My god, if that’s true, I’m in for it!
If that’s true, we’re talking drug abuse, several marriages, and an early death. My greatest fear was always that I’d become just what Oscar Wilde predicted. Luckily, a number of years ago a licensed therapist validated the absurdity of that fear. (Take that, Oscar!)
I bet we all think something awful, something specific, when we read quotes like that. I bet we think of a particular habit, choice, or saying that we so abhor we could scream, and we’d be completely mortified to inherit—like screaming her husband’s name down the stairs to announce dinner, like launching into dramatic monologues about how bacteria collect on damp sponges, or the way she rubbed Vicks vapor rub around her nostrils. My mother did the Vicks thing (the manufacturer actually cautions against any mucus membrane contact on the label, as I read as an adult).
After she died, a decade ago, I was surprised to find myself thinking of my mother fondly—for the first time in my life. I grew up with my stepmother and father, and was accustomed to suppressing anything I guessed was acting like or reminding them of my mother, who was considered a wreck of a woman. My resistance to being like my mother was voided by her sudden death. I can’t say why I suddenly felt adoration toward her, it just sprang forth. Truly overnight, I began to sense and celebrate likenesses between my mother and I. I began wearing big earrings and colorful clothes (my mother was a painter, an artist) and stopped feeling ashamed about my intense longing to understand what makes people tick and to press other to question human behavior, too.
While I’d been reassured that I wouldn’t become my mother, it wasn’t till I was in my mid-thirties, had a steady corporate job, no indications of drug addiction, and had some mature life choices under my belt—I finally let go of the worry of turning into a wreck. I was, after all, me, not her. I was not a tiny replica on a foretold path fated to resemble my mother’s!
During the eighth or ninth hour of an endless labor, giving birth to my son, I gasped, “How could she have abandoned me?” It came out of nowhere, but that question had to be asked, and had to be asked right then, even if it would never be answered.
As a mother who wasn’t raised by my own, could I pull it off? Could I be a good mom? Would fear, would fate, get the best of me despite my bookcase full of self-help reading? In the end, I experienced a most wonderful gift: I learned that I could mother a child without having been mothered. I have somehow been able to mother my son Gabriel with love, reason, tenderness, and presence, even without the apprenticeship of being mothered. I can only guess that a mother archetype, unique to each of us, exists within. We can be our mothers, yes. And we are also just as free to be uniquely our own kind of mother. Neither nurture nor Oscar Wilde will stand in our way. Our hearts—mother’s hearts—are too fierce for that.
“I miss thee, my Mother. Thy image is still the deepest impressed on my heart.” –Eliza Cook
Indeed. And, ow. Truer words have not been spoken.
-be kind to yourself.