Mother’s Day. Different year. More grief. Much more grief. Last year I was still awash in hope, still ridiculously grateful for a Mother’s Day text from my daughter. I have worked hard to heal a 46 year dance with addictions ( food being my number one drug of choice, with a soupçon of shoplifting and obfuscating the truth to round out the mix).
While part of me celebrates my freedom from self- tyranny another part, is heartbroken at all the destruction I find in my wake. My relationship with my daughter is fractured at best, and I don’t think she cares that ‘now’ I’m better. I really tried to be a better mother than my mother but I was in many ways exactly like her.
I so want to believe in the redemptive powers of love and forgiveness, but I must accept that my daughter might never forgive me. I know I have no control of how my daughter, or anyone really, responds to me, and the loss of control is especially difficult . As Sunday inches closer, I find myself feeling more and more panicked. I am so sorry for all the things I have done to my daughter, and accept the likelihood that we might never speak again.
I need to talk now about inter-generational trauma. My grandmother Gertie and her brother Bennie came to live in Canada with their father Shumuel, while my great grandmother Ruchel was left behind. Gertie was just fifteen when she left Poland, and never quite recovered from the loss of her mother. I’m not certain why her mother was left behind, but looking at her photo she appears to have had arthritis or some other immune system issue as her hands seem to be quite swollen at the knuckles. I have a sense that my great grandfather, who my mother says was quite a playboy, took this opportunity to leave his sick wife behind and begin life anew in Canada.
My grandmother tried to send for her mother, but at only fifteen with no adult assistance and with a limited grasp of English, she couldn’t make it happen. I’m certain losing her mother in this way impacted her life in a myriad of ways.
She married my grandfather when she was quite young and had two children in quick succession, my aunt coming nine years later. My mother tells me that her mother could not be tender with her, not even when brushing her hair. My mom had to go to her neighbours house next door, where her aunt (her brother’s wife) would brush her hair into two long pigtails.
So it is no wonder that my mother parented in much the same way. There was no tenderness in my home, and I who was so starved for tenderness, found food as my soft place to fall. I swore to myself that when I had children, I would be kind and tender and listen to them and comb their hair gently, because my mother, just as her mother before her, had immense difficulty staying soft and present to brush my long curly hair into submission.
One summer day when I was eight years old, I walked into the barbershop at our local strip mall in Ville St Laurent and had the barber give me a boy’s haircut. I came home with a crew cut to my mother’s horror, but I could not handle the pain of her trying to comb my thick tangled hair with a teeny tiny comb used to get rid of dandruff.
When my daughter was a baby, I remember turning to my mother in anger and saying “See, it’s not that hard to be a good mother!”
Except it is. I remember when my daughter Victoria was three. She was in our big Jacuzzi bathtub playing with her bath toys when I asked her how her day went at pre-school. She said ” Fine.” When I asked her for more information she said ” I don’t want to share”. I told her that when I was her age I would have given anything to have my mother ask about my day. She answered ” Well, that was you, not me”
Of course she was correct, and for a different mother who wasn’t dealing with trauma, that would have been fine, but for me this was exceptionally triggering. Her reaction to my long unmet desire for connection created a domino effect, for the more I pushed the more she retreated.
When she was in Grade Five, I brought a large pink stuffed animal to her school, and held it up to the window of her classroom. Victoria told me later that that was one of the most embarrassing moments of her life. I couldn’t understand why, and felt confused that my notion of bringing her happiness had brought her pain. I just couldn’t separate my own needs from hers.
I have failed my daughter in so many ways. I wanted her to feel that I was her safe haven, the one person she could bring truest self to for comfort and conversation, instead I am the last person she would come to for solace.
I didn’t only screw things up for Vicky. I made sure she graduated from high school and helped her to find a food services program that led to her working in the food service industry. I am ridiculously proud of her. She is currently working full time while in school full time, the first female in our family to do so.
I can only hope that my daughter finds her way back to me. In the meantime, I tell myself to breathe through the panic down to the grief. Grief that I failed, just like my mother and her mother before her, to show up for my daughter in the ways that she needed me to be. It’s important for me to feel the grief.
It’s how I know I’m finally here. Here in my body, where I belong.