My first mother was a teenager. She loved me for 9 months and smuggled a camera into the hospital to try to capture of memory in a photo. She never caught a glimpse, I’m told, and she was caught with the purloined Kodak and returned to the surgical floor – away from the maternity ward.
My second mother was a foster parent – a woman devoted to caring for a child through a transition. I don’t know much about her. I know that she sent a hand written note with me (that has been long lost) to let my new parents know what I liked and what sort of routine I’d had. She had the hard job of round the clock care of a newborn. She went through those sleepless nights so that someone else could experience motherhood. She would have been there for my first smile and may have witnessed the first time that I rolled over or slept through the night.
My Mom adopted me at three months of age. She took over where the foster mother left off. There were still many sleepless nights. There were skinned knees and hurt feelings and teenage heartbreaks to nurse me through. When I married and had children of my own, she still had sleepless nights, because when I was sad or scared, she stayed awake praying.
I spent my last Mother’s Day with Mom in 2017. We bought her a pink rose bush for outside of her front window. She loved pink roses. Soon after, her final illness would first take her strength, and then take her life, but not before it took her joy. As the cancer spread to her brain, the shell of her that was left was no longer my loving mother. She was suspicious of me and she was hateful. Those last months were a waking nightmare for all of us. I sent my children to be with her when she was like that because the nursing staff said I upset her too much. When I didn’t go, she asked for me. When I did go, she raged at me. It was hard on my children. I don’t think I realized how hard until much later. As mothers, we don’t want our children to hurt. As daughters, we don’t want dying parents to be alone. What an awful conundrum.
I connected with my birth mother (Mum) for the first time at 29. We parted company and found each other again several times over the next 25 years. We would go very long times without speaking. Sometimes she initiated the silence, and sometimes it was me. No matter the time that had passed, we began again where we had left off, finishing each other’s sentences and talking for hours. We reconnected in summer 2023 for the last time. Her life was ending, and we made up for lost time. She told me stories, and I listened, knowing that parts of them were true, and other parts while not true, were the way she wanted me to remember them. I listened, and she held me until she no longer had strength, and then I held her. We shared stories until words were no longer needed. When the cancer and the medication made her too tired to do more than murmur, I sat on the floor and held her hand and said goodbye for the last time.
This Mother’s Day (2023), I have no living mother to celebrate. I can’t pick up the call and say, “Happy Mother’s Day, Mom/Mum.” No little children will bring me burned toast and a flower from the garden as “breakfast in bed.” My daughter and I have a difficult relationship and lives hundreds of miles away. My oldest son recently moved to the other side of the country. My youngest son lives here, still, but doesn’t really like holidays. Still, I remember when they made me dinner, complete with a gluten free cake. The three of them (perhaps just the older two) worked for hours. We played Munchkin on the deck late into the evening. I remember, kids. I really do. It was a happy, happy day for me.
My thoughts turn now to my foster mother, whose name I never knew. Is she still living? Does she remember me, nearly 56 years later? Thank you, foster mother, for sharing your love.
My loving husband offered to take me to the nursery to buy pretty flowers – my traditional Mother’s Day gift and outing with him, but I begged off. I’m not in the mood. He understands, or at least tries to understand.
For those of you who celebrate, Happy Mothers’ Day. For those like me, to whom Mother’s Day is tinged with sadness, may the day land gently.