First, a disclaimer: Our mothers don’t define us. If your relationship with your mother or your child is one of pain and turmoil instead of rainbows and hugs, or a bewildering stew of both, you are still a whole and complete person who deserves peace and happiness. I’m going to talk about my own relationship with my mother, which was just fine, if too short, but you should feel free to turn Mothers Day off and do whatever brings you joy.
Now for my story. This is my mother, in a photo taken about the time she married my father back in 1949. She was college educated, like her mother and grandmother before her, and worked for several years before and after marriage as a school librarian, stopping when I was born. She raised me and my sister as a stay-at-home mom and she was not much of a cook or housekeeper, but she had a rich life in the arts. My house is filled with paintings, crafts, and needlework she created.
Her health started to deteriorate while I was in middle school. Her energy was low and she had trouble catching her breath. She quit smoking, a habit she had picked up as a defiant young woman, but it didn’t seem to help. I was in high school when the cause was discovered: alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency disease, a genetic inability to produce an enzyme that protects the lungs and liver from damage. Her immune system had run amok and was eating up her lung capacity. By the time I went to college she was bedridden and on oxygen. She died at age 48 of the simple inability to breathe about a month after I graduated college and married. I’m sure she held on long enough to see the pictures from my wedding.
As much as her death saddened me, I missed her even more deeply eight years later, when my son was born. I would have loved to talk with her about pregnancy and babies, sharing in that ancient story. I felt like motherhood should be something handed down from woman to woman, but my thread had been broken. As a new mother I cried about a lot of things: overwhelming love for this tiny bundle of needs, joy at the expansion of our family, bone-deep exhaustion. One thing I cried about was the desire to show my son to my mother, something that would never be.
Two years ago, my daughter married a wonderful man. The threads of life and love continue forward into the future, and the ceremony moved me to tears. A few of them were because my mother couldn’t be there to see her granddaughter wed. She couldn’t hold on long enough for those pictures.
Here’s another photo. This cedar chest was my grandmother’s originally. When it came to me I was still living at home. This was the late 1960s when the craft of macramé, or knotted twine, was huge. My mother and I worked together to create the elaborate macramé cover for the chest. It’s held up very well over the years, and it reminds me every day of the strong threads tying me to my mother and my grandmother. Though macramé is no longer a big thing, the love of art has passed through to my daughter, who majored in art in college and creates art for roll-playing games. Here’s one of her character designs.
The thread continues.
I invite you to share your own stories of your mother or children. How do you see yourself in the long cord of family?