…on daughterhood

This year, Mothers’ Day felt significant. My mother is 72 and Covid-19 has certainly changed how we relate and interact. The past two months has been lonely for her – among friends in her retirement village – but removed from her grandchildren and from us, who all present potential risk for her due to our daily exposure to the big bad world. We ensured Mothers Day was special. Understated, but significant. We cooked her favourite roast lunch and, over some bubbles, shared stories of how we have whiled away the isolation period.

My husband always makes a fuss over my mother. He cooks, and buys her flowers. He lost his own mother nearly 10 years ago. I was part of that journey, caring for her in her twilight years. She did not rage against the dying of the night. She left us slowly, tragically, with dementia – but blessedly faster than many others lose their loved ones to that horrible disease. Losing his father in his late teens has made my husband an adult orphan. His loss is a regular reminder to me to build relationships with my parents while I still have them. Treasure them, because our time is finite. He’s a beautiful man, my husband.

My mother’s mother was lucid and robust until the very end. She outlived her husband, long enough to be reunited with her long-lost adopted son – born before she met and married Pop and gave birth to their subsequent twelve children. My grandmother’s secret shame (I presume, she never talked of it during her married life) eventually became her greatest comfort. I got to speak with him, my half-uncle, when I began writing my book, before I knew what I was writing, and sadly, Nan’s story doesn’t rate a mention. I will have to sit with it – maybe there’s a future story. She deserves that much. She will haunt me until I write it down, what little record there is about her.

My mother idolised her mother. Throughout my childhood she maintained a weekly letter-writing ritual, updating Nana on our little family and the banal details of our daily lives. I don’t recall that Nan ever wrote back. As the eleventh of those twelve children, I don’t know that Nan ever sought to build a relationship with us, the grandchildren numbering in the half century, how could she even know us all by name? But my mother would buy birthday cards from her, containing $5, that she would give us on Nan’s behalf. A kind of proxy relationship, which I often wonder, as the eleventh child, did my mother even really experience being mothered? I mean, was she cared for in the way my mother cared for me? It hurts to wonder. I’m scared my own mother will read this and feel injured by my conjecture. She never, not once my whole life, criticised her mother for being less than a perfect parent.

Like most daughters, my relationship with my mother is fraught with misunderstanding. In my youth I felt little compassion for her. She was an excellent carer, a helicopter parent before there was even a term for it. My mature heart now understands why she never trusted the boys who asked me out, why she never let me drive in cars with them. My mature heart also understands why she cried the day I left home to go to university. I’m a mother now too, with daughters, one who wishes to leave home at the very same age that I was. I know what it means for her and for me.

The gulf of unspoken pain keeps my mother and I separate and at odds with each others’ worlds. I love her more than words express. And it frustrates me, because she can’t find the words either.

It is strange to think that I, at least the mitochondrial half of me, formed as an egg inside my mother’s ovaries when she was still a fetus inside my grandmother. It’s weird to think that my daughters are all connected to their grandmother, my mother, in the same way. And we women carry the genetic imprint of all our babies, even those not carried to term, within our bodies until the day we die. Is this not the most profound connection we humans get to experience? Creating life, then releasing it to walk independently in the world, yet keeping a small piece for ourselves forever. This is not to say the adoptive mothers and foster mothers and all the carers of the world do not retain love and hope and empathy for their beloved children. I’m sure the universe vibrates for them too. But I write this to acknowledge the unbroken line of surviving mothers and daughters who have maintained the human race for millennia. I’m am the daughter of a daughter of a daughter of a daughter….

I love you Mum. Happy Mothers’ Day.

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