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Monday, May 11, 2015

Mother's Day

This blog is finished.

But every once in awhile I need to write something that can't go in the blog I now use-- the one under my real name.

I used to hate Mother's Day. I think that's a common sentiment for many mothers. But my reasons for hating it were not because I felt guilt for not being the perfect mom. I've always known I wouldn't be-- I'm okay with that. My kids are alive and reasonably healthy. They think for themselves. They're creative and interesting. I don't need to be a perfect mother for them to learn to thrive as adults. I don't hate the day because my family has never pampered me or showered me with gifts. That's just silly. There have definitely been Mother's Days when I've guilted someone into loading the dishwasher. I think it's okay to play the Mother's Day card occasionally. Sometimes it's someone else's turn to do the dishes.

I can definitely do without the sentimental church sermons about saintly mothers who sacrificed everything for their kids. In my opinion, saintly mothers are unhealthy, and they pass along a message to their daughters that women come last. Parent couples who make sacrifices for their kids are fine. That happens. Sometimes a growing child needs pants that reach their ankles more than a grown-up needs a new shirt. However, a woman who ignores her own needs constantly is going to end up emotionally messy. I don't need that.

I don't hate the group gifts given in church-- the nasty chocolate or the flower that dies before it makes it home. The gesture is sweet and appreciated-- but also unnecessary. I'm uncertain why there needs to be a gift for moms taken from the ward budget, unless it's to apologize for the impromptu men's choir singing the same hymn as the opening song. That definitely needs recompense-- and no-- contrary to the remarks of the first counselor following that hymn, the Tabernacle Choir is not feeling anything close to competition with you.

I hated Mother's Day because all my life I hated feeling compelled to do something for my mother, who spurned every heartfelt offering I gave before I was old enough to hate her. Once I learned that hatred, Mother's Day cards and gifts became something I gave because it was socially acceptable, but heartfelt did not enter into it. I was resentful as I signed the card to the person who not only inspired my eating disorder, but who cheered me on as I starved myself. I wanted to vomit as I selected flowers for the person who screamed demeaning, hateful words at me daily until I left home at 17 years of age. I felt trapped as I made dinner to honor the person I deemed the worst mother in the world...

And then one day I stopped. I told my parents and siblings I wanted Mother's Day at home with my own family. I would no longer be making the dinner for the family Mother's Day celebration. I didn't buy a gift. Instead, I limited myself to finding the most generic card at Walmart, and I gave myself a budget of $3 or less. And sometimes I waited until Monday to deliver the card. I was done honoring the person who messed up my life.

Three years ago, I noticed the resentment waning. I think it was good for me to take a break, to admit that I was angry and hurt. I think it was healthy for me to stop channeling energy into doing what I thought I was supposed to do, and instead do only what I felt I could. That gave me time to heal, to think, and to observe.

My mom has been caring for her mother for nearly a decade now. My grandmother is a shell of the person she used to be. Two weeks ago she suffered a minor heart attack. I watched my mom as she sorted through distress, panic, and despair. I sat with her at the hospital and brought her dinner when she didn't feel able to leave my grandmother. I talked with her when she was desperate for conversation. I understood that while caring for my grandma has been a tremendous burden for my mom, it's also been the center of her life for 10 years. Some might view my grandmother's death as a blessed release not only for her, but also for my mom. My mother, however, sees it as a drastic change for which she is not prepared. And her brain has deteriorated to the point that it seems she might never be prepared.

Grandma came home from the hospital on Thursday. My parents wheeled her into church today in her chair, and I made room for her to sit next to me. I listened as she sang the opening and sacrament hymns in her old lady voice. And then I laughed silently and delightedly as she added her voice to the men's impromptu hymn, making that less-than-beautiful musical number absolutely amazing. When will I ever again hear my grandma sing "Love at Home," backed up by a men's choir of 75+ members?

After church I told my mom I would be bringing her dinner. My dad objected, reminding me that my body is still trying to heal a wound in my stomach. I ignored him. He objected more insistently. I said, "We'll be making dinner today, Dad. We're making a bit extra and we're bringing it to your house to eat it. You can join us if you'd like." My mom thanked me and added, "I'm really tired. I appreciate this."

Mom and Grandma loved dinner. And they loved their cards. Mom hugged and kissed all of us (weird-- that's not her norm, but her brain is going and we never know what she'll  do anymore).

Tonight I feel compelled to write this. My mother made some really, really awful parenting mistakes. Two of her daughters nearly took their own lives because of those mistakes. I will never say she was a great mom-- she wasn't. In spite of that, she did some good things, too. I think my mom wanted to be better than she was. She was hampered by a horribly abusive, alcoholic father who delivered the blows that now cause her brain to slowly die. She lived daily with depression and felt shamed and guilty because she had no help as she waded through the darkness of each day.

But as I watch her care for my grandma, I remember that my mother took care of me when I was sick. She fought for me to be promoted to grade 8 when my own depression caused my attendance and grades to drop drastically in my first year of junior high. She came to every performance I played in-- and there were many. I am a musician, after all. In her own way, perhaps in the only way she knew, she did what she could in spite of her own mental and emotional distress.

There are days when I become caught up in the misery of my childhood. I feel sorry for myself. I wish better things for the child who was me. But I can no longer do so without wishing for a sweeter, less violent, more loving childhood for the little girl who was my mother. I cannot weep for myself without adding tears for her. And as I watch the tenderness she gives to my grandma, and I see my mother's need for tenderness, as well, I believe that I have the power to stop blaming-- to stop withholding love-- to allow the past to be what it is and create a present and future free of resentment and anger.

Every person's story is three-dimensional, and as my life intertwines with my mother's, who is to say where one victim ends and the other begins? At some point I must admit that we have both done our best in the life circumstances we were dealt. Sometimes our best was pretty awful. That's inevitable. But I believe my childhood was better than my mom's, and my children's were better than mine. Progress takes time.

It IS progress, though. I know this because this year Mother's Day brought no angst or frustration. I enjoyed the flowers and fun gifts from my husband and kids. I felt no need to incite guilt in the other adult residents of my home as I spent the morning loading the dishwasher and cleaning the kitchen. And for the first time in many years, I spent time with my mom because I wanted to. I provided service because she needed it and I love her, which proves that even the oldest, most stubborn dogs really can learn new tricks.

And now, once again, I'm hanging the "Closed" sign on this blog. Feel free to visit me at my other one where I don't talk about this kind of stuff, but I still talk about the things of life that alternately delight and frustrate me. Or don't. I've heard that blogging is dead. :)


  1. I wish I knew where your other blog was located. I don't know you in real life but I have loved the authenticity of your journey here and I would love to continue to hear your story as it continues elsewhere. If you could post it or email it to me, that would be great. Thanks!

    1. JennVann, when I click on your name it give me no information about your email address. If you can give me your address, I'm happy to send the blog info. :)