“If you want to understand any woman you must first ask about her mother and then listen carefully. Stories about food show a strong connection. Wistful silences demonstrate unfinished business. The more a daughter knows about the details of her mother’s life – without flinching or whining – the stronger the daughter.”
~The Red Tent
Shaking off the dust and finally sitting down to write. We have all had so much thrown our way this year. So many BIG things. Traumatic and life changing. Curve ball after curve ball. I kept thinking, I need to write, and then I would think, what on earth could I possibly say. Everything feels so inconsequential compared to all that is happening in the world. But, I turned forty last week, and that does not feel inconsequential. Not to me. It feels big.
One of the most vivid memories from my childhood is a surprise birthday party. Held in the midst of my parent’s separation, thrown by my dad, for my mom. She was turning forty. I remember being there. So many of their friends. Family. Black balloons and streamers. I remember seeing my mom’s face when she walked through the door. I remember feeling hopeful.
My world had been turned upside down by their separation. Dad went from living with us to renting an apartment. From leaving things to mom to do, to having to be the tooth fairy and wondering what to do with my hair before school. Mom went from her stay at home mom gig to job hunting. From baking cookies and hosting Tupperware parties, to getting her business suits back out and brushing up her resume. We shuffled back and forth between being home with mom, staying at dad’s apartment and staying with friends if dad was flying and mom was interviewing.
My naive, child’s heart thought that party would solve everything. It was a grand gesture that surely would fix all the mountains of stuff that can inflict damage on a marriage. It didn’t fix a thing. Within a few shorts months they were divorced and we had moved four hours away for my mom’s new job. In the 80’s, before social media and when long distance calls weren’t cheap, it might as well have been Australia. They were both remarried within a year.
I had never felt displaced before in all my life. I had lived a comfy, cozy existence, surrounded by family and friends. Weekends on the farm with cousins and vacations with friends. It was the first time in my life, at eight years old, that I felt scared and lost. So. Very. Lost.
I remember asking my mom, why. Why did you divorce Dad? Why did you move us away? Why did you marry THAT man? Why. Why. Why. I carried so much resentment and hurt and anger at her for way too many years. She would always answer with “one day you’ll understand.”
One day, is finally here. I am forty and she’s been gone nearly thirteen years now. In that time, I have had to face my own feelings of regret. I have grown up. I am no longer the selfish and self righteous twenty-something that struggled with that often complicated and tenuous mother-daughter relationship.
I am no longer the woman who flinches when talking about my childhood and the trauma I suffered. I am no longer the woman who whines when talking about my mom. I DO understand, to the best of my ability, all of those why’s, just like she said I would.
At forty, I can see clearly, oh so clearly, that girl, that smart and strong-willed girl who grew up in a town she was too big for. Who needed to blaze a trail as much as she needed her next breath. Who felt stifled and suffocated being that wife and mother that was suppose to cook and clean and do all of the things women were suppose to do.
I now can see a woman who was vulnerable and preyed on by an evil man. She always said he was sick. Maybe he was, but there was also a darkness in him that I felt to my core when he would look at me. I can see a woman who fought, sometimes silently and behind the scenes to safely get us out of that mess. A woman who rose from the ashes. I can see a woman who was filled with regret that some of her life choices hurt us. I can see a woman who understood that her daughter might never understand any of that until she was gone.
It’s my birthday every year that I miss her most. I wish she were here so that I could say, hey Mama, I get it. I can’t say I would have made the same decisions, but then again, I was never in those same shoes.
I wish I could say, hey Mama, I know you did your best. I know you couldn’t have possibly known how it would all turn out and that really, so many times you were such a fierce and powerful force to be reckoned with that I stood in awe of you.
I wish I could say, hey Mama, I forgive you. I hope you forgive me. I wish I could say, hey Mama, I know you always loved me, and even if at times the water was so murky it was hard to see, I hope you always knew I loved you too. Always will. I wish I could say, hey Mama, I wish you were here.
I didn’t get a surprise party for my 40th birthday. Thank. God. Instead, I got lunch with some of my favorite people. Dinner with some more of my favorite people. Tiramisu, shipped from a bakery in New York, because my husband is amazing like that. And, unlike my mom, who at forty was internally struggling with so much, I am good. Even in the midst of a pandemic, in a year that is straight up BANANAS, I. Am. Good. I think she would be proud of the woman I have become. She would be just as proud I am now using eye cream, a retinoid and higher end shampoo.
Here’s to letting go. To being a work in progress. To loving more and judging less. To being still and breathing. To praising Jesus for every day, good or bad. Here’s to forty and God willing, forty more.
As always, thanks for reading.