The purple flower opens downwards
Spits poison into her mouth
She speaks foul language
with rugged texture vowels.
The purple flower opens downwards
Spits poison into her mouth
It dribbles down beside her chin
to crawl along where the neck caves in.
How did you find me here,
with poison dripping from my tongue?
Beneath the purple flower.
Ah, the mother/daughter relationship. That old thing? I have wanted to write an article about the mother-daughter relationship for ages. But I thought I might wait until my mother was dead before I wrote it, just so as not to offend her. Could she bear to read of my sometimes vicious feelings towards her of anger, hate and disdain when she has put so much effort into my life? I realise now that this would be a mistake because questions will come up and I need her there to answer them for me, so I will forge ahead. The wrath (and believe me she’s scary) of my mother is a cross I will have to bear.
The things I loved about my mother as a child were weird. I loved her earlobes and the way one of her front teeth pushed slightly in front of the other. I loved to brush her hair and run my hands over the clothes in her wardrobe. There was a time when she was perfection to me and could do no wrong. But that time was fleeting and my adolescence emerged.
“It doesn’t help at all to discover that our stormy relationship is so common as to be prosaic, that the descent from mother-goddess to mother-demon is a predictable, well documented narrative, as predictable as the descent from sweet little girl to moody, mercurial teenager.” (Lauren Kesler)
My mother went through a particularly difficult time when I was a teenager. In my eyes, she developed a psychopathic personality and went on and on like a maniac telling me off about silly little things I was doing like smoking, drinking and having sex. For the life of me I could not figure out what was wrong with her. Luckily, she grew out of that stage when I was about eighteen and now we can get along. Thank God. (Please note – my mother’s opinion of this timeframe may differ to mine.)
Still, I cannot shake the feeling that at times my mother just does not like me. She would never admit to this, of course. Is she disappointed? Did I do something wrong? Is my hair not styled right? Does she think I have gained too much weight? Sitting at the dinner table one evening in the glow from the light above us, I asked her outright if she is proud of me and she got all offended and upset.
“Of course I’m proud of you. I tell all my friends about you.” And she grew defensive.
“Why are you asking me this? Do you care if your dad is proud of you?”
How could I explain to her that no I do not? I love my dad and he is special but it doesn’t matter to me if he is proud of me. It only matters if she is and I don’t know why.
If the question were reversed, and my mother asked me if I am proud of her I would not be able to answer. Yes I am proud of her but I am also embarrassed by her. Every single time I speak to her she annoys me. As soon as anything happens, I want to tell her. She always says the wrong thing. I admire her but I want to be nothing like her. I hate the sound of my voice when it sounds like hers and I become on the verge of a panic attack when I imagine the point she dies and I will not have her with me. Will I be able to survive? There have been times when I have blamed her for what felt like the death of my soul. If only she understood me. If only she had done this or that then I would never have done this or that. I went to a therapist once and one of her first statements was: “Tell me about your relationship with your mother.” I knew everything was her fault. I could relax after that. Every problem I had was not my own but hand crafted by that evil witch.
I love my mother. In fact I love her so much, I hate her. I look at her and I have so many feelings. They all intertwine, holding each other up and strangling each other. My feelings, like the mother-daughter relationship itself are complicated. There’s no denying this relationship is important.
“It is, many argue, the most significant of all intergenerational connections, the earliest and most profound bond. There is no relationship quite as primal, as vitally important, or as deeply conflicted.” (Lauren Kessler)
The word that kept coming up in my research was ambivalence. According to the Oxford dictionary, ambivalence is an adjective meaning having mixed feelings or contradictory ideas about something or someone. This feeling of ambivalence towards our mothers is common but difficult to comprehend. It is painful to love and hate something at the same time.
I find myself at an interesting crossroad. A place wedged between my mother and my own daughter. My mother, still believing me to be her baby child, needing to guide me and tell me off and my daughter, trying not to be my baby child - wanting to be independent and free, yet at times (why always the most inconvenient times?) needing me more than anything. My twelve year old daughter with her blissful way with words has said things to me like:
“I love you so much but I just really hate your face right now.”
She swings wildly from “Stop looking at me!” to “Why aren’t you watching me?”
I’m constantly baffled by this scary, long limbed, beautiful, feminine creature that I grew in my stomach who was joined to me by an umbilical cord. She confuses me no end. I love her so much I could die. My love for her literally overwhelms me. Did my mother love me that much? And did it hurt her the same when I wanted to be free of her?
