It was Mother’s Day in the U.S. today (Sunday May 13th). It’s a made-up holiday, but maybe that’s not a bad thing. I don’t know; I think it’s a bit silly myself, and thank heaven, my kids don’t make a big deal (I’m good with flowers and a card from my two youngest, a text from my second oldest, an email from my daughter-in-law, and nothing from my oldest who worked literally all day and is probably still at work and will either remember and call me next week or just decide to blow it off as he knows I’m fine either way). Why don’t I care much for Mother’s Day? Because I don’t like the idea of celebrating something purely biological, I guess, and way too many of us mothers suck and suck hard. We do untold damage to our children. No one is more potentially and actually dangerous, even lethal, to my children, emotionally, than I am. So, uhm, why are we celebrating me and others like me?
I did send my own mother an azalea plant — her favourite flower — because I owe her gratitude for many things. She made me a reader. She read The Tales of Narnia to me at bedtime when I was seven, and when I was twelve, she handed me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings books, saying, “He was friend with C. S. Lewis; you might like him.” She was a good cook and a lovely seamstress and she hand-sewed my senior prom dress while sitting at far too many boring track meets, watching me lose every race I was entered in by my track coach (I ran track because the team was fun, not because I was any good). I owe her my good skin, my lack of grey hair, and my ability to find almost anything funny, which means I giggle madly at all the wrong times much as she did.
I have three sisters and one brother, and I am easily her most annoying and least enjoyed child. Easily. This is openly acknowledged by other family members, by the bye. I am the one least like her and the one who grated on her the most, the one who kept asking questions about the issues and problems she wanted to ignore, long after she told me to be quiet. She liked to pretend that everything is fine, because if you pretend long enough and hard enough, it might come true. I preferred to prod the mess and fight about the problems and just generally make life rougher, raspier, and unfun. I was never anything she quite wanted me to be. And she was never exactly the mom I wanted, even in the best of times. But she was, when her deteriorating brain still allowed her to be, a fantastic and loving grandmother, and I’m grateful that my older kids have good and happy memories of her being her funny, loving, scatter-brained* self.
My favourite story about my mother and me perfectly encapsulates our relationship: When I was three, I decided I hated my first name (a name I have now loved for years and years). I wanted to be called “Krist” as in Kristen with the “en.” So I called myself Krist and didn’t answer to my real name, regardless of the situation. And it might have a harmless few months of childhood silliness, unremembered and unremarkable, if she and I had not been in a truly awful car wreck in the fall of 1968. We were crossing the median section of a four-lane state highway, when a man decided to use the outside lane to pass an 18-wheeler. He t-boned us going, according to the state troopers, at least 65-70 mph. To this day, I’ve no idea what happened to him. But I know what happened to us. I was standing up in the front seat at the time of the accident, because this was many years before mandatory seat belts, much less mandatory car seats. And she was wearing the standard lap belt. And we were mashed, hard*[maybe one of the reasons why my mom was so scattered-brained in later life].
Why we both survived, truly only God knows. I was knocked senseless by the impact, but she remained semi-conscious — enough to be able to tell the first responders how to get in touch with our neighbors. All I remember was coming to in a hospital room, with strangers asking me questions and me cold and confused and wondering where Mom was. The strangers seemed nice, though, and they asked me my name. “Krist” was, of course, the reply. At least one of the nice ladies then left the room, and, an eternity later, my dad came in. He smiled at me, weary but relieved. Apparently, my determination to not answer to my actual name had caused some panic. My mother, badly injured but still able to slur out a few answers to basic questions, had been asked who the little girl was. My mother answered with my name, of course, but when I insisted that that wasn’t it, the medical personnel thought that either 1) there was another child involved in the accident who might be buried in the wreckage or who might have been thrown from the site and maybe they needed to start combing the area looking for a body, or 2) that my mom was even more damaged than they had originally thought and couldn’t remember who her children were. It’s a wonder she didn’t strangle me in my sleep.
She is 79 now, and doesn’t always remember who I am when I call or visit. She has hugged me more in the last four or five years than in the whole rest of my life put together, even though I now live many miles from her and see her but rarely. I can only hope that somewhere in the clouded depths of her heart, she knows only that I am one of her children and that she loves me even if she can’t always remember my name.