“Was Gamma’s fuwst name?” Lo asked me last night as we sat nursing before bed.
“Irene,” I responded.
“I-ween? I-ween Gamma. Oh.” I smiled. Irene Gramma.
“Yes. Do you remember Gramma?” My mother has only been gone since April but that’s almost a year ago now, and Lo is only 3.5.
“Yesth!” She replied quickly. ”Wemembow I used to ask huw, ‘Gamma do you bide yaw nails?’ See aw-ways ‘ave nails.” My mom always had short nails.
“You used to ask her that?”
“Yesth, I ask huw da lass time I at huw ‘ouse.” She said it matter-of-factly and devoted her attention back to my left breast. I sat there with her an continued to nurse quietly, but inside I felt like I’d been lifted off the couch and I was in the sky. My daughter remembers my mother. That’s a given normally, or it should be. All our children should know our parents, but I know many won’t. I feel sick when I think of my children never remembering my mother.
When Lo said that it was almost spiritual for me. I needed to hear something about my mother at just that time. Something that wasn’t exactly a memory, because memories make me sad. What Logan said was a love letter to me from my mother, a promise that she may be gone from this earth but that all that was good about her can live on in us if we choose. And it put a few things in perspective for me, as my mother’s death as been doing, about my own mothering.
I’ve gone from not being able to get my mother out of my head, to now trying to avoid her memory as much as possible. If memories were a liquid, one tiny, microscopic drop of my mother is enough now to break me so badly I double over. I don’t wallow, I don’t really have the time. But when I do get those moments, I grieve as I’ve never known I could. It’s like some sort of excorcism. Pain wracks my entire body, and lately I just surrender to it. I’m tired of telling it I don’t have time to feel it. I let it throw me to the floor, and I sit there heaving, rocking, unable to think anything but oh man I wish my mommy hadn’t died, I wish so badly.
I let it all come up, and it feels so good. I close my eyes and hear her voice and see her smile. I feel her touch my arms. I see her dancing in her kitchen to James Brown or Marvin Gaye. I smell her meatloaf or her musk. I hear her loud, high-pitched cackle. And when the bad pictures come, the ones of her lying on a gurney, blind and deaf and with her mouth hanging open, I allow those too. I open my mouth and moan aloud, and it sounds like an animal’s call. It is an animal’s call. It’s the sound of a temporarily disabled young human wailing to alert the world that she’s lost her mother, her protector.
And it brings me back to my parenting.
My children will love me probably despite all the wrong I’ve done and all the mistakes I’ll continue to make.
When I’m on the floor in the bathroom crying so hard for my mom it makes my stomach ache, I don’t think about all the times we moved. I don’t think about how she didn’t protect me from abuse when she could have. I don’t think about her inability to manage a budget. I don’t think about her yelling at us in frustration, or spanking us, or grounding us, or anything she got “wrong” in life.
I just think about my mom. I think, “I want my mom.” I just remember how hard she tried. I see her now as Irene, a person, not just my mother. She had no book. I don’t have a book.
When Ryleigh is 28, maybe she will sit at a laptop and write about when her mother would scream at the top of her lungs and grab her arm and shove her into her room and slam the door behind her and not talk to her for an hour.
I did that to Ryleigh. But she loves me. I love my mom. We love our parents, despite what they couldn’t or didn’t do.
And that’s what I’m going to change.
I don’t want these nasty thoughts coming in and marring my living pictures of the most beautiful woman I knew.
I wish I could say no nasty thoughts will sully my children’s memory of me.
I don’t want to see generations of children who love their parents “despite” what they did. There is too much confusion when we are so deeply attached to people who continue to fail us (and I believe they fail us because we have, as a species, have failed each other). It causes uncertainty and mistrust. Of course we love our parents – we don’t love all they do. So we try to take what was good about them and leave out the negative, but it doesn’t always work, as we can see by looking around us. There’s a lot of the negative still being shared.
Maybe my grandchildren will feel the residual effects of what I didn’t know when I had children. Maybe Ryleigh and Logan will get it a lot better than me with just a few missing pieces here and there. And then maybe my great-grandchildren will get even less, and on an on until we’ve wiped these cycles of violence and secrets and abuse from our branch on the family tree.
It’s a big maybe but it’s one worth trying for. I love my mother so much, I don’t care about the bad stuff anymore. But it still affects me, my life, my children. Fortunately I see a lot of what was good about Irene in myself now. That’s what I’ll pass on to my children. My mother’s death has given me ever more confidence to continue parenting this way, because I know my daughters are going to want me and love me despite what I get wrong.
I want to prove myself worthy, and be deserving of such adoration. Our kids give so much, so freely. I can give as freely, no matter the struggle. My grandchildren will remember me, too. I have to parent peacefully so maybe they’ll have more good to remember. And maybe someday, there will only be good to remember.
And mom, those memories will never trump who you were. I’m a mother, I understand.