughout my years and often ran from in dismay, but somehow always offered unconditional love and acceptance no matter how heated the last exchange might have been.
I see now that the woman I defined mostly as negative for most of my life was not this angry, irrational being. No. Instead, she was supportive. She was fearful. She was hungry for love. She was confident. She was intelligent. She was resilient. She didn’t step on those beside her, fighting to survive as she was. Instead, she shared what meager tools she had to assist them, too. Most often, she’d make a friend while doing so. I thought hard today, trying to remember when she spoke badly about someone or uttered words of judgment; I couldn’t. Even during the prolonged years of my own parent’s tumultuous divorce, she’d focus on the issues she was fighting for and never once spoke badly about my dad. Even as our own strained relationship ebbed and flowed as I grew into adulthood, trying so desperately to be anything but like her, she never told me I was not her daughter. She never made me feel like I’d failed her. She always spread her arms wide and welcomed me. Even when I exposed how broken I was, or how hurtful I could be, she loved me and shone with pride.
So I sit here, regretting the time I lost with her. How I failed to come to this realization completely when she was alive. How I failed to ask simple questions like how it felt as a little girl during World War II, or what her favorite meal was as a child, or how she reacted to her first period, or what country she always wanted to visit. How she survived such a hard life (and it was very hard) and yet come out loud, emotional, but always loving. How, in the years when she was home bound and fighting COPD, she avoided becoming a bitter, mean old woman. How, even as I overtly fought being like her, she never once said she was disappointed in me or suggested I lacked in anything. How, in fact, she built me up even if I was too ignorant to notice.
So today, I looked up at the cloudy, rain soaked sky, and spoke to her. I apologized for not asking those questions. I apologized for sitting days after her death, listening to horrible things be said about her, and doing nothing to defend her memory. I said I was proud to look so much like her, and yes, even act a lot like her, and admit I am glad that I do. I thanked her for all the unrealized gifts she provided throughout my life, feeling their weight like a gift and not regret. I thanked her for creating a model that I am just now embracing wholly, instead of as an example of what I should avoid.
I am forever thankful that she knew my love, that she heard from my mouth that she was a great mom to me before she died. I am thankful that I could feel her love once more before she left. And I am thankful that I am so much like her, even if just realizing it.