Motherhood seems quite the in thing now. Lots of famous people have children as accessories. The online magazine www.mothermag.com glamourises motherhood. On the one hand, motherhood isn’t always glamourous so I’m dubious, but on the other, I am enthralled by the beauty of motherhood being explored on social media sites such as instagram and pinterest. I pore over www.mothermag.com possibly because I relate to the beauty. The beauty I myself have found in motherhood. The mornings cuddling soft limbs in bed, the slow walks to the dairy and the days spent on the beach. I found a beauty in motherhood that I did not expect because when I became a mother it wasn’t a ‘cool’ thing to do. I was twenty-one and quite young. None of my friends had babies. Still I found beauty in the watermelon dripping down the face of my toddler on the deck, in the funny things she said and the colour of her hair in the sunlight. No one prepared me for the delightful discovery that motherhood is magical.
But the dark side to motherhood is always lurking. The fear, the guilt and the criticism that one endures when one takes on the role. In her book Blue Nights, Joan Didion talks of her relationship with her only daughter and guilt surfaces within her lines.
“Was I the problem? Was I always the problem.” (Joan Didion)
Guilt mixed with fear:
“Once she was born I was never not afraid.” (Joan Didion)
I can relate to both the guilt and fear of being a mother. What I did not expect when I had my daughter was how much I would need her. This was a great shock. I knew she would need me, afterall I am her mother, her provider, her nurturer. But the realisation that I needed her was a surprise. Didion speaks of this need that her husband and herself felt for their daughter.
“How could she ever have imagined that we could abandon her? Had she no idea how much we needed her?” (Joan Didion)
This to me sums up the interconnected, co-dependent (whatever you want to call it) nature of a mother’s love. You need each other but you don’t want to need each other.
The truth be told, I am an orchid as opposed to a succulent. I need special care and am high maintenance. I will not just thrive in any old environment. I need tendering and watching. My mother had her work cut out for her when she had me as a daughter. I am a sensitive, anxious soul, small in stature and a deep thinker. An introvert, hiding behind my mother’s extroverted laughter.
I wanted a perfect mother. I needed a perfect mother. Realistically though, my mother was never going to live up to expectations just as I myself will not be able to live up to those same expectations.
“The image of the all-embracing, perfect mother haunts us all: the desire to have and to be that mother is strong.” (Vivien E. Nice)
Could she ever be that woman? Is my embarrassment of and anger with her justified or is it, in fact actively encouraged by society? Dr Shelley Phillips explains: “We are encouraged to be angry with our mothers for failing and letting us down. Impossible expectations combined with the fact that women are treated as the second sex make relationships with mothers and daughters particularly difficult because daughters feel trapped in the same syndrome.” (Phillips p. xii) I’d never considered the issue of our societies mother-daughter relationships as a feminist one but it is. Of course it is.
My perceptions of motherhood and my own mother have changed over time and will no doubt continue to do so. As a child, I know I puzzled her. But she puzzled me too. How did she know which were weeds and which were plants when she gardened? Where did she go when my father and her had an argument and she yelled and slammed the door and drove off in the car? It wasn’t until I became a mother of a daughter myself that my deep interest in this topic blossomed. I began to think of my mother as more than my mother. What did she long for before she had children? What are her deepest, darkest secrets? What kind of a lover is she? What does she really think and feel about things?
“I never thought about who she might have been before I came on the scene.” (Lauren Kessler)
My mother, a woman. My mother, a girl. My mother, a lover. My mother, a fighter. My mother, a person. I realise now that being ‘just’ a mother was not enough for my mother and nor should it have been. She is her own person, whole, aside from motherhood itself. Yet she is a wonderful mother too.
“Mother, goddess of love, to whom we all go for protection and unconditional love, perfect human being we have all been taught to believe in whom poets have compared to the earth itself, who kneels down, arms outstretched, to enclose us and fend off the rains, whom none of us have ever met but who continues to haunt us mercilessly; Mother, I can’t find you, let alone be you.” (Jane Lazarre)
I think I might give my mother a break, just to try it out, see if it works. I won’t tell her or anything. I’ll just accept her as she is and see what happens. As a feminist, I refuse to put my mother into a box that means she has to be perfect (even though her imperfections have cost me dearly in therapy fees). My mother did her best to raise me and love me just as I am doing my best to raise and love my daughter. So, to my mother I love you. You are good enough. And to my daughter, I promise I’ll try to be what you need but if I fail, I hope that you will give me a break too. I hope I will be enough.