But She’s My Mother
Anyone who has ever read some of my personal essay work knows that I often write about my relationship with my parents. I recently wrote an essay about my relationship (or lack thereof) with my mother and how it directly affected my thoughts of wanting/raising children. Spoiler alert: I didn’t think I’d ever want kids. Yet here I am raising a daughter who is the light of my life (please disregard the corny cliche, it’s the truth) and I couldn’t imagine my life without her. The essay is currently in the hands of a very popular/prestigious print magazine and I’m waiting to hear back about it.
I digress. Part of the essay describes my negative relationship with my mother. It’s non-existent. We barely ever talk. She doesn’t really know me. I don’t really understand her. She’s a walking oxymoron and I am befuddled by her words and actions so often it makes my head spin.
But she’s my mother.
A year and a half ago, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She went through almost a full year of chemo. The treatment work. She was okay. The cancer was gone.
My parents are currently visiting for Memorial Day Weekend. The eggshells spread across the kitchen floor only ever appear when my mother and I are in there at the same time. Yet, there are flashes of smiles and bits of laughter. Mostly, we’re just figuring out how to exist as we both are. I wish I could fully explain this in a way that made sense. I wish I could articulate it better. My mother is the queen of backhanded compliments. That’s the way it’s been my entire life:
“You look nice, but you’d be so much prettier if you wore make up.”
That was the most common/repeated little ditty I heard as a closeted teenager just trying to fit in with the heterosexuals.
Last Christmas, I gave her a painting of a photo of my daughter and my brother’s daughter holding hands. They are standing with their backs facing the camera, walking over a bridge. They are wearing the same Fourth of July-themed dress. My mother’s reaction was so anticlimactic, I had to ask her if she even liked it. (Side note: she told my father she wanted a copy of the photo, which is why I had it turned into a large painting for her in the first place.)
“It’s great,” she said. “But all I can see is their backs.”
My birthday was a couple of weeks ago. She didn’t call me. I called her. And when she answered she said she was too sick/tired to call, but that she’d never forget my birthday (which I share with my twin brother).
She forgot our birthday a few years ago.
I’m venting now, avoiding the real reason why I am sitting here on a Saturday morning–coffee in hand with baggy eyes and a hooded sweatshirt, hood up. My mother’s cancer has returned. It may be in her lymph nodes. My parents told me last night, as I was doing the dishes after dinner. I didn’t have much of a reaction. I didn’t know what to think or say or feel.
I felt nothing. I felt numb.
Admitting this out loud to the strangers who may stumble across this post gives me an outlet, I suppose, to say what I’m feeling (or not feeling) out loud. Of course, I’m worried for her. I’m worried about her. She’s my mother. But there’s all this other stuff that’s just sitting there between us and it’s piled up so high. I would gladly dive in and sort it all out. But my mother is an emotional hoarder, too afraid to ruffle through the boxes because of what she might discover or is afraid to let go of. So the mess stays. And now, the cancer has returned. The mess sits beside it.
What do I do with all of this? All these thoughts and feelings? The cancer? The mess? The conflict? The lack of resolution? The love and the hope? The sadness and the anger?
I don’t know.
But she’s my mother. I know that much. And I suppose right now, that’s enough.