I’ve been experiencing above average feelings of missing my mom the past week or so. I find it sits rather ill with me, this feeling of missing her. I had a…peculiar relationship with her to say the least…with an entire baggage carriage of unresolved issues accumulated over my lifetime. The thing I need to remind myself the most is that these bags would still be packed and loaded in the baggage carriage even if she was still living.
Mommie was not inclined to examine or converse any subject she found distasteful, which could include anything from how to apply eyeliner to why she sent me to live with my absentee dad when I was 15.
YBW always asks questions like, why didn’t you ask her about these things? I’m like, DUDE! What part of me saying she wouldn’t answer a direct question if it somehow displeased her did you not understand?
Oh did I ask questions…like when Thing 1 was in kindergarten and would come home to her mommy and baby sister every day as opposed to when I was in kindergarten and wore a key around my neck on a ribbon and came home to an empty house because I had no dad and a mom who worked fulltime to support my little brother and me.
So one day I said to her: You were really brave, that must have been really scary for you to be so far away at work when I was home by myself in kindergarten.
She replied: I did what I had to do.
Me: Was that hard for you?
Mommie: I had no choice.
Me: No, I guess you didn’t, but I can’t imagine Thing 1 coming home by herself in the middle of the day and not worrying about her. I’m not sure I could be that brave.
Mommie: I knew you were capable.
Me: But you didn’t worry, you weren’t scared for me?
Mommie: I had no choice. I knew you could handle it.
Me: Well, I think you were really brave.
Mommie: I didn’t have a choice.
(Notice anything interesting about this conversation? Like, oh I don’t know, it’s completely one sided?)
Or when I was 17, the time I got a call from a church mom whose little girl I babysat, she wondered if I was still willing to sit for her even though I lived so far away at my dad’s house now…at the end of the call, she asked me if I was excited for my mom… I replied, about what? Then she did that age old dance called the “hem-haw” and finally told me that my brother had stood up in church the week before to share a joy…the joy that his mom was to marry another church member. (I didn’t know the phrase WTF then…but I can assure you I experienced the sensation.)
So I called over Grandaddy’s (my former home) and got my brother on the phone: Anything interesting you want to share?
And for the second time that day I was treated to the “hem-haw” dance…until finally I said: E, I’m not mad just tell me what’s going on…I know what happened in church on Sunday.
He whispered: they made me swear not to tell you. Then out loud he said: Mommie just got home you want to talk to her?
His face must have told the story because she got on the phone: I wanted to tell you in person.
Me: But not before you let E tell the whole congregation. You can’t pick up the phone?
Mommie: I wanted to tell you in person.
Me: But you didn’t. Who are you even marrying?
Mommie told me and I was only vaguely aware of this human being…then she decided I should come over for that weekend and then I could meet him. And then she dropped the big bomb…she wanted me to be her maid of honor when they got married.
To her it was OK that I was in the dark, E knew…E was permitted to develop a relationship with this man…E was asked for his opinion and approval before she decided to say yes. E was to “give her away” to this man. But I was not even given the consideration of a phone call. (I suspect I sound petulant, I didn’t feel petulant or even slighted, I just didn’t understand.)
And the time I dared to ask the most important question…seeking the answer to the event that changed my entire life. (I asked this as an adult.)
Why did you send me to Daddy’s?
And she said: I thought you needed your father.
Me: The father who left me when I was five?
To which she said: NOTHING.
So I went on: What about Grandaddy? What about E? Did they have a say? Why didn’t you talk to me? Did you even talk to Daddy about it or did you just decree it? How do you just kick someone to the curb like that?
To which she said: NOTHING.
Me: Mommie, don’t you think I should finally be allowed to understand what happened?
Mommie: No. It’s over now so there’s no need to bring it up.
All I know is how it happened, after spending a week of so at my dad’s the summer after my freshman year, I called my mom and said, I’m ready to come home, will you get me on your way home from work?
All she said was: you’re not coming home.
