I’ve been on an emotional bender of some kind, is that even a thing? I have no idea, but I also don’t know what you would exactly call this. Let me explain, this week I finished reading “Olga Dies Dreaming” by Xochitl Gonzalez, amazing book (my review). A must read, you will not be able to put it down. While I was reading, I decided to watch the “Lost Daughter” on Netflix. I’m still not sure how I feel about it. I do know that I disliked the mother. When I first saw the preview, it was interesting, though I didn’t quite understand what it was about. When I realized it was a book, I was like “oh, I’ll watch the movie then read the book.” I know most of you do the opposite, but I like picturing the actors from the movie as the characters when I read the book. It keeps me from being disappointed, I just loathe when the character from my head does not resemble the one on the screen.
Anyways, after watching the movie I know for a fact that I do NOT want to read the book. I do not want to know more about Leda, ever.
Then I watched Jane Fonda’s documentary on HBO, interesting how the relationship between her mother and Jane, and between Jane and her first daughter were extremely complicated.
Then I watched Isabel Allende’s miniseries and yet again another depiction of a complicated relationship between mother and daughter that makes its way down to the second generation.
My synopsis: mother-daughter relationships are extremely fucken volatile!
Why though? Why is motherhood so complicated, but also so venerated? Why am I being drawn to this now?
Could it be because the relationship between my mother and I is complicated and I’m really struggling with it now? As I was typing this, I also realized that my motherhood has also been put under the microscope. My mothering has been going through deep scrutiny lately by the worst possible critic-me.
My son has been going through some behavior issues, nothing major according to the teacher. Simply learning how to process when things don’t go his way. He’s smart as heck, doing extremely well academically. His social skills; thanks to 1.5 years of remote learning, need some work. Teacher says it’s part of his development, but for some reason my brain understands that as “you’re failing as a mom”. I start going down the rabbit hole of nature vs. nurture, how much can I control? How deep can my love go before whatever is in his DNA shows up? Like is that even a factor? Am I overthinking this? How much therapy will he need when he’s older? Should we start therapy now?
He’s happy, healthy, and thriving. Yet, my inner “perfect” mother won’t leave me alone for not doing enough. Which is ironic, because I honestly don’t know where this bitch came from. I don’t know a perfect mother, I’ve never had one and those around me didn’t have one either.
So, where did she come from?
I have no idea, but she won’t leave. No, this is not a cry for help. No need for a 51-50. I’m sure every mother hears it. Hears that nagging, we should be better. Do better. Well, my perfect mother isn’t a constant, thank god. But you see, she doesn’t only show up when I’m doubting my mothering, but also when I’m doubting my mother’s mothering. “Why does she speak to me that way? Why doesn’t she help me more? This is not how mothers are supposed to act, why is she being this way with me? Why can’t she be more like my Abuela?”
Mean? Maybe. But I learned a long time ago, that my relationship with my mother is not typical. My mother has had her own demons to deal with, had to grow up a lot faster than any child should. Which is why I’m extremely protective of her, which also means I fucked up because I didn’t set any boundaries. This might have automatically put me down as the person that will give no matter what, or even worse, as the one that has to give no matter what. My older siblings say I’m not responsible for her, that I shouldn’t feel that way, she’s an adult. But yet I don’t see them stepping in when she needs something. When there’s some type of medical expense that needs to be handled because her limited income is not enough to cover all her expenses, including her scratcher addiction. I guess you leave one addiction for another.
Even though I’m the single mother, it’s on me. How many times have I said I’m not going to do it. But yet I remember all the sacrifices, I remember the hardships, her battles, and so I give in. The one that demanded less from her, has to give more than those that did. It is what it is, she’s in her seventies and at this point I don’t think either of us will change our ways.
I try to understand her. I try to understand her selfish ways, but I can’t. Maybe, I don’t want to. Am I being selfish for wanting her to be different than what she is? What version exactly do I want her to be? Who do I want her to be? Perfect? I have no idea, that image of a mother is missing from my head. I just have her, she who didn’t know how to express love other than by providing for us. She who only hugged when intoxicated, she who I have no recollection of ever playing with, but whose red lips on my forehead are still a vivid memory. She kissed me before she left to work and those lips on my forehead was proof that she loved me, even when she didn’t say it. My memories of her saying she loved me, are mainly of me as an adult. Maybe she didn’t know how to say it to me as a child, I don’t think she heard it enough as a child either.
Again, so complicated. I love her. I want to protect and provide for her. But there’s times when I also want to run fromher, I want to not care anymore. I know she loves me, but there’s no one else in the world that can hurt me as much as she can. There’s times when I can’t help but wonder if she’s for or against me. Moments when I feel she’s waiting for me to simply fuck up, so she can somehow prove that I’m not as perfect as I think I am. She says things that really make me realize that she doesn’t know me. She foresees some type of behavior that is based; in my opinion, on her passed lived experiences. We are so different in that regard, that I just don’t understand why she would think that way.
