My Kids Will Be Able To Say A Lot Of Things About Me, But Never That I Didn’t Love them.

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A friend asked me the other day about how I felt about Mothers Day, and I knew that the question was loaded – you see, I haven’t had a mother for a long time. And for the first time, it struck me that I don’t view the celebration from the perspective of my own mother. I lost her too young to remember her as a real person, so my only association with the day is as a mother to my own kids.

 

There are times when I would love to be able to recount stories of our time together. And in those fourteen years, we did make stories  – on family days out, cheap holidays, when we grew vegetables together at the end of the garden or searched for our runaway tortoise – and yet most of those memories are clouded by her struggles as a single mother, her battle to keep working to provide for three small children, to keep the car running, to keep the smile on her face.

 

Perhaps, that’s why I’ve never allowed myself to fully commit to Mothers Day, with no mother to spoil, to take out to dinner, or to have a monthly spat with – which I understand is very common. And perhaps that’s why I can be somewhat cynical about these ‘special’ days, which can throw up all sorts of pain for those that are excluded or feel isolated – mothers that have lost children, children that have lost mothers, adopted children, mothers that have lost connection with their children. And Mother Day, in particular, sugarcoats a biological responsibility that is not necessarily ‘the best thing’ EVERY woman has ever done. The day can highlight shame and failure for some, as well as the smug gratitude of those women lucky enough to have cultivated perfect relationships with their children – if they do, in fact, exist.

 

Relationships between parents and their children are not always Waltons or Brady-esque. Sometimes, they are not straightforward, as Nikki Gemmell exposes in her book, ‘After,’ which I picked up recently as research for my manuscript. Nikki’s story covers the ways she handled grief after the death of her mother, and yet for me, the greatest comfort I took from the book is her honesty about her tricky relationship with her mother, because it forced me to recognize similarities between her mother’s behavior and my own.

 

Sadly, only after years of distance between them was Nikki finally able to make peace with her mother, only to be shattered a few years later by her mother’s suicide – perhaps, her final act of revenge, in Nikki’s eyes. Personally, I can’t imagine the guilt attached to losing your mother to suicide. Can you imagine the questions you would be forced to ask yourself, even if you knew that chronic pain was at the root of her reasoning? Can you imagine the sense of betrayal? That the person that gave birth to you should choose to leave you in such a way?

 

I’ve said this many times before, and I’ll say it again: relationships are complicated –  particularly family relationships, where the blood connection can force us to continue with toxic, destructive alliances. Anyone who has produced a child that went against the grain will recognize the sense of shock and the grief for the child you expected to have.

 

The death of my own mother, along with the distant relationship I have experienced with my father at various periods of my life has affected my relationships with my children. Not necessarily for the worst. At times, my insecurity has made me cling too hard and suffocate them; at others, my aloofness, lack of empathy and lack of a filter have left them feeling confused and unloved. I am not a perfect mother; and yet I am the only mother they have. And in the end, when they describe to my grandchildren the ways I fucked up their lives, they won’t be able to say that I didn’t love them. Just like I can’t about my own mother.

 

Family Life Is Not All Cookies And Cream, Sometimes It Is Salad Cream

Family Life Is Not All Cookies and Cream
Heinz_Salad_Cream_285_gram by suetheslowknitta at http://www.flickr.com

Out of all the schmaltz, sad stories, perfect gifts and cheesy quotes to fill my FB homepage on Mothers Day, this article by Rosie Waterland stood out for me.

Thirty Seconds

It’s not pretty because it’s about real family life.

Because Mothers Day isn’t a cookies and cream day for everyone, and although most mums out there love their kids unconditionally and are loved back in return, the reality is that fractured, damaged relationships exist too.

I have a handful of friends in my circle of friends who suffered at the hands of an alcoholic mother, who had mothers taken away from them too soon or mothers who found the connection with their children a complex, hazardous journey.

Family Life Is Not All Cookies and Cream

Life is not always as perfect as the parenting page on Pinterest would suggest.

Parenting is not always pretty. I would never judge those mothers who have struggled with the responsibilities inherent to motherhood. We all have our private crosses to bear and baggage from the past to carry, and I have no doubt that often,  there is a legitimate history that lies behind many of those cases of alcoholism, abuse and neglect.

I approached Mother’s Day cautiously this year. I was contemplating another year without my own mother, whose memory sadly dims a little more each day, and another year with a son whose struggles mean that I can’t help feeling I have failed him in some way, in spite of the protests of my therapist.

So it was with ‘mixed feelings’ that I approached yesterday. It’s all bollocks anyway. I mean, we all have different experiences and expectations about motherhood.

My mother was taken away too soon – when I was only fourteen – leaving me with a self-imposed armour of anger, pain and confusion that encased a cold, damaged heart. I’m not searching for pity – it was a long time ago now – but I’m conscious of all the children out there at this time of the year, whose mothers have been taken from them prematurely, setting them up for a life of questions and pain.

As for my memories of my mother? They aren’t all all cookies and cream, either, but there is enough sugar to make me understand the importance and impact of her short presence in my life.

Her life wasn’t pretty, either. A single mother with three small children by the time she was in her late-twenties, I can’t imagine how tough it must have been for her; how many nights she would have come home from her full-time job and wanted to cave in, sit down and cry from the tiredness and responsibility.

I still remember the huge pile of untouched ironing we found when we cleared out the house after her death.

But there were special moments, too. Our mum loved Christmas and even within the confines of a tiny council house and the finances of a single mother, she made it as special as the toy department at Hamleys on Christmas Day.

I remember her laugh – a cackle really, that I have inherited, apparently – that rears its ugly head when I’m drunk or bullying the old man.

My mother taught me how to cook – something I’ve failed to do as a mother to her grandchildren – I remember just before she died how obsessed I became with the secret to the perfect seventies cheese scone and a flaky apple pie crust.

Then there were the annual holidays to extended family or to Bournemouth, where we stayed in skanky B and Bs, dined on takeaway fish and chips and where all us three city kids needed was the sight of the sea to feel ecstatically privileged.

We spent Sunday afternoon teas at grandma’s, sucking on space saucer lollies, turned our nose up at beetroot and doused everything in Salad Cream.

Remember Salad Cream?

I hope that out of this complicated stage in Kurt’s childhood, one day he will remember the special moments that we’ve shared as a family and be able to separate the sugar from the spice. Real family life is not all cookies and cream. Sometimes it throws curved balls that can be hard to deflect, that crack our veneer and make us vulnerable and defensive and we end up saying things and doing things we wouldn’t normally do.

NC is wise enough already to recognize that no-one is perfect and that all we can truly expect from someone is that they try their best. Her sensible, logical approach to life and her love keep me sane when the ground is shaking.

My mother tried her best, just like we all do.