Mother’s Day is hard on us who did not have mothers or who had mothers who were difficult to love. Everyone has a mother but not everyone wants to or knows how to celebrate her and this holiday is a stark reminder of just how difficult our mothers are.
My parents divorced when I was two and my sister and I were sent to live with our dad’s mother. Grandma was tough but she was also more love than most people are lucky enough to ever have. She was great but she has also been gone for over 30 years. It has taken me almost that long to be able to say “I love my mother” and mean it.
This is mother of mine is the woman who pulled my hair so severely I can barely handle other people touching it. She is the person who on the days between visitations would cut my goldfish in half and leave them rotting in the bowl for me to discover. She is the woman who planned and executed our kidnapping causing our father to kidnap us from her and hide us in the mountains until things cooled down with the courts and with grandma. Experiencing those things as a child left their marks.
Now I am an adult she does not make loving her any easier. When I am sad, lonely, or scared I would love to pick up the phone and hear comfort on the other end. Usually what I hear is her latest delusion about how her neighbors sneak into her house to steal her food or how she suspects my high school boyfriend of stealing all the pictures she had of me. “Yes mom,” and “Uh huh, mom,” drown the screams of my heart.
For the boyfriend delusion, I just happened to be video chatting with him at the very moment she called to tell me her suspicion about him. As he could hear me talking to her, his reactions almost had me laughing when I wanted to cry. In a way, I was grateful for the synchronicity of the moment because some of the things she has done are so hard to believe and even harder to share.
So Mother’s Day is hard.
Most of my life I have stood in the card aisle dazed, confused and sometimes even in tears in the weeks preceding the day set aside to honor the woman who gave me life. As I read cards the anger and pain wells. By any traditional yardstick, my mother is not the “best,” “greatest,” or “most wonderful.”
I am all about living positively but when it comes to my mom all of that can and does come unglued in fairly short order. About 10 years ago, I realized I needed to come to terms with the mother I was given and the mother I want are never going to be the same person. To help me heal, I decided to look for all the moments she expressed her love—not the love I wanted—the love she could and did offer.
They may be just glimpses and shadows of the moms the card makers celebrate but in her own way, for what she could give, I know my mom loved and loves me.
Way back into my early childhood memories there is a huge book on her coffee table. I was both intimidated and fascinated by the enormity of this volume. However, I remember a primal yearning to consume all the words it contained. Thus began my lifelong obsession with The Complete Works of William Shakespeare. In a roundabout way, my quest to learn those words leads me to my writer’s life now.
Even though she was never the mom I felt I needed as I became a mother she was there for me. The oldest of my four children is almost 25 years old and she has never missed a single birthday no matter how much she has had to sacrifice to send a card with one of her famous “little checks” as she calls them. And, at times, it has been a great financial sacrifice.
She is the same woman who once lived on a single can of soup a day from the damaged goods store for two weeks to come spend the only Christmas she has ever spent with my four children. Even though she struggles with reality, I do not doubt this particular story one bit because it explains why she ate like she had never eaten while she was with us. She told me she would have felt humiliated to come with empty pockets and not be able to buy her grandchildren little treats. “What would they think of me?” she said as she shared her feelings with me.
That is some serious momma love. Guess what, no one makes a card for that kind of mother either.
I did not have a mom who baked me cookies afterschool or who stroked my hair reassuringly when I was upset. Those are things I wanted in part because too many Mother’s Day cards convinced me I should have had them. So I stopped putting normal expectations on my very un-normal mother.
The beautiful truth I learned from letting go of my pain: Mothers are not perfect because they have children. They are perfect because they love those children with a love no card can describe.
My mother absolutely defies description.
She may be crazy as hell but she is my mother. She taught me by very real example to love unconditionally.
Shopping for a card is still a struggle but she loves receiving cards and other surprises in the mail so I indulge her whenever I can.
Instead of feeling upset about Mother’s Day, I can now say I have a mother so unique there is no card to describe her—and I mean it in all the very best ways.
Tanya Lily-Reid is a writer, blogger, photographer, crafter and thriver. She lives with her husband, the love of her life, in Washington Utah.