She unceremoniously packed up by belongings in big black garbage bags and had them waiting on the front porch for me to pick up. I wasn’t even allowed to go into the house. I never got to hug my Grandaddy or E.
Daddy has since told me that she called him and said: if you don’t take her I’m sending her to a home.
There is a part of me that considers this could be the truth, but my dad has an affinity towards exaggeration so I’m not sure I’ll ever know.
My mom was sick for a long time before she told anyone. She was hospitalized for 18 days with pneumonia before she would “let” her husband call me to tell me they found cancerous cells in her lungs because “she didn’t want to tell me unless they knew what it was”. She died seventeen days later. Seventeen days.
I was able to go see her, to be with her for a few precious days between the two phone calls. I was shocked to see her so sick, it was the first time in my life that her body was not bigger than mine, the first time in my life that I held her and she didn’t hold me. The first time in my life I realized how stupid I’d been thinking things would always be one way and never considering they would be a completely different way. I was desperately clinging to my concept of myself as child even though I am a parent, thinking that 40 simply wasn’t old enough to not have a mom anymore.
I was blessed with that time with her, none of our baggage was unpacked but I got to love her in an entirely new way. I was blessed because she was still her, I made a snide remark and she shot me her ‘mom look’ the one that used to frighten me so, but this time I laughed and said, you don’t scare me, you’re dying and you’re still trying to scare me into submission. She intensified the look and I smiled, at her leaned over and kissed her emaciated face and said softly, OK, maybe you scared me a little. She nodded her head and made a little “hmph” noise. She was Mommie even though she was sick and frail and could hardly breathe she was that terrible, tyrannical admiral who was the irrefutable boss of us all. She told me to go home and be a mommy.
(Things 1 and 2 had three nights of play at school, and their dad was going to his Goddaughter’s wedding out of state, and even though Thing 1 could cook and drive, nobody was comfortable with them being home alone.)
When I left my Mommie, I knew it was for the last time and I hugged and kissed her and laid in her bed all snuggled up to her and I said: I’m going to come back next week but if you’re not here, that’s OK. You go where you need to go because you’ll always be my Mommie and I’ll always love you. (And that was when the tears finally came even though I’d promised myself I wouldn’t cry in front of her.)
She put her hand on my face and said: Don’t cry, baby.
I took a big breath and held it for a moment before I said: You go where you’re going and when you get there you tell my Grandaddy I miss him.
She smiled and nodded and for the last time she said: I love you, baby.
That was Tuesday, I was planning to go back down on Sunday after the show closed and the Things dad came back from the wedding, but I got the call at 8 that morning from her husband who was so broken up I almost didn’t understand him. I was all ready to get in the car and go when he requested he be able to be with her alone when she died. I respected their love and did as he asked. This is the one thing in my life I regret. I know now I should have been there when she died. Not really for her, though partly, but for myself. I needed to do that for both of us, but didn’t because I was trying to be kind to him.
The one thing that comforts me about those two phone calls is YBW. I was up here for the weekend when I got the first call, and though I left messages for Sundance and the Things dad, YBW was the first person I told live. I was here for a few hours before he got home and already in bed, when he got into be he hugged me and kissed my hair, and I said: my mom has cancer. I can’t talk about it right now but I had to say it out loud.
He held me close and let me fall asleep.
He was down there with me the weekend the second call came, he had come to see the play and we were just waking up when the phone rang. He was helpless and I was manic, but he was there and I will always remember the importance of that.
My “Mommie” baggage carriage will never be unloaded but I’ve parked it in a siding so I don’t have to haul it around with me every single day. Sometimes I allow myself to go into it and rifle through the bags, because there is good stuff packed in there along with the not so good.
I miss her because I want to tell her things only she will find amusing, like how Good Guys is closed and the building is up for lease…Sundance and I are the only ones left who understand the humor in that. I want to tell her things about the Things. I want to share how wonderful my life with YBW is…she never even met him.
My two year old friends at school always reassure each other that mommies and daddies ALWAYS come back when they’re suffering separation anxiety. I agree with them saying: yes, mommies always come back. But I always think: except mine. (Perhaps you’re never too old to experience separation anxiety.)
