I've always hated Mother's Day. My brother hated it, too. You'd need to know our mother to understand that, but since she died in August of '92, you'll have to trust me on this one.

How can I describe my mom? I'll try to be objective, but caveat lector I believe is the appropriate warning. My mom was vivacious and fun-loving, materialistic, generous, religious, attractive, obsessively neat, fearful, and madly insecure. She was of high average intelligence, and while she dearly loved to laugh, she wasn't good at being humorous herself. She wasn't big on reading, preferring instead to work on various crafts, but she would occasionally become extremely interested in a subject and have to track down everything she could get her hands on about it. Dracula and the Mormons are two topics that come immediately to mind. My brother and I were always amused by the extremes that would attract her attention.

She'd had a tough childhood; she was the youngest of my grandmother's four children by her first husband. When her parents divorced, neither one wanted my mother, so she was placed in an orphanage. A wealthy woman came along and wanted to adopt her, at which point my grandmother took her back into the fold. All of her life, my mom was the whipping boy, the goat, the easy eternal target of her mother's venom. My grandmother went on (quickly) to marry another man, a German immigrant, and they had three more children. For their entire lives, the two sets of kids were randomly pitted against each other; there was always a clear demarcation between the S kids (my mom and her sibs) and the P kids (my mom's half brother and sisters.) All of the kids got slapped around - my mother recalled the offense of referring to her mother as "she," the punishment for which was to be hit so hard across the face by her step-father that she went flying across the room and bounced off the far wall.

I used to think that my grandmother was insane; when I became an adult I realized that she was simply evil. I never gave my grandfather much thought at all. We didn't really see much of them, because my mother was frequently banished from the family. No reason was given - my grandmother would take offense at something apparent only to her and the edict went out: Edith was banned. If you had anything to do with her, you'd be banned, too. Like abused children everywhere, the kids always chose their mother over their sister. Then after a couple years, just as suddenly, we'd be welcomed back to the family bosom. And my mother would always go. Always.


My godmother, Verna - one of my mother's older sisters - was the only one who ever stood up to the harridan. She was banned, and she moved away from the family, settling in the mid-West. (I suspect, though, that the opposite was how it happened: she moved away from her mother's grasp and for that offense she was banned.) I loved my aunt dearly. I was closer to her than I was to my mother - we shared more of the same temperment and intellectual curiousity: she traveled around, she wanted to try everything, she stood up for herself. She didn't come back into my life until I was twelve, but we became very close very quickly. One day - I was seventeen - she collapsed in her kitchen, and when she was rushed into surgery the doctors opened her up, took a brief look, and closed her back up again. The cancer was everywhere. I stayed with her after school to care for her; I was there when she died. During the year it took her to die, the only one who came to her aid was my mother. The ban was still in effect for these two Magdalens, you see. On the day my aunt died, my grandmother swooped into the hospital and over to my aunt's bedside. She held her, and then later crowed about how her daughter died in her arms.

In spite of all this, my mother never gave up on wanting her mother's love and attention. Near the end of her own life, but before she, too, was diagnosed with cancer, my mom reconciled with her mother once again. My grandmother was looking for someone to take care of her now that she and her husband were old and frail. To the shared horror of my brother and me, my mother and her husband (my parents had divorced a decade earlier) sold all their possessions and moved into my grandmother's small house. We couldn't talk her out of it; we couldn't even get her to agree to put her things in storage. She was convinced that this was it - her mother finally needed her, finally truly loved her. In a matter of a few months my grandmother was accusing her of theft and of trying to kill her. She threw her out. Again. This time she had to start from scratch. She was 69.

The next year my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer. She died eight months after the diagnosis. During those eight months I wasn't able to be there emotionally for her the way my brother could - hold her hand, rub her back - but I was the one with whom she could talk about dying. We planned her funeral: what music, what she wanted to wear, who got what of her few possessions. I took care of setting up hospice care, and when the time came, I was the one who placed her in the hospice to die. I lived in a different state; after I saw that she was settled into the hospice unit I went home for just the one night to pick up some clothes and check on my mail. I got a call about 1:30 AM that she was dead.

In those last few days when she was between life and death, she talked aloud. Always, she talked to my aunt, dead now for years. And always she called to her mother. I don't believe that she even knew I was there.

So - Mother's Day. My mom had a warped view of motherhood, as you can imagine. In her mind she was doing everything differently from her mother, and to be fair, she did try. She would hit us for punishment, but she proudly declared that it would never be across the face and never with anything other than her hand. And she was true to her word. She needed to know that we were devoted to her, but her insistence on it made it almost impossible for us to fulfill her needs. It was worse for me than it was for my brother: I was the oldest and I was the daughter. I was going to be proof of how a perfect mother/daughter relationship would work. Of course, it was a disaster. My mother honestly had no concept of me as a separate person - an entity apart from her. Somedays I was her friend and confidante, somedays her whipping boy, but always an extension of her wants and needs. And always expendable. My mother loved me, don't get me wrong - but her survivor instincts were so lethally honed from her relationship with her own mother, that when it came down to a choice between her own needs and mine - hers won. Her own sense of peace and mine, hers won. She never admitted to being wrong, never apologized. It was a hard lesson to learn that the one person who is supposed to be there for you - won't.

Mother's Day was a trial, doomed to failure. Our mom would never tell us what she wanted - we were supposed to know. She'd set some bar in her mind of what this day should be like for her, and we were supposed to match it based on our love for her and our instinct of what mattered to her. It was nuts, and almost always we'd miss the mark. There was an ever present air of tension about the day, my brother and I trading nervous glances, trying to measure how we were doing, my mom seeming a bit on edge, smiling tentatively, waiting for the crash of her dream day as it shattered against the reality of what we'd provided. As the day played out and the proof of our dismal understanding of her became more apparent, the smile would become a look of disappointment. At the end, she'd turn her cheek coldly for a kiss.

I hate Mother's Day. After all these years, I still hate Mother's Day.

Written 05/11/03

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