This post has been on my mind for the better part of the year, nagging at me and throwing itself recklessly into my field of vision at the most unexpected moments in my journey through motherhood. It has been the topic I have dreading the most, as I have no idea how to write about it with any amount of humor. So, here it goes:
Being a mother when you don’t have a mom.
Remember that frail, lifeless person I described two years ago, right before she died of a drug-overdose? Remember how inconceivable it was to me how someone so intelligent, witty, beautiful and full of life could throw herself down a rabbit hole of addiction, never to fully resurface (at least in a form that we would recognize)? I still do not know how that happens to someone, only that is does, and I’m left wondering if maybe we aren’t all a few too many bad days away from a similar fate.
I never bothered to ask my mom about her life before kids. To be honest, I don’t think I ever imaged that she’d had one. She had always just been a mom, right? Walking around aimlessly until her children were born and gave her purpose? Her dreams revolved around her children, a clean house, a loving husband, didn’t they? Surely there was nothing more needed to fill your heart. Motherhood starts, the rest of your life stops. I took for granted that this was true. The thought that she may have had a whole life before I came into the picture never dawned on me.
The most I have heard about my mom’s pre-baby life has been from my grandparents and my dad, though he met her after she already had a child (that she had basically pawned off to his grandmother to raise) and by then she was back to being reckless: running drugs, breaking him out of a mental hospital. At one point she’d been arrested but because of a pregnancy, didn’t have to stay in jail. I had known my mom was a bit of a renegade, but by the time I was old enough to really SEE her, she was baking our cakes, making our costumes, cooking our food. How much she must have longed for freedom after having three babies in six years and settling down into married life. I imagined (then) that she was a mother hen, tending to her unruly brood.
I imagine now a wild and beautiful singing bird put into an ugly cage, stripped of her feathers and her voice.
There are so many things about motherhood, about the way I feel about Liv, that I wish I could talk to my mom about. I wish I could ask her how she felt when she first saw me, how it felt the first time she left me to go go out with friends (or did she ever?). I would ask her if she loved wrapping me up in her arms, how she dealt with how much I clung to her and if it broke her heart that I eventually (until her death) chose my dad to love over her?
That last line breaks my god-damned heart. My mom gave up everything she cared about (leaving dreams half-finished around the house–a sketch or puzzle here, an idea for a children’s book scrawled on the back of an envelope there) to raise me, and I turned my back to her at age six (her words, not my recollection) and chose my dad to be the keeper of my secrets and my best friend. I imagine it broke her heart, too. I know it would break my heart if Liv decided to do the same thing.
How do you be a mom without a mom to turn to? Questions about teething (here I imagine that her advice would involve alcohol for me OR the baby), about potty-training (I was out of diapers at a year), about breastfeeding (she even nursed my brother and I at the same time) or co-sleeping. My mom was the original attachment parent, but purely out of instinct.
There are nights where I know that the only person who has the true answers to my questions took them to her grave.
I hope that she knows how badly I need her and miss her and how truly grateful I am to have had her as a mom (before drugs came back into the picture). I wish she would have stuck around long enough to see me reach the realization that girls NEED their moms, as much as I argued against that point for the last 20 years. I wish I could ask her what SHE truly wanted out of her life, what HER dreams were and how I could help her achieve them. She would have and would have been an artist, but instead she traded in her endless creativity and ferocious wit for halloween costumes and grade-school art projects, the only writing she did was the angry letters she’d leave my dad because she didn’t feel like he loved her enough (in her defense and by his admission, he didn’t, he didn’t even know how). I spent so much time focusing on the fact that my mother had made so many terrible mistakes as I entered adolescence that I never realized how, up until that point, she had nearly been a super-mom. Looking back, I do not know how she didn’t fall apart sooner.
I wish I could introduce her to Liv, especially since she looks so much like me as a baby…. would it jog her memory? Bring her back to a time when she was happier and when her children were enough for her?
I wish most of all that I would have been smart enough the last time I saw her to hold her tight and tell her that she had been enough, just as she was. That being a mother was enough, because she had been one of the best.
But because until I had a child of my own and temporarily put my dreams on hold to try my hardest to raise her, I didn’t actually know that it was the truth.