Every year the same thing happens. Winter lingers a bit longer than I would like, spring is on the horizon and I begin to get excited about the warm weather and new growth, and the anticipation of my son’s spring birthday.
And then, I turn into a grey, grumpy, snippy, and just kinda meh kind of person.
I always feel a bit surprised by this, and a bit almost guilty for feeling a bit down in the dumps when there doesn’t seem to be a catalyst or event to bring me here. And then BOOM it hits me….my mama!
My mama’s birthday is May 11th which coincides with Mother’s Day give or take a day or two.
We always celebrated the two together in some way. There was always a bit of beach combing (we lived in Florida for most of my life), an amazing meal out in our little suburban town of Bradenton, FL, and ice cream, always ice cream. It was always a nice day with our little family. It was just the three of us: my mama, Gerda; my papa, Robin; and me, Kate. A small and incredibly tight little family.
Like most mothers and daughters, we had…let’s say, a complicated relationship.
My mama grew up in post-war Germany as a refugee. I grew up in a middle-class suburban neighborhood in Florida. She and her single mother (my Oma) fought to achieve security and safety. I grew up never knowing anything less.
There were many times when in my mama’s eyes, I was quite an entitled, spoiled, unappreciative daughter. Of course, I was just trying my best to survive in the social politics of girl-hood; trying to keep up with my suburban middle/upper-middle class cohorts.
On one hand, she wanted me to have all the things both emotionally and materially that she longed for as a child. On the other hand, it infuriated her that I had no idea how precious and potentially fleeting these luxuries were. I always knew that she loved me wholeheartedly, fiercely, and forever. I also knew that we didn’t understand each other in many ways.
She was a stern yet soft mama.
She taught me about reliance, how to stand tall, even when I feel small. She taught me how to express myself through creative outlets. She taught me to speak up for myself.
As the years went on, and I became older and more understanding of our differences, our relationship became stronger.
We were both each other’s strongest allies, defenders, and supporters. I came to admire her for her determination, her ability to move through her fears and insecurities, her artistry, her crazy almost relentless loyalty, and unconditional generosity. I saw her as the human she was: perfectly flawed doing the very best she can to be the best that she can for herself and in this world.
So, why so glum?
Well, my mama, Gerda, was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer in 2007. And on February 9th, 2009, I held her hand, rested my head next to hers, and whispered, “It’s OK, mama I’ll take care of Omi…I’ll be fine….you can let go…its OK…you can let go.” And she did, she let go and I said goodbye to my mama and my last tether to my family history family tribe, my people.
I mourned my mama. And for the first time also mourned my papa, who when he passed away in 2000 had been my very sacred safe space.
I took the time and space to heal the best one can. Like I said, we had a complicated relationship. The good thing is that I always knew she loved me fiercely, probably more so than anyone ever has or will.
She was loyal and generous to a fault, but cross her or disappoint her in some way and watch out! She will let you know, she will hold your feet to the fire and help you learn that lesson you missed. She was tough. She was vulnerable. She was unstoppable. She was terrified. She was certain. She was timid. She was a mollusk – wearing her armor on the outside, keeping her soft gooey part protected at all cost.
Each year as her birthday and mother’s day draw near, I feel so much.
I feel nostalgia, pangs of unfinished business, longing, and all kinds of memories (good and bad). This swirls around unconsciously for weeks until it finally hits me and I realize there is a catalyst for these feelings. This isn’t just chemical or hormonal. Not that those shifts aren’t real or valid, I just like knowing the source.
Over the years, a great deal of life has happened.
I moved back to Seattle. I married the man I was dating when she was ill. We moved to Richmond, and we had our son, our little Monkey. I stopped teaching (a career directly linked to my mama). I started my own business. And I have been living life as full and as real as I can.
The weird thing about it though is I’m doing it without my parents.
It isn’t impossible and it isn’t like I live with a grey cloud over the whole idea of parenting, it is just strange. There is an obvious hole and for me personally, a hyper-awareness of everything.
So, why am I sharing this?
Well, because I can’t be the only one out there who as mother’s day or a seemingly insignificant date draws near, the emotions become a bit more raw than usual, a bit more on the surface.
I can’t be the only mama out there mothering without a mama.
I strongly believe in leaning on each other and our community. I mean, really that is why I was so excited to join Richmond Moms Blog, that ability to be surrounded by such a supportive group of other women going through life navigating being a mom.
So, what did I do to get out of the funk?
So much of it for me is just recognizing that I am missing her and then it is almost as if I have taken back a bit of the power of all those emotions.
I get a better handle on them. I always feel so much pressure to feel happy on Mother’s Day, to be that grateful mama full of joy and love for her family. I let that go. That’s too much pressure. Don’t get me wrong, I do very much love my family, I just feel very uncomfortable with this notion (I have created) to be all sunshiny on that particular day.
It is hard for me to watch all the tributes and not feel a tiny bit bitter that cancer took my mom before she could meet Monkey, or really that cancer took her at all.
I don’t carry that feeling with me daily, it just creeps up when I let my perceived notions and pressure of this idea I’ve made up in my head about mother’s day take over. I come from a long line of amazing and strong women on both sides of my family, but particularly on my mama’s side (that’s a story for another blog post), and it is sometimes hard to see those generational pictures of mamas. I envy those that have their mamas and grandmothers to continue to lean on and learn from.
But I’m fine. I really am.
Just like I told my mama that very early morning on February 9th, 2009, I’m fine and it’s OK. I am strong because of my mama and my Oma. I am strong because she was so fierce with her love, loyalty, and expectation.
I hear her voice keeping me on track (I mean, I literally hear her voice from time to time off in the distance calling KATE).
I see her in Monkey’s expressions and his clownish ways.
I feel her with me. I feel her when I snuggle with Monkey, when I brush his hair out of his eyes just as she brushed mine.
I feel her when I look at my small and incredibly tight little family and realize the power of all the love we have.
I feel her when I connect with my surrogate moms that I have adopted. I know she with me when I am in the throws of life feeling less than best and I get that sense of “just keep at it, just keep going”. I know she is with me.
I know when I am in the middle of all these feelings of loss, a twinge of bitterness, nostalgia, and all the others, I must honor her.
I take a private moment to be with her in a quiet, safe, and peaceful place. I sit alone and look at old photos, maybe hold one or two of the many pottery pieces I have, I breathe in her energy. I sit and welcome her back for a visit. I talk with her. I share my life with her. I remember her. And I eat ice cream. I eat fantastic food. I sit in the sun a little bit longer than I should.
And I thank her. I thank her for allowing me to lean on her then, and now. I thank her for being so fierce. I remind her she made no mistakes. She mothered the best she could, just as I am mothering the best I can. I tell her I love her now, then, always.