Mothers and Daughters

Posted on 07 December 2004


This morning I am thinking of Gill, thinking that she will be in the air flying home at this time next week. Rob said yesterday that Emily has some of Gill’s energy – she’s lovely – but that she is not Gill. He tells me that he is excited about seeing Gill. He misses his daughter. I miss mine. We are both possessive.

Lately I have been paralleling my relationship with my mother to Gill’s relationship with me. I am astonished, not only at the quality of the writing, but at her openness in her blog, and know that I could have never made public at eighteen, what she dares to publish, knowing that her mother, father, brothers, friends, strangers can read whatever if they so wish.

There are other differences. My mother never praised me. She preferred criticism. I wondered why I could do nothing right, why I was never good enough. Why wasn’t I my daughter who is beautiful, passionate, open, talented, who is easy to praise?

And yet I see that even praise may create problems for her. What if one day, she drags herself hung-over out of bed, arrives late, or not at all at work, after swearing at someone who doesn’t deserve it, has nothing good to say about anyone, feels miserly and mean, especially since she slammed the phone down on her mother because she didn’t feel like talking to anyone. Will she think herself unworthy of love or worse, that she doesn’t deserve to be loved, that she is not living up to who she thought she was?

I want to plant a seed in her brain that may take years to sprout. Nothing she does or doesn’t do will stop me from cherishing her. This is hard to put into words.( I dislike sentimentality.)I don’t expect perfection. I know she is human. She is allowed to be human. She doesn’t have to be better than she is. I don’t want her to despair as I have. Yet, I know I am powerless in this realm. She will despair.

It took me over forty years, six of which were spent writing, rewriting, and rewriting again, a personal essay about my mother. Each time I thought I had finished, I realized my point of view had shifted. Finally I was able to see my mother as human and that I loved her dearly despite her poor parenting skills. In the last few years, she has been able to say aloud – for the first time in my life – that she loves me.

There is a poem by Sharon Olds titled “The Planned Child” that has always appealed to me as I was the only one of six children who was planned. It came to me this morning that all three of my children were planned, that not one of them was not wanted. (This weekend, a woman my age told me that she grew up being told repeatedly that she was not wanted, that her mother wished that she’d never been born. I can’t imagine how painful that must have been as a child. The tone of her voice told me that she has still not recovered.)

Sharon Olds’ poetry has changed my way of thinking about several important issues. “The Planned Child” was especially potent.

“I hated the fact that they had planned me…

But when a friend was pouring wine

and said that I seem to have been a child who had been wanted,

I took the wine against my lips

as if my mouth were moving along

that valved wall in my mother’s body, she was

bearing down, and then breathing from the mask, and then

bearing down, pressing me out into

the world that was not enouigh for her without me in it,

not the moon, the sun, Orion

cartwheeling across the dark, not

the earth, the sea – none of it

was enough for her; without me.”

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