Loving the not-so-lovable mother

Holidays drive a lot of us nuts.

Or at least I want to

Or at least I want to

The fantasy of the happy family around the table at Thanksgiving, the joyful family at Christmas (or whatever winter holiday you celebrate), the loving couple on Valentine’s day. Gaaak! For many of us–maybe most of us–these lovey-dovey holidays just make us feel less loved and less lovable.

Especially Mothers Day. For those of us who were not exactly the apple of our mothers’ eyes, the greeting card image of the devoted mother and child makes us wince. Yesterday I watched the adorable video of Kelly Corrigan’s mom rearranging Kelly’s books in her local Borders so no one can miss them. Kelly said, “That’s what mothers do.” I thought, “Oh yeah? Not my mother!”

I had a prize-winning mother. She scared the bejesus out of all my friends, especially boys. They would cower in the doorway feeling her frosty judgement from twenty feet away. They couldn’t get “Good night, Mrs Conner,” out fast enough.

But here I am approaching another Mothers Day feeling love–and nothing but love. Mind you, not because of anything my mother said. Not because of a deathbed declaration of devotion. (Never got that.) Not because of anything my mother did. I stand in a pool of love because of something I did.

When my mother began her death march through dementia, I picked up a pen and had the first of many long, intense, soulful conversations with the Voice about Laurene and about our feet-on-broken-glass relationship. I laid our story out on the page, episode after episode, wound after wound, slight after slight, asking hard questions as I went. One of the richest was “What gifts did I receive from my mother?”

Well, ask and ye shall receive, right? The page filled with an array of precious gifts from relentless focus (I can sit at the computer till midnight), to reliance on prayer (don’t get me started, I love prayer in all its forms), to the image of a woman as a writer. Although, I didn’t agree with a single word my mother wrote. (Her obsession was saving the Catholic Church from the evils of all that wasn’t orthodox. She even reviewed papal encyclicals for how well they toed the line.) But at seven, I watched her chain smoke and pound the typewriter, and that image of “woman as writer” (without the cigarettes, thank god!) cemented itself into a possibility–and eventually a reality–for me. And for this, I am eternally grateful.

So, if this Sunday, Mothers Day, is not your idea of a delightful holiday, if you shake your head when you think of your mother, if you dread the thought of another brunch of cold food and artificial smiles, tell the Voice. Tell the Voice in full-throated cry and three-dimensional color, but then, ask. Ask the hard questions. Ask the painful questions. And at some point, ask: “What gifts did I receive from my mother?”

Then, write fast. So fast that you can’t read what’s coming out. Let the words flow on their own. The gifts will cascade onto the page, even–or especially–the “bad” ones. From this rich soil, you grew. Perhaps, you had to grow yourself, but you grew.

And that, is your soul’s true story. You simply could not be who you are, where you are, and headed in the direction you’re headed without that wacky, cold, judgemental (pick an adjective!) woman. So, say Thank You!

For me, I say, Happy Mothers Day, Laurene! And thank you for your many, many gifts.

Want more? Here are two of the UPI columns I wrote about the gifts from my mother. If you want the whole series, send me an email at janet@writingdownyoursoul.com.

Your best birthday gift, unwrapped
Oh no, we really are one!

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