After my mother passed, a friend of hers told me that Mom hated Mother’s Day.
According to her friend, a woman of good character, one day when they were together Mom broke down crying, because she said every Mother’s Day she felt like a failure, “I hate Mother’s Day.” I suspect Mom’s reason was that I was so different (and, then, unhappy, i.e., clinically depressed) from what she expected.
She wanted her daughter to be making a good Christian family, with a husband, going to church every Sunday, and making her a grandmother.
I’m sure there was also a flag waving somewhere in this myth.
You see, I was her miracle. The doctors told her that she’d never have children. So Mom prayed for just one child, a little girl. I was the answer to that prayer, but I didn’t turn out she hoped or expected.
Here we get to religion. Specifically, America’s version of Christianity. Gender norms, so-called family values, sexual stereotypes, and cultural habits that have less to do with Incarnate Love than symbology, rituals, and cultural habits.
So Mom suffered from missed expectations about her only begotten, so much so that when I went through her stuff after her death, all my photos and baby pictures had been relegated to closet floors and a spare bedroom. She came to replace my photos in the living room and well-trafficked hospitality spaces (she was everybody’s best friend, and always had lots of dinners and get-togethers) with comforting pictures of her friends whose values were ”Christian.”
I’m certain all of this was a way to deal with her pain and disappointment with her perpetual student, sex worker daughter.
Her expectations were Christian crazy, not just in terms of Jesus and Company, but who we were and how I was raised. She confused her Jesus and her faith with a cultural heritage, and there was no way in hell that given our marginalized years and lives, I would end up buying an easy, comforting script. Being poor, marginalized, bullied, and sensitive, I saw through collective hypocrisy way too young.
Then there was Mom: a single working mother of singular strength and courage — a force of nature who really hated being that woman, because of her faith, and the stories she believed about that faith, again, mostly normative.
My role model was a force and a fury, a woman who wasn’t nurturing, but who got stuff done no matter what, and not through polite subservience.
She was a feminist by circumstance, not choice: she wanted a myth (read, mainstream Christian, stay at home Mom) but had to live a reality.
Because of that myth, she never saw the miracle of me that was right in front her — and she did better than she ever gave herself credit for.
It never occurred to her that my life was her prayed for miracle. My extraordinary journey of education, dealing with mental health issues, my spiritual pilgrimages, and the healing art of sex work have been filled with miracles galore.
For the extremes of this strange creature that I call my life demand either more miracles than can be counted or the grave.
So many miracles, I keep tripping over them in joy.
For her sex work meant shame. Education was threatening. Other religious beliefs were . . .not Jesus, not the Bible.
But I think that these were easy projections, and that there was a deeper shame for her. One that she never confronted. During those years of busting her backside as a nurse‘s aide at minimum wage, to get her miracle baby into braces as well as paying the rent, she carried too much pressure that spilled out in corrosives abuse, verbal and physical.
All that life force she had — which I have inherited — was Joan Crawford like.
Just as severe, and just as traumatic.
She never acknowledged the abuse, never saw that she never nurtured her miracle.
Notably, I wasn’t breastfed, she had no milk.
Now that’s a symbol, right there.
Three years ago, I had the excruciating realization that no one ever read me a story growing up — ever. I always read to myself, by myself. She bought me books when she could, and she proudly boasted to her friends about my reading test scores, “she’s only in fifth grade and already reading at twelfth grade level.” But this poor woman never knew the joy of holding me in her lap and reading.
I mourn my loss; but I mourn hers more.
There were realities and behaviors in herself that she could never own, for they eviscerated a more important narrative: I was a miracle, proof of God’s love for her. And the only thing she could allow in her story was the extraordinary work and sacrifices she made to honor the miracle.
How do you reconcile a story of perceived failings to the gift from God (and his only Son, Amen), especially when the thing you hate the most is emotional and intellectual complexity?
You don’t. Ever. And by riding a boat down the river of denial, she made life even more complicated and full of unnecessary pain than it needed to be.
I am better for loving her without expectation, finally. And letting go of expectation allows me to do the real work: holding my pain with gentle kindness so that I may move through it. Only in this awareness can I give as I would receive
A part of me still wishes this could have been her Christ, but I check my expectations and then love us both a little more, a living honor.
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