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motherShe was born. She had a mother and a father. She had two brothers. It was a messy family. The mother, victim of mental disease at a time when there was little to do but lock them away, was locked away. The father, a man of the railroad sent the children off to foster care.

In later years he took up with a widow and they lived in sin, and her kids became his family.He saw his daughter and sons from time to time, but they had effectively been replaced. She never spoke of that in anger. It just was. After all, he was under the influence of a woman. What could one expect.

She clerked at a department store. She met men. She probably craved love. She was probably close to being one of “those girls”. She got safely married to another wounded soul.

He lived under the thumb of a controlling mother who covered her manipulations under the guise of martyrdom. He was a soft sort, easily controlled unlike his sister who was rebellious.

He met the almost bad girl, and married her. They practiced conditional love, the only kind they knew. They had a kid, a girl. They went through the motions of being parents. They tried their best. They had no idea how it was supposed to be.

She never had another child–the first one had been that hard a delivery. She did all the things the books said. She kept it clean and dressed. She fed it baby foods. She baked. She cleaned her house. She modeled housewifery. Being a wife and mother were the standards she had aspired to, it was how one was adjudged as “normal.”

She was liked by most everyone. She was a great party attendee. She was lively, funny, animated. She danced up a storm. She never started to smoke until she went to work in the shop. She never drank much until after she divorced and remarried. Then she learned to drink a lot.

She wrapped presents nicely enough to compete with her sister-in-law and mother-in-law at Christmas. They were most polite to each other on the surface, but seething beneath were all kinds of resentments, jealousies, and God only would know what else.

She met a man at her workplace and fell in love. She gave up her teenaged daughter but then moved two miles away so she could “visit often.”

She never read a book, barely touched the newspapers except to check the ads for sales. She liked soap operas and jigsaw puzzles. She was a Republican until she was told that she wasn’t supposed to be, so she became a Democrat. She could not have explained why.

She was great at small talk but never had a serious conversation that anybody every heard about any subject. She was short on empathy because she never met anyone who was empathetic I guess.

She once said to her daughter that she was “smart about books and stupid about men”. She often registered her disgust that her daughter inherited her buck teeth but the father’s chunky physique. She was always frustrated when she took her young daughter clothes shopping. She would tug at the skirt, sigh loudly,  and tell the sales girl to “get the next size up, she’s nearly up to my size already.”

She and her new husband moved to his home state of Tennessee, and they saw each other rarely after that, and conversed on the phone on “holidays”.

She introduced her daughter now grown, as “my daughter, the lawyer.” She could not have told you much about what a lawyer did of course. She incessantly wanted to know when that daughter would marry. Nothing else much mattered.

When the daughter announced she was going to enter a Catholic convent, she was livid with anger. She never explained why. The daughter, by then had learned to avoid conversations with “Mother” who was always judgmental, always accusatory. Much like the Father, the daughter was presumed in the wrong in every dispute. She hung up on the daughter in disgust once or twice, the condition not met for love.

When the daughter called to announce that she was not entering the convent but instead was moving to Connecticut to be with a man she had fallen for, she was ecstatic. The conversation was short. She hung up and then called back telling the daughter to “call when you get your new number”. The daughter promised to call when she arrived.

She never asked the daughter anything about this new man. Not a single thing. It was enough that the daughter was reaching the goal at last. For now it was apparent to the daughter that the Mother defined her own success in parenting on the daughter’s seeking marriage as the standard of female attainment.

The daughter called when she got to Connecticut. The relationship with the man was over almost before it began. When the phone rang and the answering service cut in, and she heard the woman’s voice, she froze and could not answer. She could not go through another round of explaining and then the judgment, the disappointment, the question of how had she failed again. She let it go. And she let it go again, and again, until the woman stopped calling.

The daughter did find the right man, and learned all about unconditional love. She moved to Iowa. Once she got a call that the woman was sick but was recovering. She was told that the woman expressed happiness at her marriage. She thanked the “step-brother” who conveyed the news.

Yesterday, for no reason,  the daughter googled the woman, wondering if she was still living in Tennessee. She would be in her mid 80’s.  She found instead an obituary. The woman had died in 2008. Her husband in 2010. The obituary said she had been survived by a husband and three step sons. There was no mention of the daughter.

The daughter sits quietly and reflects. She does not judge her actions right or wrong, only what she needed to do. She does not judge the actions of the others in omitting her from notification as right or wrong, only what they needed to do. She never judged the woman who did the best she could.

Lives quietly move on. We do not choose who will be our parents, who will be our children. DNA does not insure a bond. There are no winners. We just pick up and continue, hoping we have learned something from it all, though God knows what that can or should be. Plenty would tell me that a parent is a parent no matter what. I guess. But then you aren’t me are you? We can only acknowledge each other’s pain, each other’s sorrow, each other’s needs and limitations, and we can only believe how we would handle things because it would be right for us.

And another chapter ends in this thing we call life.

 

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