Mothers and Daughters

I miss my mom. Today she would be 88 years old. Honestly, I’ve missed her for eleven and a half years – more than I ever would have thought was possible.

I didn’t appreciate my mother in life as much as I have since she died. That’s a harsh thing to admit. I loved her, absolutely, I loved her. And I admired her too. Yet, I struggled with her. I struggled with what I perceived were her weaknesses and her needs for attention, and I struggled with what I now understand are reflections of my own self.

My mom was a Pisces, just like me. While I don’t subscribe to astrology as the sole determinate of human behavior, I do believe there are certain characteristics that we share according to the zodiac.

My mother and I both feel things deeply. Emotional, you might say, but I don’t like that term, and neither would she. In our culture, emotion is a negative. It’s attributed to women as a handicap. My mother’s emotions made her a poet. She understood things on a gut level, as do I.

As a Pisces, my mother’s birthday is on the heels of mine. I know this sounds petty and I’m not proud of this, but I always felt like her day encroached a bit on mine, even if it was two weeks away.

Maybe that’s why I spent a bunch of years as a young adult downplaying my birthday. When I finally embraced it at age 28, I did so with gusto. But that’s also when I started sending my mother flowers on my birthday. Always with a card that said, “Thanks for not having me circumcised.” (The story was often told how my father, probably a bit delirious from being awake about 36 hours, came into the maternity ward and shouted, “Alice, we forgot to talk about the circumcision!” The other mothers snickered as my mother gently reminded him the baby was a girl.)

I thought acknowledging my mother with flowers was a nice way to thank her for bringing me into the world. Now I wonder… maybe I was just trying to bring the focus back to me and also give her a gift in advance of when she expected something. Maybe the gesture was both altruistic and selfish, I’m not sure.

More than this, the overriding truth of our relationship is that I was much closer to my father. She would often say, “You’re so much like your dad,” and after they divorced, that wasn’t a good thing. I was well into adulthood before she would celebrate the ways she and I were similar, particularly as it came to writing and the positive aspect of our emotions.

The truth is, I didn’t want to be like my mother, though I wasn’t consciously aware of this until she was gone. I heard too many times growing up that I got my looks from her and my brains from my father. When my dad would say this, my mom would respond, “Jerry, my IQ is 140 – higher than yours!” And still, people other than my father would say it. It’s true – I did look like my mom, and thank goodness for that. But when it comes to respect, we prize intelligence over looks. And our culture assigns intelligence to men.

Growing up in the 1970s and ‘80s, I was profoundly aware of my mother as a working mom and a single mom. I also knew and vaguely understood the sins of my father, the reasons for their divorce. But the prevailing mindset at that time still blamed the wife for a divorce. Especially in Christian circles.

It didn’t matter that my mom had written two books, Divorced and Christian and Single Again, This Time With Children. Or that she led workshops on these topics and was featured twice on The 700 Club with Pat Robertson. (Admittedly, the latter did impress me. But mind you, this was well before Robertson went completely off his rocker.)

In our culture, men are associated with success. We live in a patriarchal society. Even today, women are expected to find fulfillment in being wives, being pretty, being mothers, hosting gatherings, and keeping a nice house. If a girl aspires to more, she will often identify with her father and not her mother. She’ll consider her mother weak or less admirable than her dad. She will distance herself from her mom as much as possible. Maureen Murdock writes about this phenomenon in her book, The Heroine’s Journey – Woman’s Quest for Wholeness. I didn’t read this book until I was in graduate school, a few years after my mom’s death, and wow – it was both an eye-opener and a punch in the gut. This isn’t every woman’s experience, but Murdock certainly describes mine. And the truth is, it was my mother’s experience as well.

I wish I could talk to my mom about these things. About how I emotionally abandoned her in some ways, despite staying close to her. How I blamed her for things that weren’t her fault. How I didn’t fully respect her wisdom. She had so much she wanted to share and, while I largely went through the motions, I fell so short of really listening to her, hearing her, and engaging with her mind.

Age brings wisdom. I understand my behavior now and I can forgive myself for not being a better daughter, but that doesn’t make me miss her any less. In fact, I miss her more.

My mother was truly a role model of strength and grace and an incredible blend of beauty and brains. Every day I see more and more how she influenced the woman I have become. For all of this, I am deeply grateful.

Happy birthday, Mom. I wish you were here.

My last photo with my mom in August 2010
my high school years
In Germany together in 1991
I appreciate my mom more since she's been gone than when she was alive. And I miss her every day.
One of my favorite photos of my mom, as a marketing manager for Scott, Foresman & Co textbooks: a single mom and working woman in a man’s world

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