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As it Turns Out, I Still Need a Mother.

When you called yesterday, you made such a reasonable request. It seemed, you said, that I was trying to “teach you moderation” when you just needed to vent. You pointed out that, of course, you knew there were two sides to every story, and that there was nothing to be gained by looking for slights. Who, after all, had taught me those things?!

I want you to know that I don’t mean to do it. I want to tell you that I talk to myself in calm moments, and I say: “there are people who have mothers who are actually ‘bad,’ and you don’t. You have a wonderful mother. You may lose her any day. Her health isn’t good. When you talk to her, when you’re with her, be patient, be a good listener, don’t withhold anything. You’ll be sorry if you keep doing that.” I always really mean it.

Your poor health and your age (yours and dad’s)  have changed death from something distant and unknown to something that might possibly be in my kitchen making a sandwich right this minute. The congestive heart failure, the kidney failure, the dialysis, the transplant, the fall down the stairs, the months in the rehab facility, the days you feel too sick to make our lunch dates…these things accumulate in my mind and terrify me. I handled each one, calmly and helpfully in public, and with exhaustion and tears at home, but what will I do when you die?

What will I do without you?

And if I feel that way, and I most certainly do, what is that makes me shut you out and treat you as if you were a person of compromised intellect? You call to tell me something you are worried about, something about old friends, family members, people on the news, and I become instantly smug, patronizing, opaque. I tell you to stop watching the news coverage of Haiti, because you can’t do anything and it’s depressing. I tell you not to be so quick to assume that the vet isn’t telling you the whole story about the dog’s arthritis. I tell you not to assume the worst about the behavior of family members. You tell me that today’s music sounds like “baby, baby, wa, wa, wa,” and I get hot under the collar, defending it as if I were an executive at Sony. You say it might be smart to organize Sam’s binder every day, and I roll my eyes and tell you that I know that. Worst of all, you tell me stories about your history and your family that I should be taking in and holding close, and I hold back the questions, the sounds of interest and assent that every story-teller craves.

As if you are a child, and I am not only your mother but your not very compassionate or imaginative mother, I dispatch to you from my great heights the things you should know so that you can Calm Down. As I do it, I think “why are you doing that? Can’t you see she just needs to talk? You wouldn’t treat anybody else like this? What is the matter with you?” The thing is, I don’t know how to back out of it once I start.

Your best friend is dead. You don’t have the rich network of friends you had when you were working, and dad really doesn’t like to talk about “personal” stuff any more than most men his age. (Or any age). Plus, you don’t want to worry him, and if you tell him a family member has made you feel bad, he gets mad at them, and wants to Do Something long after you are past it. You need somebody to talk to. You need not to be rushed, managed, schooled, patronized or tolerated, you need a sympathetic ear. I am telling you now that I understand that, I really do. There is just some kind of curtain that closes when I start talking to you. Not always, but often.

You really are, and always have been a good mother, half of a set of good parents. I always felt loved, supported, and challenged in the best ways possible. You were a good teacher, a good administrator, a great friend, a wonderful cook, a good wife, and incredibly smart and articulate. Sometimes I felt that you had already been everywhere I was going, and done it better – it was  your world, and I was just your daughter, a less confident, less vibrant shadow. That wasn’t your fault; it was just the way you were. Everybody loved you, and everybody loved dad, and our life was filled with dinner parties, books, generosity, music, trips to Europe, trips to Maine, and very few shadows. I know now, as a wife and a mother with bills and stress and perpetual busy-ness that you did a remarkable job, an enviable job. You were the best kind of example I could have had.

Why is it, then,  that I can’t seem to give, graciously, the only think you really need from me now? I have no problem driving you to the doctor, running your laundry up and down the stairs, making meals for dad to put in the oven, or helping with your holiday decorating. What stops me from what should be the easiest thing of all, just sitting and talking to you without impatience, without judging what you think in ways that I would never judge anyone else in my life.  I am fine when you need a little “managing,” when you need help getting down a steep set of steps, or when you need me to drive right up to the door and get you.  I am not a good friend when you need to talk. The other day you said “genetic” instead of “generic,” and I corrected you. It was a mistake, you were exhausted and adjusting to new medications. You have an English degree from Wellesley College, and I found it necessary to set you straight. I am ashamed of myself.

