As a child, I was never really close to my mother, and the gap widened when I reached adolescence and became an authority on myself, and what was good for me.
When I hit sixteen my parents separated, but lived under the same roof for a while, until they could afford to go their separate ways. The situation became intolerable, and my relationship with my mother went beyond the point of no return. So I packed my bags and hit the road. It would be many years before I could bring myself to speak to my mother without feeling like I was that angry, unloved kid with a point to prove.
My unresolved anger was a strange and destructive thing. It affected any relationship that I had, and was based on my need to recreate the same childhood scenario – again and again, so that I could ‘resolve’ it with anger and indifference. In a weird way, I was happy being angry, if that makes any sense. I was happy with my first husband because we argued a lot. My mother opposed the marriage of course, which made it all the more enticing.
My first marriage produced a son before it dissolved into a bitter separation, and an anti-climactic divorce. There was no custody dispute and I never saw my husband again, but I saw plenty of my mother, who was always there to make sure that her grandson was being brought up the way that he ought to be. It irked me at times. Was this an attempt at yet another put down, from one mother to another? It hurt me, and I remained argumentative when it came to my son’s needs.
When my son was around six years old I met the man who would become my second husband. Motherhood was good for me – I had evolved and matured a little. I was more able to negotiate the terms of the kind of relationship that I wanted for myself, and my son. My new beau had a wonderful relationship with his mother, a lovable Scottish woman who was not difficult to adore – which was the one thing that I had craved all my life. I was drawn to him like a magnet. When my husband kissed his mother and told her that he loved her – often – I was jealous. I wanted some of that for myself.
As I threw myself into a relationship with my future mother-in-law, I discovered the importance of understanding the separateness of another human being. She was the wilful child, the contemptuous adolescent, the young woman in love, and the married matriarch all in one. It was this slow revelation that would open me up to new possilbities of holding out the olive branch to my own mother, to get to know her too.
At first my mother and I circled each other warily. Neither one of us wanted to say the words ‘I love you’, or make the first move. I had become open to the possibilities, but my mind had frozen in unfamiliar territory. Familiar fears and resentments bubbled just beneath the surface, waiting for the inevitable rejection. My husband, bless his generous heart – could take it no more and handed me his half of the two gold seats to The Eagles’ concert, three days out – pleading an early onset of flu and telling me I would have to take my mother instead, who would enjoy it more than him anyway, as they were one of her favourites.
My mother enjoyed herself immensely – it was her first concert. Her happiness was breathtaking, and the moment that had elluded me for most of my life. I forgave myself and my mother for years of misguided malice and misunderstood intention. The rest was plain sailing – and history.
I have learned more about my mother in the last ten years than at any other time of my life. I have learned the reasons why she is like she is and behaves in certain ways. My mother has had a difficult life, and the fact that she is able to be the person that she is, is a testament to her ability to rise above it, despite it all. I have a new respect for the person that is my mother, the person who has had a life that is separate from my own, unique in her experiences.
I have learned not to judge her and listen more. As she shares her experiences, she lets go of her predisposition of ‘mother’, and we become something more. I have gotten to know the lonely eight year old girl who went from one relative to another after her mother died. I laughed with the ‘mature’ adolescent when she got drunk at the local dance and threw up on my future father’s best jacket. I grieved silently as I thought about the dreams of a young woman that were lost to the reality of the times, and a difficult marriage.
I have had so much more opportunity in my life than my mother. And I have inherited so much more from her than I had realised. My husband tells me that we are very much alike. I’m happier about that statement than I ever thought that I would be, thank god.