Sorry I wasn’t a better daughter
I didn’t live with my parents the first six months of my life. I was born in June, and my father had two remaining classes before graduating from college, so my mother had to return to her job quickly after my birth. My mother’s parents, who lived a couple of hours north of the city, took care of me. My parents visited me every other week, until my father’s graduation, when he was able to return to full-time employment.
I was separated from the only person I’d literally been connected to for nine months, and handed to strangers. It’s not surprising my relationship with Mom was complicated.
While pregnant with me, she read that if the mother-to-be thinks happy thoughts as she delivers, the baby will be happy. Through her pain she smiled and smiled.
My grandmother kept a few letters Mom sent her when I was a child. Mom shared, “Sometimes, I think I’m too hard on her. Other times, I don’t think I’m hard enough.”
She meticulously sewed an outfit for my doll out of leftover material. Instead of gratitude, I expressed disdain. I wanted a ball gown like the girl next door.
Clearly, she wasn’t hard enough.
At Disneyland, Mom saw the enchanted effect It’s A Small World had on me, and asked if I wanted to ride it again. “Yes!” But, my dad said, “I am not standing in that long line again.” My mother responded, “Fine. You and the boys can wait out here. Julie and I are going again.” I thought it was so cool that she did that for me. When we returned home, she bought me the sheet music so I could learn to play it on our piano.
I can still see her laughing at me, as I laughed hysterically at my first Marx Brothers movie.
When I was in grade school, she read “The Search for Bridey Murphy,” resulting in a fascination with reincarnation and ESP. She stopped me in the kitchen one day, and said, “I’m going to think of a color, and you tell me what it is.” I guessed correctly. Excited, she asked me to try again, and again I nailed it. The third time, I had lost interest, and missed. She was so disappointed.
Her acrylic oil painting instructor held an art exhibit for the students to showcase and, hopefully, sell their pieces. She returned home with her painting, announcing, “Someone wanted to buy it for $150. Ridiculous. It isn’t worth that.”
Dad didn’t allow smoking in our house, and near the end of my parents’ marriage, my mother would smoke a cigar in the back yard in defiance.
She decorated my 21st birthday cake with toppers symbolizing points in my life – a bicycle (my first), records (I loved music), etc. It was a creatively fun idea.
Mom thoroughly enjoyed every aspect of Christmas. Even after my brothers and I became adults, our stockings would hold a note reading, “Look behind the couch” or “Look in hall closet,” and there would be a gift that was just a little too big for the stocking.
At my wedding, she wanted to give me away along with Dad. I thought it was weird, and rejected the idea.
I needlepointed for her a detailed, hand-painted canvas with a 1920s design, using creative sewing techniques. It took me three months, including coffee breaks and lunch hours, but I finished it in time for Christmas. She cried.
Melanoma had been surgically removed from a leg, but returned years later. Kaiser lost her records from the original appearance, and thus treated it as if it were a first. As a result, the cancer traveled quickly. A hospital pathologist, knowing they’d screwed up, asked her if a lawsuit was pending. She wasn’t interested. I lived in another part of the state and was unaware of the malignancy’s progress, as she wanted me protected from it.
The cancer spread into her lungs, and treatment resulted in some hearing loss.
One day, my stepfather called, advising Mom was on the other line, and he would assist with the conversation. I didn’t understand.
Then, I heard a quiet, slow panting of breath. “I . . . (gasps for breath) . . . love . . . (gasps for breath) . . . you . . . (gasps for breath).
“I love you, too.”
That was the last time I heard my mother’s voice. She died a month before my birthday. My mailbox filled with sympathy cards and birthday cards.
When Natalie Cole released a CD of her posthumous duet with her father, reading her liner notes struck a chord with me. She was angry at him for dying; that he hadn’t stuck around for them to develop a lifelong relationship.
It wasn’t until after my mother’s death that I learned about her own childhood. She was only 6 years old when her 10-year-old brother died of a rare form of anemia.
Her grieving parents ignored her or literally pushed her away – this little girl, who had lost her adored older brother and best friend.
And, yet, she grew to be a kind, generous spirit to all who knew her. She was adventurous, loved to dance, and laughed easily.
I always felt more intelligent and aware than her, and so often pushed her away. How painful it must have been for her to have re-lived that from her own daughter. If we had had those first six months together, would it have been different? I’m certain of it.
My mother was an amazing human being, and every life she touched glowed a little brighter.
Happy Mother’s Day, Mom. I love you.