It’s complicated, this thing between us, and I am trying to figure it out so that I can stop “managing” you and start just loving you and being your friend. There is a competitive thing that’s always been there, that I suspect is often there between a mother and a daughter. I need to establish that I know a thing or two, and that I am not just your daughter, but a worthy person in my own right. Even as I know that you want that for me, just as I want it for my own child, I erect straw men to fight with and declare my victory. Never, ever a sweet or satisfying one. I don’t know how to stop feeling this way. Did you ever felt this way about your own mother, with whom you were so close? I feel monstrous, selfish, ridiculous. If I asked you for help with it, I know that you would help me. I think, maybe, I’m asking.

Also, finally, I am terrified that you are leaving me. Maybe in some subterranean lump of cerebral flesh I am holding you at arm’s length so that the loss will not be so great. I was, after all, the child who cried when you and dad were out to dinner and I heard a siren, convinced that the call was coming to tell us that you had been killed. I have been fearing your death, and dad’s, my whole life, tied to the track with the train coming at me, unable to reach any kind of rapprochement with the reality that it is inevitable, that I will handle it, that I will go on knowing that I had wonderful parents who live on in every good thing about me. When you lose a word, when you forget what day we planned lunch, it is as if an unseen hand takes me firmly under the chin and turns my head so that I must look at what has changed, what is lost, what terrifies me. Like a child, like your child, I panic and fight back at the idea that my mother is taking back her love and protection.

So I am asking, will you help me with this? Can you see past the bitchiness, the smug superiority, the patronizing need to “handle” you, and understand that I am just frightened? Can you help me find some kind of balance between trying to make everything better, and accepting that we are in a new place for both of us, where it is not always clear what “better” might be?

Can you be my mother, for every minute we have left? Clearly, I need one.

Photo Credit:

Mary Cassatt Mother and Child: http://images.art.com/images/PRODUCTS/large/10032000/10032604.jpg

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About imagineannie

I feel like I'm fifteen - does that count? I'm lots of things, I get paid to be the Managing Editor for a local news publication, and I love my job. I am also inordinately fond of reading, animals (I have four), elephants, owls, hedgehogs writing, tramping in the woods, cooking India, Ireland, England, avocado toast, Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Little Women, Fun Home, Lumber Janes, Fangirl, magic, Neil Gaiman, Jane Austen, YA books, not YA books, classical music, Salinger (OMG SALINGER), Brahms, key lime pie, indie music, podcasts, sleeping in, road trips, marmalade, museums, bookstores, the Oxford comma, BBC, The Miss Fisher Mysteries, birdwatching, seashells, kombucha, and stickers. Not a huge fan of chewing gum, jazz, trucker hats or dystopian and/or post-apolcalyptic fiction (but I'll try anything).

15 responses »

  1. Tears…sheesh, of course. I am headed off to my mother’s this weekend. I keep telling my mom that instead of saying we need to do this and that and never getting around to doing it, we need to actually DO IT!!! Examples: talking and writing down family history into that scrapbook we’ve always talked about, taking trips, visiting people, spending more time together. Time doesn’t wait. I liked an analogy from a kid who was dying of cancer…that life was like a basket of golf balls. That you don’t hit the balls with gusto until there are fewer and fewer left in the basket – only then do you really make them count…how true! Perhaps now is the time to hit them well, with thoughtfulness and a real sense of purpose. I need my mom too. Always will.

    Reply
    • You are the Kleenex lady. 🙂 It’s so hard…you want to be in the moment and cherishing it, but it’s totally unrealistic to think that the world will go all Hallmark in the midst of children, husbands, dogs, etc.. I like the golf ball image. I am going to start a fresh basket today, and try to hit each one like it was the last one.

