This piece is the result of a memoir-writing exercise to shine a light behind a difficult character. I sat down to write about my memories of mom and ended up writing 3,000 words that were more about me than her! I pulled out the part that resonated the most, cleaned it up, and I’ve shared it below.
I continue to be amazed at what comes out when I sit down to write. It’s almost never what I expect!
I often describe my relationship with mom as complicated.
The funny thing is, I’m not sure when, or why, it became complicated. What I do know is I didn’t always feel this way. The proof is in a letter I wrote to my mother in 1998. I was 36 years old and I remember that year well—it’s the year I started my own business. That decision to go out on my own is what inspired the letter.
I found the letter on a recent trip home to see mom and dad. With them now living in assisted living, their home of 50 years—my childhood home—is where my brother and I stayed while in town. We found the letter while perusing old photo albums, looking for memories of our parents and the past. It was tucked inside a homemade album I’d made for mom.
As I read the letter, I was struck by the stark contrast between my feelings then, and now. It’s almost as if the letter was written by someone else. Yet, I know it wasn’t. My signature follows the salutation, I love you! at the bottom of the page. I remember making the album. And I remember the day I gifted it to mom—we were sitting on the couch in my family room on Wintercreek Place, the rest of our family gathered around to celebrate Mother’s Day.
Here’s the letter I penned 25 years ago:
May 9, 1998
Well Mother’s Day has come again. This year, I wanted to do something special for you—something that would truly express my love and gratitude for you being such a wonderful mom.
Becoming a mother myself, nearly nine years ago, helped me to develop a new appreciation for you, and the love, guidance, support and example you have always provided. As my children get older, I am realizing that it doesn’t get easier—as I originally thought it would—but rather, more challenging! At the same time however, it is getting more rewarding, more fun, and more important to be there both physically and emotionally for them. It truly is the hardest and most important job there is. I am not sure I fully appreciated this until this past year.
I also don’t think I fully recognized what an ideal role model I had in my own mother. It recently dawned on me that you were one of the original “work-at-home” moms. You showed us by example that it was possible to have a profession and be there for us. I only hope that I can be as successful at it as you have been.
Mom, this memory book is for you. It captures your biggest personal accomplishments in life—your four children. Take a look. I think you’ll agree you’ve done a great job! Thanks!
Happy Mother’s Day! I love you!
I’m struck by the showering of compliments and all the exclamation points… so many exclamation points!
The sense of admiration, appreciation, and love is palpable. I can’t help but be curious, and a bit confused by the feelings of anger and resentment toward mom that have bubbled up over the past few years. What happened, I wonder, to turn that adoring daughter into someone who now sees all the things mom wasn’t, instead of all the things she was? Someone who has wondered at times if mom even wanted to be a mother, or just had four kids because that’s what women did in the sixties. Someone who can’t recall mom being around or doing much mothering. And someone who despite reaching desperately into her memory can’t seem to find mom anywhere.
Perhaps it’s this looking back, not seeing her and assuming that means she wasn’t there, that’s turned the tide of my heart.
But maybe it’s not that at all. Perhaps it’s just my bad memory. After all, it’s not like I had a bad childhood. We were well cared for. We weren’t abused or neglected. We had the essentials even though money was tight for a family of six living on a teacher’s salary. The fact I don’t have many memories—and the fact memories are often anchored by strong emotions—leads me to believe my childhood simply wasn’t that eventful. I honestly never even gave much thought to the kind of mother mom was until four years ago.
That’s when my husband and I left San Diego and moved across the country to retire in North Carolina. We left family behind to follow our dream of living on a mountaintop and enjoying a more relaxed pace of life. For him to pursue his artwork and me my writing. It’s one of the best decisions we’ve made in our 45 years together. And yet, now I wonder if it’s somehow contributing to these newfound negative feelings about mom.
I wonder if, in an effort to protect myself, I subconsciously adopted this attitude so I wouldn’t feel sadness or guilt.
When mom and dad began having health issues a few years ago, perhaps the anger helped justify my not being there. An emotional, if untrue, snapback, Well, they were never there for me!
The mind is a strange beast, adopting all sorts of crazy postures in the name of protection. So, I open myself to the idea that that is actually what’s behind my disdain. That it’s not true disdain, but rather, a wall my fragile psyche erected to protect itself from self judgement, blame, sadness and guilt.