Long Overdue

Dear Pat,

Today is my 16th Mother’s Day without you. To be fair, I have actually had 32 Mother’s Days without you, because you never let us celebrate them, did you? But here we are, as many Mother’s Days away from each other as we spent together.

I can’t begin to imagine what you are doing today. I think you’ll sit in your recliner, playing video games or watching TV. The last time I saw you, Al Gore hadn’t given us the internet yet and Nintendo had just recently released Tetris, which totally consumed you (and half of America.) I bet you are in Big-Pink-Puffy-Heart love with the internet now.

Today, I am taking my three children to see Iron Man. Do you know I have three children? I do, and they look a lot like you sometimes. They ask about you occasionally, and I have never known what to say to them to make them understand. I don’t think I ever will.

I find that it is easier most times to imagine that you are dead. I write these letters semi-annually, and I never have anywhere to send them. I mailed you that one 6 years ago, on the anniversary of our first decade apart, but since then you have moved from the only house I’d ever known as home, and I have no address for you now. I am left to write you these letters, knowing that you’ll never get them, and I secretly wish I had some tombstone to lay them in front of, some marker in a cold, forgotten yard that I could take them to, hand them off, and be done with this. It’s a heavier burden to bear than I’ll ever admit to anyone, this dragging you around with me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what I know about being a mother, a wife, a human, a woman; naturally my thoughts come back to you. You had 16 short years to pull and tug and mold and shape me, and I have to give you credit for packing a lifetime of lessons into what I know now was just a blink of an eye.

I learned things from you that I don’t know I would have learned without you, without having had you as a mother specifically. I think about my oldest son, and how he wants to learn everything. He wants flute lessons and saxophone lessons and hockey lessons and science camp in the summer. You taught me that a child like that, like I was, will learn no matter how much you ignore their requests. They will find a way. Because of you, I almost never say no to him when it comes to learning. I’ll do whatever I have to do to get him the coach or the tutor or the equipment. I learned how to say no from you, but more importantly I learned that sometimes, it’s really important to not say no after all.

I watch my middle son testing everything in his path, pushing his limits, and mine, too. I sit waiting as he slowly tries to dismantle every system, debunk every theory, rebel against every authority figure. I watch him learn manipulation. I take special note during the times when his sly antics give way to his inherent eight year old nature, and when he gets downright disrespectful and awful, I remember how I learned from you that a belt on the bottom is much more powerful a tool than a strongly worded lecture or a smack on the hand. And then I remember what it felt like to have my skin ripped open, and the smell of my own blood, and the terror of total helplessness, and I find patience inside of myself and the realization that my child, who you would probably label as “damned,” is really just amazingly creative and intelligent and, well, eight. And eight is alright just the way it is.

I watch my daughter, the baby who is certainly not a baby anymore, and I see her becoming a girl already. There are shimmers of the woman she will be already reflecting in her eyes. She is the feistiest thing you’d ever meet, headstrong, defiant, sassy, and beautiful in a way that few people ever are. Every now and then, just for a moment, I feel in myself what I imagine you felt when you looked at me; resentment. I never had that thing she’s got when I was a girl; that confidence, that sure nature, that comfortableness. She is pretty hot shit, that kid, and don’t think she doesn’t know it. And I envy her that sometimes. I think about how hard you worked to be sure that I knew what a woman’s place was, and that I knew I was gangly, awkward and next to worthless, and in that you taught me humility, which I work so hard every day to instill in my own children. What I took away from you was the awareness of what was teaching humility and what was destruction. I see the line where you couldn’t. I am not afraid of my daughter the way you were, afraid of her becoming more of a person that I will ever be able to. I insist she does, actually. I am determined to help her with that in any way I can.

As my children grow older, and being to grasp the concept of the world beyond themselves, they naturally grow more and more curious about God and Spirituality. I think about how important my faith was to me as a child, my weird, backwards, twisted version of some very basic ideals that you chose to force feed us with. I am glad I had that, that I was able to learn what blind faith and abject devotion are. I am lead to wonder how you could choose your religion over your children, since my children are the only other thing that has inspired those sorts of emotions in me. You had your whole life to live and breath and soak in the world around you, and then you chose to change and were magically forgiven for all that living and breathing and soaking. You bore us and brought us up in a world that forbade looking outside the windows, having an opinion or insight or even a desire to know the things happening all around us in the world. We lived and believed and served and when it came our time to see the rest of the world, just like you had time for all those years ago, suddenly our minor transgressions, our year or two of screwing around before both my brother and I settled down, married and had our families with the very people we were screwing around with, those transgressions somehow became grander than any of yours, more unforgivable than anything you could have done. For choosing to live, you condemned us to death. You allowed your group, your religion, your beliefs, to push your children away. That I promise you I will never do. I will never indoctrinate my children. I will never tell them what to believe. I will give them options and information and I will fully support whatever road they take in their life. Whatever road. Without you, I never would have known how important it is to give my kids that sort of control over their own destinies.

You taught me that a child is capable of great things, and that a child can be totally self-sufficient if necessary. In teaching me that, you also taught me that it is very important to teach a child that they have a support structure, that they don’t have to do everything on their own. Because of you I know that something as simple as a mother’s touch can mean the difference between raising people capable of forming real, lasting relationships and raising people who grow up to afraid to reach out to anyone on any level, people who have to learn how to cope with the touch of their own children later.

Someday, I hope, I may forgive you, but I will never want to forget you, and I am not sorry for one minute of our life together. You tried with everything you had to crush me, to spite me and, I am guessing, my father through me, and all you succeeding in doing was making one very strong, very hard, very sensible woman who would walk through fire to keep those who are hers from knowing things she knows. You made someone who turned out so fine that another someone, an amazing someone that is better and finer than I could've imagined a person could ever be, saw fit to take your place 12 years later, and now not only do I have the benefit of true wisdom, experience and some serious motivation to improve every day, I have a woman in my life that I can close my eyes and pretend is my mother when I reallyreally need one. My cup is very busily runnething the hell over.

Every single thing that I am today, I am because of you. You make me try harder, think longer, scream louder for my children. Not one bit of this came naturally to me; I was never taught how to mother, I never had a role-model whose example I could follow. I have nothing to take for granted here. If I want my children to grow up strong and confident and better than I was, more than I could ever hope to be, I have to work. I have to remember every single thing you did to me and said to me and thought of me and I have to make sure I never see any of that in my mirror. It is a battle, this unlearning you, and it will never be easy. You gave me every single tool I could ever need to be the very best mother in the whole world. All I have to do is remember you every single day.

And I do. And I always will.

Kindly linked by Little Albatross and The Soul on Every Path