I went to go see my Mom yesterday, as she commanded. It was on odd visit to say the least. It seems all she wanted to know, in a nutshell, is if I still wanted to be part of her family…
I understand that she is 87, recognizing her mortality and basically just wanting and waiting to die, (her words, not mine) but her memories of our life together have definitely been eroded by the cottony softness of age and fluffed up convenient, fresh ideas on ideal motherhood. She is now assuming to know what is best for children, has wise and sacred knowledge to pass on to my sister about how she should raise her son, as if my mother herself were the epitome of perfect parenting! I am BAFFLED to say the least. Perplexed. Outraged. Insulted. And yes, a little pissed at her presumptuousness.
When my Mom called, demanding to know when I was coming to visit her next, she was very no-nonsense about it all. Abrupt. Curt. And a little intimidating. For a whole week I felt like a kid who was waiting for Dad to come home and give me the strap for stealing change from my teachers purse to buy candy. (Yes, true story. I was a sugar thief! ) And the anxiety was acute, I assure you. I ditched and dodged and faked my way out of going too deep into the feeling, but the waiting was agonizing. You know when a lover calls you and leaves that cryptic message “We need to talk.” and then makes you stew in that information all day till you see them? Well, this was akin to that. The endless thoughts of possibility bombarded my brain and ricocheted with dizzying frequency.
Did she want to change her will? Did she want to come live with me? Was she going to tell me that in no uncertain terms was I or my siblings to enter her into a seniors home? Was she going to ask that I assist in her dying? Did she not understand that I am gay and wanted clarification? Did she want me to take a more active role in her recovery and demise? Did she want to come live with me? (Yes, that was a concern.)
When I called her back to confirm that I was indeed coming for a visit, on Mother’s Day no less, she poo-pooed the significance with sarcasm, but seemed in a lighter mood, so I asked her what the nature of this seemed emergency was. She simply said that every time I had come to visit her since she’d had her fall, I was with someone, so we hadn’t really had any private time together. Again I was floored. Private time? Me and my Mother??? What on earth would we do with private time? And the idea of being alone with her was more then a bit daunting, especially since I had no idea what she wanted to talk to me about.
I told her that I would be arranging a ride because it was just easier then taking the Greyhound and relying on St Catharine’s transit and told her that if she needed to talk with me privately, I would ask my ride to wait for me in the car or keep themselves otherwise occupied. She then asked how my eX was and I told her he was fine. She always asks about him. She likes him a lot. Probably more then she likes me. When she told me that she wouldn’t mind if he were present and that she would love to see him, the gavel slammed down in my mind. Done! I called my eX and asked him (told him actually!) to take me. He agreed. There is nothing he doesn’t know about me, nothing my Mother could say to shock, offend or make him uncomfortable. Turns out I was wrong (sorry M). In her usual lack-of-diplomacy-and-say-whatever-comes-into-her-head kind of way, she offended him within the first 2 minutes of seeing him. The first thing she said to my eX was that he had changed and had gained weight.
What is it with people over 70 feeling the need to comment incessantly on people’s weight whether its the gaining or losing of it. My eX’s parents do the same! It must be a generational thing! Sooooo inappropriate and completely insensitive, but they just don’t see it that way!!! Amazing. I could tell he was properly offended as he sucked in his wine-beer-cheese-salami-loving and not-very-large-at-all belly and said that he has gained and lost and gained and lost over the past 10 years. Touche!
After giving her the beautiful, plump dozen of yellow roses, which my eX had paid for lol, I left the kitchen to pee, and was gone less then a minute. That’s all it took for my Mom to ensconce him in living room, pin him in a corner and begin her interrogation. I heard her ask him why he and I weren’t together anymore just as I entered the room and he laughed softly, looked up at me, gestured with an outstretched arm and said, “Why don’t you ask her?” If it had been anyone else I would have been mortified, but my eX knew what he was in for before arriving, so our eyes locked with mutual understanding. My mother, on the other-hand, looked like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar! It was quite humorous actually. I have rarely seen her looking uncomfortable or guilty. She is always so righteous about everything.
