Sometimes I wish Mother’s Day meant more to me, but it remains what it is

Ian and Ma

So, Sunday is Mother’s Day. Despite the fact it is an overhyped corporate invention, Mother’s Day never meant much to me for reasons that will become obvious.

I never knew my mother.

I know her history and I know her heritage and I know she was an aspect of my life from the moment of my birth until her death in 1992, when I was 49-years-old and she was 72. But I didn’t know her.

I’m not seeking absolution in writing this, primarily because I don’t think I’ll find it. But maybe it will help me understand why I never found it in myself to grieve her death. That ‘it’ remains hidden from me more than twenty years later.

Recently I found telling the comment by a longtime female friend in reference to some of the traits of my second wife, in which she said: “So, that time you married your mother.” Not entirely the case, but surprisingly apt, nonetheless.

Any Freudian considerations aside, my second wife was, like my mother, a good looking lady of similar height and coloration, and she sported the same voluptuousness of figure. OK, some physical similarities. Both were unpredictably moody. Oh, and they both had an affection for ‘the grape’ and a good party. In my mother’s case this was ultimately and sadly problematic.

My ‘not knowing’ of my mother began when I was first aware of her presence in my days. It was at the tail end of World War Two. My father was off in Halifax with the Canadian Navy doing his part to help make the world safe for democracy. I don’t recall being aware of his existence and surely I must have been nonplused when this man in a uniform arrived at our home. This meant that for the first two-and-a-half years of my life I had no father.

Such a scenario should have led to a preternatural bonding between mother and son, you might think. But that didn’t happen. If there was a bond with a family female, it was with my maternal grandmother, with whom I had a profound connection until her untimely death when I was fourteen. That connection came about because shortly after my birth my mother came down with scarlet fever and was quarantined for however long she was quarantined. My nurturer was my grandmother. That bond never wavered.

So, I suppose if primal imprinting never took place with me, maybe it didn’t with my mother towards me. Perhaps I was just ‘there’ in her life. I’ll never really know about that or what her ‘feelings’ were towards me at that time – or at any time.

I do have reminiscences of my mother from when I was very young, however. And I am sad to say that one of the strongest recollections from a very early stage of our interactions was that I didn’t trust her.

It all began with the nursery school episode. Sometime before my fourth birthday Mother decided that I might go to nursery school. I have no idea why. She didn’t work and I fail to see why her life was so demanding that having me underfoot impeded her. All I remember about that time is being plucked from my home and sent across Vancouver from our home in Kitsilano to somewhere miles away to spend a few hours with alien adults and unfamiliar kids.

After a brief attendance I became filled with a palpable fear of returning to the school. So great was this detachment distress that I (the memory remains vivid) remember being dragged by my ankle out from under a bed and henceforth being forced, in hysterics all the while, to go downstairs to a waiting vehicle that was to carry me far from home. I hated my mother for that rejection and for leaving me feeling alone and unsafe in a harsh world.

The nursery school episode left me feeling I could no longer trust her. This mistrust manifested initially in fears that arose when I traveled anyplace away from home with her. I became terrified of getting lost in public venues like department stores or crowded streets where I might get lost in the crowd of passersby. If I’d ended up getting separated from her I ‘knew’ she wouldn’t take the pains to find me and I’d be lost forever in some kind of an ‘out there’ limbo, whatever that might look like.

The primal insecurity didn’t leave with maturity. The abandonment fear and threats of love loss was to impinge on my relationships with the women in my life, as in wives and lovers. No matter how demonstably loving they might be, somehow I ‘knew’ they would someday leave. I ‘knew’ they would abandon me. And, as a self-fulfilling prophecy, and in two cases, they did. Not so surprising, really.. Yet for years it was challenging for me to see that I — this fount of unresolved childhood emotional poverty — played any part in driving them away.

By the time I finished high school and had gone on to university I increasingly shucked any emotional shackles that remained in place with my mother. She’d lost her power – or so I thought. I honestly recall little about interacting with her or holding any strong feelings at that time. Maybe I was a bit jaded, or at least self-protective by this point. I think, as she had disregarded me, I came to essentially render her an insignificant person in my day-to-day life. It was easier that way.

The jadedness was made clear in an incident that sticks in my mind. At the end of the wedding reception when I married my first wife. It was at the moment we were about to take our leave and head off on our honeymoon. As we made our goodbyes, my new bride asked me, with certain astonishment, if I wasn’t going to kiss my mother goodbye. I replied that no such thought had entered my head. New bride was slightly aghast. But, I took her point and geared myself up to do so. The discomfort around an action that should have been normal behavior between a mother and son was almost palpable. Best just to get the deed over with. I do not recall ever kissing her again in my life.

My first wife was the polar opposite to my mother. I fell for her for that reason. She would be safe, I thought, for she seemed to represent the female love and support I had been unable to find.

. Unfortunately ‘seemed’ was the operative word. Though she and Mother were opposite polarities, and there was little doubt they disliked each other, there was a similarity in my relationships with them. That lay in my inability to find a means to tap into ongoing affection and support. Consequently, and probably in retaliation, I did my best to drive my wife away, perhaps just to prove that again another woman in my life was emotionally unreliable. It worked. She went away. She should have.

As I began keeping company with wife number two, Mother slipped away from the world. Cirrhosis was the official cause, but loss of will to live was the actual cause. She’d lost that will a long time before, much as she had never gained an ability to show genuine love to her three sons, and probably to her husband.

And when she died I felt no grief. I honestly did not miss her. I still don’t miss her very much even if I should.

It’s difficult to miss somebody you never really knew.

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6 responses to “Sometimes I wish Mother’s Day meant more to me, but it remains what it is

  1. How sad for you, your brothers and your mother. Your stunningly candid accounts of life with mother point out that for issues entirely her own your mother may have been one of those women who assume the role of mother either because it was expected or because she felt she had no better options. She may have found it difficult for reasons that had nothing to do with you or your brothers . It is a shame that her relationship with you had such a negative impact on earlier parts of your life but at least you realize that now.

    As the daughter of someone with her own set of issues, I do know that in her own way, my mother loved me but I suffered at her hand, and as you point out, the consequences of that never entirely leave a person, despite good therapy and the resolve on my part to make different choices. I think about her with sadness both at what might have been different and what was and I am grateful that I am here. I was always annoyed because I could never find the Mother’s Day card that spoke to these complicated feelings and for that reason always found the day hard. Thanks for the thought-provoking post.

    • You are welcome for the post and it appears that we understand each other in this realm. And I suppose it is never to be resolved but I have learned to accept the reality of what it was.

  2. I was blessed with a loving, caring, devoted mother and am so thankful for that. I have had friends who had difficult relationships with their mothers as well and it made me appreciate mine all that much more. She helped me to be a loving, kind, caring person.
    My now deceased husband had a horrible mother, and it made me sad for him to hear the stories of his upbringing. She was an alcoholic who always sought relationships with abusive alcoholic men. It was sad.
    He said my mother, my family, made him feel more loved than he’d ever felt.

    • I was very close to my mother-in-law from my first marriage and was much more grief-stricken when she died than when my own did. So I truly ‘get’ your late husband’s feelings.

  3. I think none of us really ever know our parents. Having seen a therapist tpfor the last year or so, I’ve realized a whole whack of thing about both my dad and mom that never, ever crossed my mind before. They’re human, and lord know they have their own issues. They d the best they can whatever that is.

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