Happy Mothers Day to all who are mothers, step-mothers, mothers to furry or feathered “children,” surrogate or substitute mothers, caregivers, aunts, grandmothers–any woman who plays a nurturing role in the life of someone in need. You are my heroes.
Mothers Day has not been easy for me for several years. My daughter never called or sent a card or eCard in all the years she lived away from me. For whatever reason, she felt that it was my duty to call her on all holidays, and she never felt the necessity of calling or sending a card on my birthday or on Mothers Day. About two years ago, I felt it was no longer my responsibility to call my daughter on my day. I used to send her flowers for the sole reason that she was the original reason for my becoming a mother to begin with; then I sent her flowers because she was a mother herself. This year, I stopped.
For the past two or three years, my son has not bothered to call on any occasion, either. Whether it was because he was too busy with whatever was going on in his life, or because he had stopped caring, I don’t know. I understand why he would not call this year–his wife and I had somewhat of a falling out after I visited them last year, and she had offered to help me rebuild my professional web site. I think that she had erred and accidentally taken it down; then didn’t want to admit that she had done that and didn’t know how to fix it. Since she is a professional in the web building area, apparently, and had me purchase a new site for her to do her development work, it never dawned on me that she would ruin the existing site before building the new one on the “development” site. But that was an assumption I had made from the ten years I had spent as a programmer analyst on large main-frame computers for some pretty impressive East Coast-based companies. No site ever replaced whatever the executives were currently using until the new site was ready to deploy, with all possible known bugs shaken out. That’s not what young developers are doing, apparently. For them, the site gets taken down and then is replaced–when she gets around to it–with the improved version that is worked up on the development site. That she never told me about her mistake speaks volumes; that she decided to stop work on the site even after wrecking it speaks louder. It took me several months to discover that the site had been destroyed, but I was lucky enough to be able to have GoDaddy, where the site is housed, recover it. But that’s not what started the “fight” between us. It started with another habit young people have gotten into–not reading carefully. She thought I was insulting my son, whom I loved as much as life itself, when I was praising him. Only she never got to the next phrase in the sentence and went what used to called “ape-shit” on me on Facebook. And the tragedy is that, had she read to the end of the sentence, she would have known that I was complimenting my son, not tearing him down. For reasons I won’t go into, I know that she made my son stop following me on Facebook, not to take any of my phone calls to him, and–bottom line–caused an estrangement not only between her and me, but also between my son and me. The funny thing is that although he hadn’t called on my birthdays or Mothers Day for the past several years, he was at least returning my calls when I left him messages. So it was merely one small step to stop returning calls and ignoring texts and emails.
Although I continue to love my daughter very much, our estrangement began when she was either eleven or twelve. For the first time ever, I slapped her across the face for something really nasty that came out of her mouth. She slapped me back harder. I was completely flummoxed and unable to respond. This occurred at my parents’ house where we were living at the time. My mother, who was standing behind me at the time, was–for probably the first time in her life–stunned into silence. It was she who broke the silence among us by saying to me something along the lines of, “Aren’t you going to do anything about that?” It seems a bit strange to me that, although I can picture the exact scene perfectly as though it happened a moment ago–my son at the railing of the top step to the lower level of the “split level” staircase to my right, my mother behind me, my daughter one step above me on the rest of the staircase at the edge of the living room, with the kitchen doorway (no door, just a portion of wall delineating the it from the living room area); the walls a pale green that my mother was especially fond of even if it was too close to the institutional green of my elementary school and junior high, the thick dark green carpet of the living room and lower stairs, the wood of the stairs moving to the bedroom level–I cannot remember any of the words, not even the reason for the initial slap by me. My daughter has always had a mouth on her, so there was nothing unique about what she said that brought on my slap, or I would have remembered it, I’m sure. I remember my mother making a comment that I paraphrased above. I remember my son staring at the scene in total disbelief. I remember that my daughter had her eyes locked on me with a raging fire and the stubbornness that was worse than the combination of her father, me, and her brother all put together. I remember no longer being angry or hurt by her physical response. I also remember that this event marked the end of my relationship with my daughter. There was no guilt in her eyes or face. There was no sense that there was then or has since been any remorse for the action. I remember that my anger ceased, but the relationship of mother and daughter tore irreparably. And so, when she did not initiate calls on my birthday, Mothers Day, or any other holiday such as Christmas, it was no big surprise to me.
A few years later, my second husband and I were married and, because my job seemed more portable at the time than his, my son and I moved to Northern California. Amy, thinking she was still in control with that two-year-old slap, thought she could force me to stay in New Jersey by refusing to come with us, and stating her desire to live with her father. She was thirteen at the time, so no judge in either state would have forced her to move with me. I didn’t have the money to go to court anyway, so I simply agreed. I didn’t put up an argument, but told her clearly that she was welcome to change her mind and come with us. Her response to my refusal to be blackmailed by her left her angrier still. During the entire interim period between slap and statement that she would move in with her father, not a single word of apology for slapping her mother ever came from her lips. Not a single action indicated any confusion or remorse. In fact, she had become so haughty about what she believed to be her upperhandedness probably caught her off guard when I simply wished her well in leaving the household.