She’s not a villain. I’m not trying to villainize her, because she along with my son are the people that I love the most in the world. I feel guilty writing this, this is in fact my second version of writing on this topic. I wrote the other version earlier this week, then stopped. I wasn’t sure if I should post. Then I kept getting pulled and witnessing complicated versions of mother-daughter relationships in everything that was around me.
Why is this so hard to write? Because in our culture my dear you never villainize your mother. Your mother is sacred, and your Abuela is god-like. No matter what, you tend to give them the benefit of the doubt and most importantly, you hide your emotions. Unless they do some crazy extreme shit like kill their kids or let others purposely hurt their kids.
For some reason, in our culture it’s always black or white. There’s no room for grey, no alternative. You are either a good mother or a bad mother, since my mother didn’t abandon me and made sure I was fed-she was a good mother. I’m not going to argue with that, I might bitch but again I love my mother and I know the first years of my motherhood journey would not have been able to happen without her. She’s not your typical mother or abuela, but she’s a good mother.
Even with that being said, there’s more to that. There should be more to that. What’s the point of having a mother by your side if she’s not present, she’s abusive, etc. What if your mother leaving was the best thing she could do for you? Does that still make her a bad mother?
I’m trying to find the perfect segway to talk about Blanca, Olga’s mother from “Olga Dies Dreaming” but I can’t so I’m just going to dive right in because she’s really present in my mind right now. Gonzalez did something that many can’t do: she villainized the one character that many of us have a hard time villainizing-the mother. Just like Milton did in “Paradise Lost” that fucker had me rooting for Satan at one point. Some readers were upset about this, I remember one person said they didn’t like the fact that her character made it seem that women couldn’t have it all. When I read that comment, two things came to mind: 1) you probably don’t have kids, and 2) you missed the point of the book.
You can have it all. There’s no doubt about that, so don’t write any hate mail. But-let’s be honest we are always going to give something more energy than the rest. You’ll either work too much or not enough. You’ll probably be a mother completely devoted to her children, but does not have the time or energy to join the PTA. In order to go on vacation with your family, you have to work late two weeks before and most likely after. Which means you’ll miss things and you’ll hope that the memories you made while on vacation are enough to substitute the ones you’ll be missing on while at work. I work from home and there’s things I still miss. I’m sometimes too tired to play, but have enough energy to bathe, make dinner, do homework, read a bedtime story, and give him one hundred billion kisses and hugs before bed. It’s a balance.
Jane Fonda highlighted how she will forever be sad about the moments she wasn’t there for her eldest daughter. She was out fighting the cause, but yet in order to do that she had to leave her kid behind. Was she a bad mother? I don’t think so, different circumstances. She took her son with her, but his father, her husband at the time was also in the movement. In the book this was never the case with Blanca’s character, she left her children for the cause. She didn’t want to be a mother, that was her husband’s dream and she felt she had to go along with it if she loved him. Once that loved died, so did the dream. She realized she needed more, she like her beloved Puerto Rico needed to be free. She had no remorse of leaving her kids behind and was quick to cut them off if they didn’t play by her rules. She judged from afar, and would pressure them into fighting for her cause when she wouldn’t even fight for them. This is why I believe that reader, missed the entire point of the book. It wasn’t about a mother wanting it all, it was about a woman realizing she didn’t want to be a mother, and another woman (Olga) living through the trauma of being a motherless child.
Not every woman wants to be a mother and that’s okay. Not every woman wants to birth a child, some might want to birth a book or a revolution and they are still allowed to have it all. Honestly not every woman should be a mother. I think that’s why some mother-daughter relationships are extremely complicated. You were either forced to do something or forced to give up something and that child exemplifies that. That in itself might be too much to bare for some. Others might just want everything to be perfect, because if their kids are perfect, then that makes them the perfect mother. Others never learned, they didn’t have an example. That perfect mother image was missing from their life, but they are trying and are learning along the way.
No matter how you look at it, it’s complicated. The interesting part is that every generation has some type of complication in it. My grandmother’s mother died when she was a child and she left home at a very young age to escape the abuse from her siblings. Extremely complicated. My mother left her home at a young age too, only to later come back with two kids and a future drinking problem to help cope with the trauma of an abuser and womanizer. Complicated relationship but my Abuela was always there. My mother and I, my sisters and my mother, complicated but she’s there.
My mother is who she is and I must make peace with that. Sometimes I wonder if the complication lives only in my head. If I make it worse by expecting her to be whatever version I have in my head. That mother is missing, my mother is here and without her I wouldn’t be the woman I am today. Through her I’ve learned how I want to be and don’t want to be as both a mother and woman.She’s not a perfect mother, but she’s been a perfect teacher. I need to make peace with that.