Monday, September 13, 2010

Mothers and Daughters

The Caricature Mom Who Grew  Up
to be a Real Mom

Of all the relationships in my lifetime, none has evoked stronger emotion than the connection between mother and daughter.  The range, from despair to joy is never nearly as intense when it involves a husband, boyfriend, significant other; or really any other intimate connection I’ve had.  There is something about the mother-daughter kinship that tugs from the past, colors the present, and projects into the future. And this all gets tangled up in your heart strings.  When I gazed at my little “mini-me” many years ago, all covered with blood and goo, there was an indescribable, electromagnetic attraction that bonded us, even after the umbilical cord was cut. Whether either one of us wanted it or not.  It was replaced by an energy, stronger than both life, and death. 
These thoughts are precipitated by a recent, intense, misunderstanding with my own grown daughter.  Honestly, these happen very infrequently, maybe once every few years or so, but when they do, they are the “crack your chest open, and pulverize your heart into an unrecognizable mass” kind of hurt. I crawl away, gasping for breath, hoping I will simply drop over dead rather than having to walk around with the blinding pain inside what is left of my flattened heart.  No other human being has had the capacity to do that to me!  These incidents generally happen when I step out of the role of mom, and try to walk into best friend status, with my daughter.  Mostly, when I freely share my own insecurities and fears.  She doesn’t want to hear my recitation of defects.  She already knows every one of them and while I have a tough time dealing with them myself, for her, its even harder.   Probably because the older she gets, striking similiarities encoded in our DNA, frighten her.  After all, what daughter truly wants to be just like their mom? Really.  More likely, when I open up to her, and show her the woman I am, I fall off of the imaginary pedestal constructed in her mind. The spot assigned to Perfect Mom.  Sadly, I think the pedestal has always set empty.  I have beat myself up over that, but through the years I realize Perfect Mom would have nothing of substance to pass on. No tools when life gets too tough to handle on life’s terms, and it will.  Example is always the best teacher; positive and negative.
 She is a young middle aged woman, a wife and mom herself. Usually, these days, that is who I see.  Another woman, with a younger, fresher, perspective, not my baby girl. Unless, someone hurts her, and instinctually, the claws come out to protect my young.  From her perspective, she sees her “mother”  always.  And, often I think she would have preferred Stepford Mom.  Unfortunately (for her) I have never been able to wear that apron very well.  Ever... Nor, have I been Jane Fonda mom, Erma Bombeck mom, Betty Crocker mom, or Hilary Clinton mom.   It’s not that I haven’t tried to slip into all those Moms.  They just didn’t fit well, and I was either intimidated, or outgrew them, almost as soon as I tried them on. It was like squeezing into a pair of two sizes too small jeans.  Uncomfortable as hell, and I couldn’t wait to take them off.   I was young (19) when I got pregnant with her, stepping into  my own mom’s "teenage mother" footprints.  I tried very hard to be anyone but my mom, and give my own little girl everything I thought I didn’t have. I had a vegetable garden we tended together, made home-made jelly, meals from scratch, sewed dolls, her Halloween and Easter outfits. I decorated her room with hand made curtains, stuffed animals, and bedding. She had wonderful kids birthday parties with homemade cakes, treats and games.  I was Martha Stewart mom, only nicer.    It’s so much easier when daughter’s are little. They unconditionally love you, no matter what.  Maybe it’s because they’re still fresh from heaven and spiritually grateful to the lady whose womb protected and nourished them into life.  Later, the bond becomes stronger at the recognition, I am more like mommy than daddy.  I recall my small daughter’s shock at seeing her daddy step out of the shower. This was back in the day of one bathroom households and an emergency, “ I need to go potty” moment.  As she looked him up and down, in surprise, and she asked, “Daddy, did you wash your tail?”  In her innocence she made the observation, wow, I am really not like Daddy.  I am my mother, and she is I. And, perhaps, even then, she felt cheated.  
When she started kindergarten, Bring Home the Bacon Mom entered.   My daughter was forced into a life of shared custody, spending alternating weekends with mom and then dad. I am sure this added to the already oversized baggage from my own dysfunctional childhood that I monogrammed her name on as well. The divorce rocked her young world as much as mine, and “BHTBM” would morph into, newly single, Pamela Anderson Mom, without boobs, and no full moon needed to howl.   Later, Grace Slick Addict Mom entered and frightened her for a few years. Again, I followed in my own mother's footsteps, a defect I swore as a child, I could never inherit.  Fortunately, Gracie didn’t last long, left the premises permanently, many, many years ago, but not without scarring my little girl some.  The memories from those days still torture me and sometimes I can see a bit of the residue from that period clinging to her own insecurities and esteem.  
The carbon footprint from mother to daughter in my childhood was toxic. Although I have worked hard to change that legacy, some of my old behaviors could well cause mine and my daughter’s personal global warming, those times when misunderstanding and resentment places a wedge between us. Everytime that happens, I sense I have, once again, failed in not being the kind of mother she wants. Not enough, nor a good example.  And, yet, my mother wasn’t the one I wanted either.  She never taught me to cook or sew, and rarely even cheered me on. She didn’t hold a powerful position, run a company, or even run a household very well.  She didn’t even make it to my first wedding. She continually “let me down”.  And, then, to top it all off, when she finally got her act together, she died!  I was furious.  She was fifty-one years old and I was a motherless daughter.  She died before I could even begin construction on my mom pedestal.   
However, she was the mother I needed.  She was the mother who first introduced me to a simple program that would teach me how to live my life.  Perfect Mom lives in the box  of black and white television. What Perfect Mom brings to a daughter, can be hired.... a cook, housekeeper, or a nanny. While it’s important to provide a clean, safe, nurturing environment to a child, I have come to believe,  that is not a mother’s primary purpose.  Real Moms equip their daughters with the tools to live a life that can be confusing, heartbreaking, and riddled with mistakes.  Real Moms show their daughters, by example, it is okay to leave the path for awhile, as long as you come back a stronger, better human being. That's how we grow.  Real Moms show their daughters its okay to love, lose, and grieve, but it’s not okay to shut down our hearts to the future. Real Moms allow their daughters to see,  they too get scared, and feel like a failure sometimes, but the grace of God shines through the darkness of those periods, and infuses us with new courage.  Real Mom’s let their daughters see their tears.  It is by sharing our humanness, our daughters  learn  compassion for others. Real Moms teach their daughters to take care of themselves too; for it is only through self-love they will ever be able to truly pass it on and become Sacred Mom.  
A Beautiful
 Example of a Sacred Mom
Many of us spend most of our lives trying to run from the influence of the mom God gave us.  In actuality, as time passes and we grow more into our spiritual skin, we recognize God really did give us Perfect Mom.  Perfect for us.  We learn from our mothers, where we came from, who we are, why we are,  what we want to be, and what we don’t want to be.  My mom has been gone for nearly 22 years.  She still continues to lovingly meddle, and pass on her wisdom. Always when I need it (or not).  Recently, on a particular weepy day with my mind whirling about the what-ifs in my life, I was cleaning out a stack of old books.  In one of them was a bookmark with a poem about "Broken Dreams" printed on it. As I was getting ready to dismiss it and put it in the  “toss pile”, my eyes caught the haunting, undeniable, handwriting on the other side.  It said, “Becky, Let Go and Let God. Love you, Mom”.  
 I love my daughter more than life itself and the times she breaks my heart, or I break hers, only proves to me the miracle of the bond between mother and daughter. It is the closest I will ever come in this life to touching the face of God.  And, that holy umbilical cord, is eternal.