I’m much older than my mom was when her mother died and I’m older than my beloved sister-in-law was when hers died. I guess I really miss the idea of having a mom.
That concept of comfort a mom provides. It’s funny because I would experience moments of “I want my Mommie” when she was still living even though I knew full well she wouldn’t bring me any comfort.
She was critical and bitter and she was closed off and she fought for constant control, but she loved me. I’d stake anything on that. She loved me and I felt and continue to feel it. I didn’t know her, I surely don’t understand her…but I love her.
I have worked to show my girls who I am, so they never experience the same feelings about me that I have about her.
Thing 1 was probably her favorite of her three granddaughters. Thing 1 was her first grandbaby and I believe the most precious, she loved Thing 2 and my niece Thing D, but I’ve never thought she loved them the way she loved Thing 1. One day, years ago while riding in the car Thing 1 asked me a biblical question which I could partially answer, then I suggested she call Grandmommy and ask her. She did right there in the car, got the rest of her answer and when she hung up she said: Grandmommy is awesome. I’m sorry you don’t really like her.
I said: I love Grandmommy very much it’s just a complicated relationship. I don’t really know her very well so it feels kind of hard to like her. She doesn’t really comfort me like I hope a mommy would comfort her child which is hard, but I know she loves me and I love her.
Thing 1 was quiet for a moment and then she said: I’m sorry Grandmommy doesn’t comfort you Mommy, because I can’t imagine how awful it would be if you didn’t comfort me. You always make me feel better when anything is bad. You’re very good at comforting.
Then almost under her breath she said: Thing 2 and I are really lucky you’re our mommy.
I realize this has been kind of chaotic jumping all over the place but that’s how it goes when I think about my mom. The feelings of love are inexplicably linked to the feelings of pain and disappointment. I have worked to raise my girls in a more authentic environment…one where they see that I’m a real person I’m not a dictator, though I’ve held ultimate veto power, I’m a real woman who was a real girl who made mistakes and good choices and tried to learn from each. I’m flawed and that doesn’t matter because I’ve worked to be the best mom I can be, to give them the best of me but not keep the worst from them. I have been more intimate with them than my mom probably ever was with anyone in her life. They know me…at least I hope they do, I’ve tried to help them learn why and how I’m me. Perhaps they have baggage carriages labeled with my name, but they know we can unpack them together or they’ve been given the tools to unpack them by alone. Perhaps.
I’d like to miss my mom in a less painful way. I’d like to just miss her because I’m selfish and no longer have her in my life. But that isn’t how it is for me. I miss her for every opportunity we lost to become close, I miss her for every time she chose to “protect me” instead of trust me.
I miss her for all the silliness we experienced together, dancing to Elvis records when I was a tiny girl, the crazy ER doctor when I broke my fingers, the infamous road trip involving cows, changing clothes while driving, and Lucy Ricardo’s saxafifatronaphonovich, or the penis shaped popsicle mold she just had to have because she was amused by it.
I miss her for the moment she actually did comfort me, when she held me in her lap in the rocking chair when my beloved kitty of 16 years died.
I miss her for the relationship she didn’t let us have…and for the one we did have.
I’m indulging myself by feeling sad, by missing her.
She wouldn’t have the patience for this. She would yank me up and hiss in my ear: stop this! Be strong. Keep your head down and just go.
I fight the impulse to say those words to myself. I’ve learned I need to be talked to differently. I’ve learned it’s acceptable to indulge myself. I keep my emotions under constantly tight control because that’s what I was taught. But I asked why one time too many and learned only I could answer that.
So occasionally I indulge myself and open the baggage carriage and spend time unpacking…I let the tears come. I allow myself to feel every little thing I feel I accept these feelings and honor them. Then I pack everything back up in what I image are beautiful antique steamer trunks and gorgeous old traveling bags then lock the baggage carriage behind me and just go.
(It is not lost on me she would be horrified I’ve written all this, but she would enjoy the train carriage analogy and it makes me smile.)