Anyhow, the conversation quickly, albeit a little awkwardly, turned to confirmation that my eX and I are the best of friends, that we are closer now then we have ever been and that he still, in his way, takes care of me – which made my Mother happy and she told him she loved him for that. And it struck me fresh again, that she has never told me she loves me. Ever. I know that was her way of saying she loved him for taking care of someone she cared about, but sometimes you just want to hear the words, ya know?
Shortly afterward, I asked her what was so important that she needed to see me. Her face kinda crunched up in mild agitation, eyebrows furrowed, shoulders tensed and she rubbed her palms along her thighs before throwing them out in well-remembered exasperation. “I just want to know if you still want to be part of my family!”
Asking me if I still wanted to be a part of her family was the last thing I had expected. The emphasis on her family kind of hurt, as if it were already a forgone conclusion that I had never been a part of her family. She could have said “the” or “this” family…just sayin.
I sat there on the floor barefoot and Yoga-Buddha style, momentarily stunned. My pause was perceptible but minoot. “Of course I do.” I answered incredulously. “Why would you even ask me that?”
She visibly relaxed into the couch and said, “Well, I just thought you might have some issues around it.”
Jesus! Issues??? Old woman, if you only knew!!!
My mind raced, frantic for a moment , like a deer in the headlights I didn’t quite know how to respond! Here was my chance! I could say anything right now and justify it because it had been invited. I could tell her that she had been a terrible mother, that I never felt that she loved me, that she never showed me any kind of real affection, that I had spent my entire association with her seeking her approval, desperately wanting validation that I had worth and merit in her eyes, that I wished she hadn’t made me feel like such a disappointment. A loser. A failure. As if nothing better was or had ever been expected of me since I was after-all, just the poor, ignorant, uneducated, adopted colored child and not of her superior academia genes.
Issues!!! Noooo Mom, I don’t have any issues. (Yes, that was sarcasm!)
So many thoughts and questions screamed for release from the shadows of black memories that have never been able to turn to light. I wanted to cry and stamp my feet like a petulant child and ask her why she even bothered to adopt me if she wasn’t capable of loving me and making me feel wanted. Why subject a child to that kind of cruel punishment? I might have been better off in the orphanage…unadopted yes, but also living without the false hope of being made whole again by a mothers love.
The conversation twisted and wound around and around. My eX’s presence kept it light for the most part but my Mom did tell me that when I first came to live with them, I was such a cold child. That I was incapable of showing or excepting emotion. She told me that when she used to come in and tuck us in to bed and kiss us goodnight, I would just lie there cold and unresponsive. I had a harder time imagining her coming into tuck us in and kiss us goodnight then I did believing I was an emotionally unresponsive 6 year old. I have absolutely no memory of her ever kissing me goodnight. More of the cottony softness of age memories, perhaps?
Anyhow, I told her that when I was 15 I had actually met the case worker involved with me when I first went into the Children’s Aid at the ripe old age of 2, and that prior to being adopted I had been in 27 different foster homes. I wondered if she had even been aware of that. It just surprised me that she could recount how “cold” I was as a child and never once attribute it to anything in her retelling of the story. Children are not born “cold”, Mother. She didn’t really bat an eyelash at that, but immediately went into attack mode of my biological mother – whom she couldn’t stand ( and to her credit, with reason) and said that I had to forgive my biological mother because she had never been given the tools to raise a child or be a responsible parent. That she was a damaged individual. That I couldn’t blame her and that she probably did her best with the limited tools she was given.