My son knew how I felt. He missed his sister very much, and knew that I had been badly hurt by the incident two years earlier. At the age of 10, he had more compassion than most people his age, especially boys. I don’t know to this day which of us was hurt more by her decision. I believe he never talked to her about it, just as I had been unable to say a word. For the first time in my life, I had felt a depression that I knew would last for a very long time. And when we moved to California and I realized that my husband was married to his job and not to me or family, it just made things worse.
Perhaps that’s why my son has chosen to stop communicating with me. It may have been something that was coming anyway for many years. When I visited them last year–when they married each other for the second time–I rejoiced that he was happy. He was saddened by the fact that I was in the process of terminating the marriage in which he grew up, but offered me a place to live if I needed it. When I returned home to the island, my husband and I reconciled. He would never change–he would always be married to his job–but that was less of a problem for me when I came home.
After finally leaving my son’s home without information that I had been waiting for from my daughter, I spent about a week and a half with her until she basically threw me out. She made accusations that were untrue and based on her own biased perceptions; I found that I could not stay under her roof before my flight left in a few days. I was going to stay in a hotel, but my sister opened her home to me for those last few days.
That was another mistake. My sister is almost twelve years younger than I am, and my mother lives with them. I was surprised when I first saw my brother-in-law along for a few minutes that the first words out of his mouth was that my mother had no money. I don’t care about whether or not my mother has any money. I don’t care if she provided them with funds to purchase a house that they quickly found themselves unable to afford. I don’t are that it is my son-in-law who basically deals with my mother, and that my sister feels free to do perfectly well with as little interaction with her as possible. They were able to provide her with a home when she needed it, after selling her house, losing a great deal of her pension and house sale invested profits in the financial bubble that halved my IRA which never recovered. My mother and I were never as close as we should have been. When my sister was born, my mother literally pushed me away and “gave” me to my father as his responsibility so long as I did everything her way. My mother has been extremely depressed since I’ve known her. I remember the severe spanking I received when I was about seven or eight and “played” with her light green and dark green capsules from her doctor–what I much later learned was some sort of sedative that helped her get through her days and her life. So while my father, who worked the second shift and was only around on weekends, drank himself into stupors each weekend, my mother happily subsisted on pills that, when she stopped taking them after I graduated from college, made her into a character worse than Kate in Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, I went off and married the first person who showed me any kindness and love. My mother favored my sister but played the mother game of getting me to my high school All-County Orchestra recitals. She hated the idea of opening her home to me not once but twice after I divorced my first husband–in between, I bought a small house just outside of Trenton, New Jersey, which I found I could not continue to afford when the children’s father refused to reveal his true income in court and paid the absolute minimum for child support. It was my father who over-ruled her, especially the second time. He loved my sister very much–she was his daughter–but he didn’t know her as well as he knew me because my mother so jealously guarded her influence over my sister. I was forced to rent out the house and move back in with them, even when both children begged me not to because they feared my mother so much. And I was blind to her negativity toward both of them when I was at work. They never explained, just didn’t want to go back. Yet my daughter was already turning into the princess her paternal grandparents made her into. And she could not manipulate my mother the way she could her other grandmother.
It was years after I was married to Joe that my son, Josh, explained the situation with my mother to me. I was stunned. But no matter what, she was my mother, and I was raised by my father to love her above all other women. That their own marriage was tragic was something I had learned when I was very young–maybe five or six years old. It seems to me that Josh knew my marriage was in trouble long before my visit last summer. He knew it while he was too young to do anything about it, and, I think, ran away in his mind to a better place. I think he blamed the marriage problems on me–I had expectations of a partner that I still do not believe are unrealistic. But Joe, who ran away in his own mind at a very young age from his own family and didn’t even know his mother’s birthday when we married, would forever be like Sheldon in The Big Bang Theory, and I would forever be closer to the Bernadette character than to the Amy or Penny characters. Josh saw the negatives and had no control, but then neither did I, except to leave. And by the time that realization came to me, my father had died and I had no place to leave to.
