It is Mother’s Day and I want to think about my relationship with my mother. The mother daughter relationship can be incredibly profound. There are the common experiences of wearing makeup and a bra for the first time, selecting a prom dress, childbirth and mothering. A mother influences a daughter’s fashion sense, decorates her bedroom, and chooses which clubs or classes her child participates in. A mother’s example is the template a young woman will look to when learning to form platonic, familial, and romantic relationships.
I’m not sure my mom really knew what to do with me. She was a confirmed tomboy in her youth, surrounded by brothers and boy cousins, she could throw a ball and ride a horse as well as any boy. She wore jeans when it was not acceptable for girls to do so, lived in cowboy boots and threw a mean softball. I was not a tomboy. I wanted to be a cheerleader or a ballerina. I loved Barbies and dresses and more than anything I longed for long hair that I could put into pretty bows.
Instead, my mom kept my hair in a boy cut and signed me up for softball and soccer. God, I hated to run (I still do) and if you have ever watched a soccer game, it’s nothing but running!
I did have one of those Barbie hair style heads that you could put blue eye shadow on and a toy sewing machine. My bike was purple and had flowers on its banana seat, and by fourth grade I had been signed up to be a cheerleader for the pee-wee football team and was allowed to grow out my hair.
More than anything, though, I wanted to take dance lessons. It was the greatest desire of my heart. I would check out library books on the five positions of the ballet and stand in the living room doing barre work using a chair arm to balance. I so desperately hoped that my mother would see my work and realize she simply had to get me to a class!
What I know now about my parents’ marriage and finances tells me that there was probably not money for dance lessons, and a mentally ill and severely depressed mom is not always capable of recognizing the needs of her kids.
One of the most powerful truths I have come to realize in my midlife is that most of us are doing the best we can on any given day. Sometimes that means we climb a mountain, and sometimes that means we just manage to draw the next breath. I think my mom was doing the best she could, most days, to just draw that next breath.
I spent a lot of wasted time as a teenager and into my twenties being really angry at my mom. That does no one any good. So one day, I just let it go, dropped that weight of self-righteous indignation and bitterly held grudges over neglect and hurts my mom had inflicted.
I have come to a peace, of sorts, with my mom.
What my adult self would tell my mom:
1. I finally got to take ballet. As an adult in my thirties, I signed up for ballet classes at the studio where my kids took dance. At first, I took the adult classes, the ones meant for moms like me, but when those classes were no longer offered, I screwed up my courage and took class with Hilary. This class was for kids who had taken about 9 years of dance. They were teenagers. I told the teacher not to worry about actually teaching me, but she did anyway, correcting my position for the port du bras or tweaking the turn out in my hip socket. I never became an actual dancer, but I learned how to appreciate the strength of my muscles and more importantly, to try to do turns across the floor as though no one was paying the slightest bit of attention to me.
2. We share a love of yellow. Her favorite colors were yellow and orange, mine are yellow and green. I have a yellow bicycle and yellow clothes and one single yellow wall in my apartment. Almost always when I see a perfect shade of yellow, I give her a little moment in my thoughts.
3. She has four granddaughters, all of them feminine little princesses who love or still love to play dress up and wear lavender and pink. But I would have to tell her about Libby, the child who not only looks like her but shares her love of sports and competition and athleticism, who has sass oozing out her very pores and also my mom’s tendency to emotional extremes.
4. My favorite way to wear my hair, ironically, is in the short pixie she kept me in as a girl. I just got it cut in this style after months saving pins on a Pinterest board devoted entirely to pixie cuts. A student told me last night that I look like my real self. I wish I knew if my mom had always seen that, or if she just wanted the ease of the short hair.
5. Being a mom to girls sometimes means letting your girls have space. My mom didn’t understand that sometimes her girl just needed space to think, to process. I am a person who faces challenges first with silence. This was infuriating to my mom, puzzling to my husband, and inappropriate to my current boss. Sometimes mom would try to force me to talk, certain I had a deep dark secret to confess. That was almost never the case. I just needed time to think and process. One time when Hilary was making the tough decision to change schools, she only spoke when necessary for two straight days. I watched her, wheels turning furiously in her mind as she debated and grieved and predicted. I was dying to question her, but I held back, letting her peacefully come to her own decision. God, that was hard!
6. Being thin does not equal being lovable.
7. Female sexuality is a beautiful thing and should not become a shaming tool. I hope I have raised my daughters to appreciate this part of who they are and to know that they can always talk to me and I will not lay a burden of grief upon them.
7. I understand now that she loved me. She is forgiven.