Missing Mom on Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is a great thing if you are a mom or if you have a mom. But if your mom is not in your life for any reason, Mother’s Day can be…tough. As Mother’s Day approaches, I think of my adoptive mother, who raised me until she died from pancreatic cancer when I was 24 and she was only 62. I’ve officially witnessed 20 Mother’s Days without her. I don’t remember the sound of her voice anymore. I don’t remember what perfume she wore or what she wanted to be when she grew up.

But I remember that she made me baths when I was sick or felt sad. I remember she never owned a pair of jeans and wore a size 8 wide shoe. I remember that she always told me I could go to college – when no one else in our family, including her, ever did. I remember that she made maroon and white pom-poms for my cheerleading team to put on our shoes for competitions in grade school. I remember that she was the kind of person who lit candles for special events and believed that homemade chicken noodle soup could cure anything. I remember that she wanted me to be a flight attendant and get married and have ‘something to fall back on’ in case the whole marriage thing (which I couldn’t do soon enough) didn’t work out. I remember that she was sad a lot. And I wanted so badly to make her happy. I tried all the time. And then she died.

my babies
my babies

She never got to live the life she really wanted – I’m not sure she really knew what that was until it was too late. She never met my children. She never saw me finish graduate school. She never got to know me when I got my head out of my butt and stopped being a stupid teenager. But I think of her every day and try to make my life count twice – once for me, and once for her. I owe her that.

I also think of my birth mom, who I was lucky enough to meet and get to know for two years. I wish her life had been easier. I wish her life had been better because she gave me up for adoption, which was a great choice since I am here to write this blog. ūüôā But she struggled, too. I think of both of my mothers’ struggles,their lives, their hopes and dreams – and I feel very lucky to be here. My birth mom shared with me that she considered aborting me, among other options. But here I am today – a mom myself to a 13-year-old boy and a 11-year-old girl. I feel grateful to be here every day. I can’t tell you enough what a gift it is to be alive. But you’re here – you’re reading this. You know. Right?!

And I will tell you a secret, too: I was terrified to be a mother.

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Celebrating Mother’s Day when Mom’s not there

We all know what moms are supposed¬†to be: patient, kind and loving. They are supposed to know how to sing lullabies¬†and kiss boo-boo’s. They are supposed to cook and clean and decorate cupcakes like it’s nobody’s business. They are supposed to work hard at home and at work and be good friends, good daughters, good sisters and aunts. But most importantly?

They are supposed to be there.

Moms should be there when it counts: at our sporting events and school plays. For our first kiss, first job, first marriage. Moms should be there when you become a mom and join the ‘hood. They should be there for every baby thereafter. Moms should be there forever.

But what happens when they’re not? What do you do when they¬†leave or get sick or die? What do you do when they are there but disconnected, in a “lights are¬†on but nobody’s there” way? What do you do when they are there but you wish they weren’t? And then Mother’s Day comes along, with its high expectations for a Norman Rockwell (or should I say Normal Rockwell) day?

My mom died on¬†March 18, 1994. It was six months before my wedding. By the time her cancer was diagnosed, it was too late, but we didn’t know it then, my sister, father and I. We didn’t have Google or WebMD then; hope was all we had. But that was a long time ago, right? I’m done with that, right? With two kids of my own now, Mother’s Day should be a snap. Right??

But what I am learning is that when there are all these things a mom is supposed to be, you are never “done” coming to terms with the loss of a parent.¬†Your grief¬†merely changes shape over time. My mom and I did not always see eye to eye. She died before I really came into my own as a person, so I like to think that¬†we would have become friends. But I’ll never really know.

I am (mostly) OK with this. I don’t cry anymore on Mother’s Day. I don’t choke up anymore when I see a mother and daughter walking in the mall who look so alike there is no doubt they are mother/daughter. But¬† seeing my older sister being a grandparent to her grandchildren, I feel the sadness and loss of what my children will never experience. When my elderly neighbors invite their adult children and the grandchildren over for Sunday dinner, there is something about the sight of the grey-haired couple standing on their porch stoop, waving goodbye as everyone backs out of the driveway…it’s the sting of¬†what will never be.

I know what a mom is supposed to be. But here’s what my mom really was: she insisted on family dinners every Sunday. She wore her hair in a beehive long after it ceased being fashionable (it was once, right?). She never got her hair wet in the pool and she could sew a pantsuit like it was nobody’s business. She made the best homemade chicken noodle soup. She loved McDonald’s but maybe Long John Silver’s a little more. She read People magazine and The Star and Enquirer. She loved Elizabeth Taylor. She told me I could go to college someday, even though no one else in our family, herself included, had ever gone.

When she died, I didn’t know how to be a wife or mother. She was¬†a buffer between being a kid and a grown-up and when she died, it was like the earth cracked open and I lost everything, myself included. But here’s the thing: I got stronger, too.

I learned how to decorate a house and order window treatments. I never learned how to sew but I did learn that a tailor and a dry cleaner work even better. I learned how to cook for 20 and make pie crusts from scratch. I learned that life is short and tomorrow doesn’t always come, so I finished my grad school application¬†and got that MFA I’d been thinking about.¬†I learned that if I wanted something, I was going to have to get it for myself. And while I missed¬†Mom’s stamp of approval on my life, there is something liberating about charting your own course, free of someone else’s idea of what it should look like.¬†My life¬†felt more real because I had more at stake and no one to blame but me if I failed.

I remember after one particularly bitter fight when I was about 12, my mom gave me a long look and said, “You’re going to write about this some day, aren’t you?” I gave her my best eye roll and a snotty ‘tween look, but deep down, we both knew she was right. Dammit.

Miss you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day.