So it’s that time: All Souls Day, Dia de los Muertos, Samhain.
These holidays, celebrated during the time of year when the veil between the living and the dead is at it’s thinnest, call us to remember our ancestors.
Which is why, when it came time to write this week’s post, I was all set to talk about my mom, who passed away just over a year ago.
If you’ve read any of my past posts like this, you know a little about her, but I thought it would shake things up a bit if I tell a nice story about my mother, for a change.
True, it would take some digging, but I was determined.
Until, that is, I sat in front of my computer and thought, why would anyone care about that??
A story about how my mother once cooked a nice leg of lamb won’t mean anything to anyone. It’s self indulgent and uninteresting.
Also, it’s not even true.
Blogging is dumb, I decided.
So, I quit.
Just like that.
(It is worth noting that I quit blogging exactly two and a half times a week, and don’t really think it’s dumb, except sometimes. )
All of this brings me to Sunday night, when my sons and I were hanging out, eating the homemade chicken soup I had so lovingly prepared, and discussing something that had happened between my 13 year old and one of his friends.
(Those of you who are parents will know that, in recounting a conversation about my son’s friends, I am skating on very thin ice. It is for this reason that I will scramble all details, rendering the whole thing completely mysterious. If you think I’m being paranoid, check out this cautionary tale.)
My son mentioned that a friend (we’ll call him Chauncey) had an issue with a girl we know. According to my son, Chauncey finds this girl “spacey.” I, being an astute observer of human behavior (and also clueless in the workings of the adolescent mind) said, “Well, Chauncey is a little spacey, himself, so he shouldn’t talk.”
“No he’s not,” 13 said, his spoon frozen in mid-air.
(I know what you’re thinking. This is where I should have stopped talking. Who the fuck cares what Chauncey thinks?? Certainly not me, and yet…)
“Yes he is,” I said.
“Name one time he has acted spacey,” he countered, in full defense mode, like only a 13 year old can.
Looking back, I am warmed by his loyalty, by his willingness to have his friend’s back, even in the face of his own mother, who’s approval he still grudgingly,
but still most definitely, craves.
The rest of the conversation went pretty much like this: me giving lots of amusing examples of Chauncey’s spaciness. I was careful to keep it light, peppering the list with other observations, like how smart Chauncey is, and funny, and kind to animals.
“I love Chauncey!” I assured 13, who had already dumped his bowl of hot soup and was busy making cinnamon toast (a passive aggressive move that wasn’t lost on me), with tears in his eyes.
The whole night went south from there, with 13 giving me the silent treatment, leaving me to wonder why in the world I feel it necessary to share my opinion on every little thing to anyone who will listen, or, in this case, anyone who has no choice but to hear it.
I let a little time pass, then delivered a sincere apology.
This wasn’t the “I’m sorry if I said something that bothered you” kind of apology, but the three part real deal apology.
He deserved it.
I had, for no good reason, criticized a friend of his. It wasn’t kind, it wasn’t necessary and, as far as he was concerned, it wasn’t true.
Like the good and compassionate egg he is, he accepted my apology.
So why didn’t I feel better?
The maternal anxiety I was feeling was clearly out of proportion to the pretty minor screw-up. What was my deal?
It wasn’t that my son was mad at me, puh-leez. Happens all the time.
Only later, in bed, as I stared into the dark and hoped for sleep, that I realized what was gnawing at me: the whole thing, the petty observations, the criticism disguised as humor, the taking down of someone smaller and weaker—
all of it was straight out of my mother’s playbook.
Thus commenced a longish stretch of self-loathing, which brought me to my kitchen table at around midnight, pen in hand, to hash it out on paper.
The veil felt thin alright. In fact, I had the unsettling sensation of my mother sitting right beside to me.
Maybe even a little bit inside me.
I hated the idea of being like her in any way. Because I saw her as wholly awful in the mother department, I wanted her as far away from me as possible.
I remembered her falling asleep with her cigarette burning, spending the scarce money on Jack and stealing from my ballerina jewelry box. I would never, I thought, and opened my journal.
I began to write.
But, weirdly enough, what ended up on the page, was this:
Yes, She Did That. But She Also Did This
She taught me to eat a balanced diet
She taught me that making art was worthwhile
She didn’t obsess about her looks or her body and that rubbed off on me
She was funny, and I learned that laughter is a survival skill
When I was eleven and chipped my front tooth, she didn’t let the dentist give me a silver cap, even though it would have been cheaper.
I put down my pen and looked at what I’d written.
Not bad, Mama, I thought.
I didn’t plan to post a blog about it. The list was long overdue, and it was just for me.
But then I noticed something had lifted.
I could see, or was finally letting myself see, in the dim light of the midnight kitchen, that I couldn’t help but occasionally sound like my mother. By the time I was thirteen (ah, 13), she had gone, but, like the sculptures she made of me as a child, I was covered in her fingerprints.
The only way to live with that, to forgive myself when I occasionally sounded a bit too much like her, was to raise the veil and take a long slow look at the truth, even if it complicates the story.
Even if it means I have to give in a little.
Like a lot of us, she was just an imperfect woman, raised by an imperfect woman.
And we are all forgiven.