      Reply
  2. I have tears in my eyes. If your mother knows you and understands you and won’t be mad, print this and give it to her.
    I lost my mom 5 years ago. she was 46. I was 24. Diabetes, kidney failure, dialysis, etc. It was horrible. I took care of her 24/7 for 9 months. And she “hated” me. (not really, just dementia, illness and anger at me moving her 2 states away so I could care for her). I spent so much time correcting and treating her like a child, when I should have held her and hugged her every day. I say this because I still have guilt because I think I could have done better, even though I did EVERYTHING I could. And I did hug her and hold her everyday, I just remember the rolling my eyes and being mad at her for burning the counter top in her last attempt to cook us dinner. She asked me to hug her and I was mad at her because she was in my way. I did hug her. I just regret I was angry at her for asking.
    Her death crushed me. But in the same way, it relieved me. She was no longer suffering, no longer sick. She was my best friend and I miss her every day.
    You will probably always have regrets that you didn’t do it right… but she knows you love her.

    ps. I work in the pharmacy world and “genetic” makes me laugh… people say it all the time 🙂

    Reply
    • She does, and as far as i know, she is reading it as I write. [bites nails].

      I am so sorry about your mother. She was younger than I am now, which just takes my breath away. I’m sure it was horrible; the very brief experience I had with “morphine nuttiness” with my mother, in which she was awful to me and told the nurses I was “her daughter who lied all the time.” I can’t imagine that going on for a second longer than it did.

      I will always have regrets, but I really want her to know that I do not dismiss her, or believe that I am now her mother. Thanks for your candor, here, by the way.

      As for “genetic,” seriously?! She knows better, but there must be people who, uhm, don’t….

      Reply
      • my mother was asked my name once, after coming back to life after a grand mal seizure and blood sugar of 600+… she said “banana” ! It made me giggle uncontrobly. The nurse thought I was crazy. She knew who I was, she just couldn’t get my name right!

        yes, “genetic”! And, “can I talk to the Pharmist.” that’s another fav!

  3. You’re probably harder on yourself than your mother would be, Annie. But that’s what makes this post so powerful — its honesty, its refusal to make excuses for yourself. I hope you give your readers a clue about how your mother reacted when she read it.

    I just posted something on my own blog about my 85-year-old mother, with whom I get along with pretty well these days, who was angry at me for what she heard as “disdain” in my voice. So I totally identify with you. No matter how much we treasure our mothers, we often don’t treat them as carefully as we treat other people in our lives. I think the same can be said about how we treat our husbands — but it’s especially fraught with mothers. As a friend of mine once said, your mother can push all your buttons — because she put them there.

    I’m personally pretty patient with my mother now (I didn’t used to be). But the fourth or fifth time the same annoying issue comes up — in her case, it’s introducing me to everyone as “my little girl,” even though I’m five foot eight and FIFTY SIX YEARS OLD — I usually at least roll my eyes, and at worst have a mini-meltdown. You’re not alone here.

    http://www.mommaloshen.wordpress.com

    Reply
  4. Ann,

    A home run! This touches so close to home, it’s almost uncomfortable–in a good way. Just yesterday, my mom was telling me something she had already told me more than once and I found my mind wandering and then, unforgiveably, snapping “you’ve already told me this”. I felt so bad when she said “oh, well, I guess I’m getting old”. Shit, it’s not like she’s some world reporter with a million new stories to relate. Thank you so much for this reality check. I’ll only have her for a while longer and I need to be patient and listen, even if I’ve heard it before. Jeez, I need some kleenex now–me and Elizabeth R. One of your best ever, Ann. For sure 🙂

    Reply
    • Thanks. It was tough to write, but I’m glad to have been honest with myself, and glad that I could ask my mom to read it since I sort of shut down wen it comes to saying certain things.

      We’ll try harder, we’ll do our best, they’ll love us no matter what. Right?

      Reply
  5. Ann,

    You wrote once to advise me…….

    ” ….. that is, I think, what loving parents do again and again, never knowing if they’re listening until they know they are.”

    She knows, after all the years, you were listening.

    Reply
  6. oh annie! i don’t know what else to say, just
    “oh annie!”

    your mom knows, just as you will know when sam wears your shoes.

    i’ve missed you.

    Reply
    • I have never been so happy to see a comment in my life. 🙂 I’ve missed you, too. She does know, and this post opened up a tough, productive, good dialogue about how we get through all of this.

      Please don’t disappear again.

      Reply
  7. So strange how some someone ELSE can feel and portray exactly what is stored inside your very own heart…

    Thank you for the lovely read.

    ~S

    Reply

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