My mother and I had a complicated relationship that I’ve wanted to write about for some time, but not only did I not know where to begin, I also don’t want to “trash” the dead. Further, the notion of maternal love is largely positive in our society, and anything that goes against it seems taboo.
I’m going to state the facts, and I most certainly am not doing this for self-pity. I think our relationship has a lot to do with my self-image, and possibly my anxiety.
I didn’t have the kind of mother I wished I had, the type some of my friends had or have become — involved in their children’s lives within healthy boundaries, showing affection, approachable, and a whole host of other traits I can’t even think of at the moment.
It’s my guess that this won’t be the only post I write about my mom — in fact, I recently wrote about how she always saw me as an embarrassment. But today I want to talk about her public and private personas — she was a creature of 2 faces.
As you can see on the left side of the photo, taken maybe a few years before her death, my mom is dressed in a traditional Filipino butterfly dress, no doubt for one of the many events she attended and/or planned. She has a bright smile on her face, and looks radiant.
On the picture’s right side, taken on my 2nd birthday, I’m blowing the candles, and she’s holding me back to keep me from falling into the cake. Most parents, I’m guessing, would be happy at their kids’ birthday parties. Instead, she looks way more reserved than she does in the other picture — she’s barely smiling. I didn’t see the birthday pic until I was gown up, and I always wondered why she looked so put-upon.
As an adult, I learned that she had one face that she showed to extended family; her immediately family; friends; and co-workers; and a different one at home. People loved my mom. She was active in a lot of organizations like church choir, Jazzercise, professional organizations, you name it. And yet she didn’t have time (nor desire?) to visit with my sister and me (our brother lived out-of-state). She only called or texted when she wanted something. She was too busy with her life, which didn’t include her kids.
When we were growing up, it was the same thing. She was absolutely charming outside the house, and people loved her. At home, however, she was always yelling at my dad, siblings, and me for one reason or another. I can’t speak for my brother and sister because I don’t know the exact nature of their relationships with our mom, though I know it was rocky between her and my sister. But that isn’t my story to tell.
As I read through the entries in her online memorial book, I had no idea who her friends and co-workers were describing, because it sure didn’t sound like my mom. They said she was welcoming, and “fun to sit and talk with.”
In my experience, my mom was dismissive. In the post, Life Scripts, Bipolar & Childfree, I described how, when my husband and I were considering adoption, I was hoping to have a heart-to-heart talk with my mother. What transpired was me telling her, “We’re thinking of adoption. What do you think?” I was so hoping for my mom’s opinions and advice. Instead, she said, “If you want to adopt, then adopt,” and literally walked away. I was looking for a serious conversation, but she certainly didn’t “talk with” me.
Another friend described my mother’s “thoughtful, affectionate ways.” I don’t remember ever cuddling with my mom. With my dad, yes; but not with her. Also, they never hugged me. And it wasn’t after they divorced when my siblings and I were adults, did she and my dad tell me, “I love you,” at the end of conversations. I never heard this growing up. I always, and still think, that’s weird. And somehow, not normal. But I also thought that’s just how it is in Filipino families. Maybe I’m wrong.
When you were a child, and now, as an adult, do your parents say, “I love you”?