The woman I refer to as my mother did not give birth to me. The person who gave birth to me, though I spent a very short part of my life with her did not mother me; thus, when I say and think “mother” it is for the woman who tried to adapt me, as I adapted her (that’s not a typo).
My maternal grandmother died when my mother was six years old. As such she was raised by her father and five brothers. Four older and one younger. Six over protective men and one female in the semi-rural south. I imagine it was not fun. Still, my mother grew up to be petite, willowy with naturally long, easy to manage haired, prim and proper and a neat freak. Regrettably (for her), we were soon to figure out I was head and tails my paternal grandmother’s child. The little girl she chose to adapt was a tall, big-boned, thick, nappy-haired, rough and tumble tomboy. From the word go it was struggle.
I tried to be the good daughter, as most daughters, do. Did we love each other – of course. We had our good days, but by the time I was in my mid teens my house was at war. The essence of the problem between my father and I was one thing. If you’ve read some of my poetry, some of the story is there. I’m not rehashing it here. The essence of problem between my mother and I was that she never understood why I wasn’t grateful to have a mother and simply be obedient and everything a mother would want because after all she hadn’t had one and if she had, that was the kind of daughter she would have been. I never understood, even before I was old enough to put it into words, why she could never understand that “I” was not her. Regrettably, it took my mother becoming fatally ill before things would change between us. Systemic sclerosis is a slow, but inevitably fatal bitch at its best and my mother was struck with the worst kind that took her away in a few short years. It was only in those last the last few years of her life that we became friends. Before she became so ill that she spent most of her remaining days in ICU, it was the closest to having a true loving mother-daughter relationship we had come.
In the interim, I met the man who would become my late-husband and in turn met his extended family. Family that was chosen by heart, if not technically by blood, but cousins nonetheless. I met one set of cousins in particular led by the family matriarch. Trust me, there is no other word that suits her. Still, upon getting to know her and seeing her relationship with her children, and they with her, and the extended family from there, I finally knew what that could feel like. I won’t lie, a part of me was a little envious at first, but you can’t feel envy when pulled into that much love. I told her secrets I had not told my own mother and was there with my cousins of heart when she finally went Home. I was blessed to have her in my life if for nothing but finally having that gift of Mother.
When I was young, I used to ask about the woman who gave birth to me. The subject was quickly changed, or I was suddenly punished for something. I learned without being told, I was never allowed to ask questions about her as a child, but I knew she existed. I had memories of her. When I was old enough to know to ask without caring about potential penalty, the one person who would have told me (my –skipped a couple of generations twin– paternal grandmother), was no longer around. By my early teens I had decided, if I knew she existed, she in turn, had to know I did. If she were dead, I would have been told such. That I never saw her again was either because she could not get to me or did not want to. The latter option made no sense to me as even before I had children, I could not imagine a scenario other that death in which I would not be a presence at least in their young lives, so it had to be the first option. By then and I was simply too busy living my own life to give much thought on what happened to hers. And now, if she was/is alive and wanted to find me, I am so removed from my roots, it is a moot point.
But every now and then around Mother’s Day, this year being one of them, I think of all three mothers:The one I never knew, the one I got to know almost too late and the one by knowing gave me a little understanding on the other two.
Happy Mother’s Day Ladies.