It was the perfect segue…
I told my Mom that I had called my biological mother a few years back, and that in that conversation I had hoped for some answers and some closure. My biological mother was an alcoholic, mentally unstable and a lesbian. But more importantly, she tried to kill me. Literally. And, if not for the intervention of one of her lovers and the grace of the almighty, she would have succeeded. I never understood, and still don’t understand how a Mother could ever hate her child so much that she would actually want to kill her with her own bare hands. Still sends chills deep inside.
That conversation had been a bust. When I tried to ask her the questions I desperately needed answers to, she simply cried foul. Asked me what I wanted from her, cried and sobbed and told me couldn’t handle the conversation. She ended up hanging up on me, but just before she did, I realized that I was never going to get the closure I was looking for. None of the answers. No earth-shattering revelation that would heal my wounds and suffering. Nope. In that moment I realized “This is as good as it’s ever going to get.“ I sighed. I released. I let go. Two years later my sister called to tell me she was dead. I mourned her passing, with deep sadness for what never had been…for about an hour. And then I sighed again. I released. And I let go. For good.
My Mother listened to my story and really didn’t have much to say. She told me the one mistake she thinks she made with me was going back to work so soon after I was adopted. She thinks now that she should have stayed home longer with me because she knew I had never been in a “family” before and needed time to get used to the situation. She told me that she had asked me set the table shortly after I had joined the family (in the hopes of us bonding in some way) and when she had asked me to set out serving spoons as well, I didn’t know what serving spoons were. Strange, the things that stick in her memory. Apparently, I was a cold, unresponsive child who didn’t know what a serving spoon was. Great.
Then I finally asked the BIG question. The one I have wanted to ask most of my life actually. The one for whatever reason, until now I hadn’t found the courage to ask.
“So Mom, why did you choose to adopt me specifically?”
She promptly replied with a shrug of her thin shoulders, “You were available.”
Aaah, there it is. That warm and tender sensitivity we all know and love. I felt winded by the brutal dismissive. How the fuck do you argue with that? What more can one say? It was such a simple, blanket statement that really required no further explanation. But it was so…cold.
She went on to tell me that my sister had wanted a sister, and my Mother being 38 at the time was not about to get pregnant again, so they decided to adopt. They called the Children’s Aid and the worker they spoke to on the phone, told them if they were in rush, a six year old colored girl was available. My Dad, sister and brother came to meet and take me out for a visit to Upper Canada Village, which I remember quite vividly. I’ve always wondered why I don’t have any memory of my Mother on that day and now I know it was because she didn’t come. Odd. Why wouldn’t you come to meet your perspective daughter??? I can hear her now. She was fond of calling us “you people”. She probably sent the family off, minus one Mother figure, (thankful for some time to herself no doubt) and told them, “If you people like her then bring her home”. As if I were a puppy, or a kitten or a new couch.
There was no romance in my being adopted into a white middle-class family in the 60′s. I was simply….available.
Lucky me. Right?
So, the realization gleaned from my short and bittersweet visitation?
“This is as good as it’s ever going to get.”
My mothers are/were flawed and damaged human beings who did the best they could with the tools they were given to raise their daughters. But, the reality is, they are/were simply human and I have finally learned to accept that truth for what it is and put the pain of feeling forsaken in a pretty blue box and stick it on my shelf of forgetting.
I sat on the floor, barefoot and Yoga-Buddha style, looking at this frail, fragile, white haired woman, once a formidable, larger then life, indomitable figure who dominated my childhood and realized that whether she has ever loved me or not, I love her. She is the only woman who willingly took on the role of my Mother, good or bad, fuzzy love or not, and through a quirky kind of osmosis, has instilled the steel in my blood that has allowed me to survive all that I have endured. And now she is old and tired and ready and wanting to die, as she told both my eX and I repeatedly, without morbidity and with complete candor, from the moment we stepped across her threshold – right after she told him he was fat :)
So, when my Mom told me she thought I might have some issues with being in her family, I smiled and looked her straight in the eye.
“No, Mom.” I said, “No issues. I’m good.”
And I meant it.