Up until three and half years ago, I think the worst day of the year was the one when they put out the Mother’s Day cards in the stores.
Year, after year, I would stand there, reading through card after card, looking for one that would work.
“Mom, You’re Always There for Me….” Nope, I can’t say that. “To the Best Mom Ever…” No, not that, either. “Mom, you always take the time to listen to me and be there when I need you most…”
And then the tears would come. Because I couldn’t bring myself to lie and send one of those, no matter how much I wanted to. The mom in those cards was missing from my life, even though my mother was alive and well.
My mom was none of those things on the pretty cards. Or rather, she was some of those things once in a blue moon. For a moment, now and then, it would be good. And I would think maybe it could be okay. But then the reality would hit.
The name calling. The accusations. The swearing. The tearing up my thank you notes because they weren’t perfectly written. The dumping out all the drawers in my room because they weren’t perfectly neat. The rages when I brought home a “B” on a test or paper. Chasing my friends away with nasty comments and not-so-subtle hints that they could do a lot better than to be my friend. Or alternately, that they weren’t good enough to come in our house. And my dad did nothing to stop it.
It was hell.
But year after year after year, I would try. Always hoping for a card that said “I love you just because you’re my mom, and I sure wish you loved me just because I am your daughter.” Here’s a hint. They don’t make cards like that. I know. I searched.
In the end, I would send a generic “Happy Mother’s Day, Hope It’s Happy” card. And swear to myself that next year, I wouldn’t even try. But I always did.
I know I am not alone…but for years, I thought I was.
The truth is, there are other like me out there. Too many. You might be one. Or the woman next to you in church or in the PTO meeting or at work. So what happens to daughters who have moms who cannot or will not love?
They grow up in pain. They learn to not trust other women. They grow up terrified that they will turn out to be just like their moms. (You cannot imagine the pain when someone says, even jokingly, that we all become our parents in the end. It was and always will be my worst nightmare.) They worry that they will never be able to be the loving, caring, supportive moms on those cards.
And sometimes they get very lucky
In high school and college, I gathered a collection of “adopted” moms. Lots of them were Mormons with big families who really loved being together and really loved each other even when they argued or things fell apart. I savoured every moment, stocking away lessons on how to be that greeting card mom. I was in training for motherhood. But I was also teaching myself that what I had lived with wasn’t normal or acceptable.
And yet, every Mother’s Day, I was back at that rack, trying to find a card that wouldn’t require me to lie. And failing. I was not okay yet.
Sometimes your luck runs out
They tell me it’s classic. Someone who cannot get the love they need from a parent marries someone who treats them just like that parent did. I hate being classic, but there I was. I married a guy who treated me exactly like my mom did. And she loved him. But not me. I was the common target. They were united. And I was back in hell.
In grad school. Two babies in under two years. And never good enough in the eyes of the adults who should have loved me best. The loving mom I needed was still no where to be found. And the loving husband I needed was equally missing.
But my kids…oh, my wonderful, amazing, dream-come-true kids! Missing mom or not, I learned I could be like the moms I had “adopted” and learned from. I did not have to be my mom, although on some dark nights, that fear still haunted me.
And then after my third was born, I got brave. Somehow. Somewhere. I ended my abusive marriage. I moved back home to Florida. I supported my kids on a budget so tight I often stayed at awake at night computing the pennies and nickles that would get everything paid. I lived 12 miles from my mom, from the home where I had grown up, but she never saw me or the kids.
She ran charity organizations and sat on Boards of Directors and had her picture in society pages, but wanted nothing to do with us. And yet, still, I stood in front of the card rack, looking. Trying. Hoping. And failing.
My life improved. I got a better job. We moved into a beautiful apartment. I got remarried to a wonderful man. And then one day, three and half years ago, the call came from a cousin while I was in a meeting at work.
My missing mom had died.
And I cried. I cried for the little girl I once was, who couldn’t understand why mommy got so mad when she tried so hard to be good.
I cried for the teen I once was who so wanted to make her mom proud, but never managed to hear those words.
I cried for the young mom, who would have given almost anything to share those early days of motherhood with a brand new doting grandmother.
I cried my mom’s loss, for never really knowing her own daughter and grandchildren.
I cried for the scars I still carry. And I cried for all those years filled with beautiful loving Mother’s Day cards I could never bring myself to send. My missing mom would now never be found.
But I did find something through all of this. I found myself. A mom. And the knowledge that whatever I experienced growing up, my kids will never have to write about a missing mom.