My son was completely surprised when Joe and I reconciled when I returned home to the island. Maybe that was part of the reason he stopped all communication. Or maybe he simply believed what his wife had said and decided to distance himself completely. The fact is, I don’t know, will never know, and no longer care what the difficulties are with my children. I have tried to reach out to both of them many times, and finally gave up. My New Year’s resolution was to stop caring. This was after four months of severe illness that neither my children nor my sister cared about. That all of them call themselves very Christian or very devout in their Christian faiths has made me realize just how few real people in this world live with a sense of morality that deserves to call themselves followers of Christ or Gandhi or Confucius or any other person who embraced people for who they are and not for what they could give them. The ability to quote the Bible or the Koran or whatever religious books are holy to one’s faith does not make a person good, bad, or indifferent. It is how one lives one’s life that matters. I have many friends who feel the way I feel, both back in the States and here on the island. I love them more than I can express. They can give me nothing but a shoulder or a reminder of my own way in the world. But they are there for me in ways that my family can never be.
So my children ignore their own mother on Mothers Day. They do the same on my birthday, at Christmas and New Year’s, and at any other family time. I have one granddaughter who has not excommunicated me from her Facebook friends list, but probably should, as that final argument with my daughter involved her in ways that were not meant to be. My daughter is an angry woman. My son is gone for reasons unknown. It no longer matters to me, as I continue my life in a manner than is best for me. Although my husband–who cannot be bothered to wear his hearing aids at home–and is very opinionated on far too many things argues with me over every little detail of our lives together, I’ve grown to understand a lot about him over the years. He does not understand why the pets protect me and not him, hang out around me when I am home more than with him, actually come when I call–even the cat!–and retire with me when I begin to fall asleep, or stay downstairs with me during my sleepless nights instead of going up to the bedroom with him. He doesn’t understand why I am much more tolerant of island life than he can possibly be–yes, I would love for life here to be more as it is back home, but this is a different culture and requires a different level of understanding than he can manage. But he also does not understand how he is directly responsible for many of my ailments, that my right thumb has weakened my hand because he was responsible for tearing my tendon, that I cannot find work because I was unable to find any with the doctoral degree that he forced upon me because he would not “allow” me to live away from him for two years to get the degree that would have guaranteed me work no matter where I moved…
On this Mothers Day, I can claim an independence that my husband has balked at for the past year. I have learned to completely ignore him when he has his hissy fits and have learned to either out-wait his adult versions of sticking his fingers in his ears and screaming, “La la la la la. I can’t hear you!” I don’t care enough about his behaviors to pay him much heed. I merely wait for him to become silent and tell him how his behavior is childish. He argues but I stop listening–without putting my fingers in my ears literally or figuratively. I manage whatever money I can to the best of my ability, to take back what he owes me and to save for the future.
On this Mothers Day, I also claim my independence from children who prefer their father to me, and that’s OK. They complain bitterly to me about their step-mother, but it is their father–who has more financial resources and living accommodations to share with them than I can hope to have in this marriage–to whom they turn for everything they need that is beyond their means or when they are at the end of their ropes. It is unfortunate that the grandchildren have been lost to me, too. But that’s the way my children operate. I at least get photographs of my son’s natural sons from their mother, so I can keep up with what they are doing. On occasion, my daughter’s elder daughter “allows” a post to come my way on Facebook, and she is growing into a fine young woman. But as of today–more like as of last summer–communication with grandchildren has also come to an end, for the most part. I spent the past year reconciling myself to this situation and can honestly say that I’m OK with all of it. I have learned to breathe. I have learned to do those things that I find beneficial to me. I have started writing more, taking drawing lessons, involving myself in a business that I probably won’t do well in but that should provide me with enough business sense to try something new. I take the time to see friends on the island. I take time to call people I haven’t seen for a while, or at least communicate with them privately through Messenger or private chats on Facebook. I am not completely alone. And if I die before my children talk to me, it is not I who will care. I have made efforts at reconciliation between last summer and this past week, all of which have been rebuffed. I won’t be the one wishing when I am in my sixties that I could talk to my mother, because I did so earlier today and do so at least once a month, despite the fact that she has hurt me in ways that my children will never begin to understand. She is still my mother, and no matter what she has done or not done for me in the past, she gave me life and deserves my respect and gratitude for at least that. When she finally dies, I will not be wishing I had had one final opportunity to tell her I love her for what she was capable of giving. I took the time to visit my father months before he died because he had a condition that would take him any time without warning. We said our good-byes at the time, and I had closure. My monthly call to my mother–who will probably outlive me anyway–allows me to have that same sense of closure. My children won’t have that, and I do not envy them.
In two hours, we are meeting two other women at a local restaurant to celebrate Mothers Day. Today does not go uncelebrated by me. I will soon pick up the telephone and all my sister-in-law, who, although younger than her brother, has taken on the role of his mother. I will wish her a happy Mothers Day for that and for the gift of her daughter, my niece, who was raised to respect her absent-minded uncle and crazy aunt, as well as her various paternal relatives. I’ve sent personal Mothers Day greetings to women who are mothers, and who are my friends. I have a few more to send out, but not many. I can get all that done before our outing at a restaurant next door at the casino. Island life. I celebrate it as much as I celebrate today…
Happy Mothers Day to all the loving women in my life.