“A daughter is a mother’s gender partner, her closest ally in the family confederacy, an extension of her self. And mothers are their daughters’ role model, their biological and emotional road map, the arbiter of all their relationships.” Victoria Secunda
Ms. Secunda apparently understands these things. She wrote a book called When You and Your Mother Can’t be Friends: Resolving the Most Complicated Relationship of Your Life . I know women that the worst thing you can say to them is, “You’re just like your mother.” I’m not one of them.
Though my mother raised me till I was 8 or 9, most of the rest of my life she was absent. Because of some choices she made in her personal life, this gifted musician and artist gave up her daughters to their respective fathers and remained a loner most of her life. She and I stayed in distant touch over the years; for me she was the side of the fence where the grass was greener. I visited her for a couple of extended periods in my high school and college days, but after I gave birth to my second daughter she disappeared for a number of years. We finally found her in Phoenix in the late 1980s, dying of an ailment they only knew then as hepatitis non-A, non-B. Now of course they’d call it hepatitis C; she got it from a bad blood transfusion back before they knew about that kind of stuff.
I envy women who enjoy a close relationship with their mothers, who visit and share recipes and child rearing secrets and more. My mother was bright, educated and creative–if she’d been a little less neurotic, we might well have been best friends. As it is, my grandmother (her mother) always said that while my youngest sister looked most like my mother, I was the one who spoke and acted like her. I cherished those words.
As starved as I was for my own mother’s attention, I’d always expected that as my daughters grew into women, that I’d be close to them as well. Life hasn’t turned out that way, not because we dislike each other, but because unlike so many other families in this small town, we don’t all intend to live here and die here.
One daughter left after high school to join the Navy–she’s seen a thousand places I’ll never go, lived on an aircraft carrier, in foreign countries and now is 3,000 miles away. Another teaches at Lake Tahoe, 2,500 miles away, involved in instruction of the next generation of green students. Even K decided to go away to school, though she’s within a few hours. Now that she has her own apartment with her partner, they have a life. They don’t come home often. We don’t do much in common any more, and from time to time I know they resent that I took on another family, especially one that’s so… complicated. I think they feel left out.
I understand that. I feel left out of their lives too. Not intentionally, or hurtfully, but still, almost like we’re strangers. How are you supposed to maintain that close bond over so many miles? We talk on the phone, visit every couple of years in person for a few days. But I don’t know the details of their daily lives, and they don’t know mine. None of us have time to learn, occupied with our own path. Even my daughter here in town has three children with diagnoses– we meet for lunch about once a month and commiserate the hell out of each other, but day to day we don’t have the kind of time I’d envisioned a mother and daughter would share, once I got to midlife.
So what kind of relationship are mothers and adult daughters supposed to have? We spend their whole childhoods preparing them for an independent life of their own, so I guess we shouldn’t be surprised when that happens. My girls have succeeded a million percent. I’m very proud of them. I have no need to micromanage their lives; I figure when they need to talk, they’ll call. They do.
All the same, sometimes, I miss my little girls and wish we could be closer. Mother’s Day may be celebrated once a year, but when you bring these little people into the world, they are part of your blood every day, whether you talk about it or not. I hope they realize that. I surely do.