Tuesday, August 05, 2008

It's moms all the way down

I think a lot about my mother: is she going to call me? why does she like my sister better? how did she keep the house so clean, divorced with two girls and working as a supply teacher? how did she get to be so headstrong, born in 1944 and counseled to be either a secretary or a nurse, because she was smart? The little bits of information she casually drops indicate the untapped mine of stories: Did she ever tell me about the time her date was chased by the cops? While they both were riding a motorcycle? Top speed through a cemetary? And they crashed? No, Mom, you didn’t.

I think, too, about my mother's mother, Munchkin's namesake: every time I call my daughter to me, every time I giggle her name, or sing it to her, my family history extends out beyond us. I was an adult before I learned that Granny’s father early exited the picture and her mom (my great-grandmother) remarried. She was dead before I knew that my Pappy had cheated on her serially--and she cheated right back, making sure he knew it. I think she had a (half?) brother. I'm not sure. I do know that she loved to sunbathe, and would entertain us at the cottage by putting maraschino cherries in her belly button to feed to the chipmunks.

It amazes me how much of my mother’s inner life is a closed book to me, and one generation further back, how sketchy even the simplest details are.

Once, when I was in my early twenties, my mom handed me a red hard-bound notebook. It was some sort of stamped faux-leather, a nice size for holding onto, with lined brownish pages all full of her handwriting. I was shocked to discover it was a diary she kept in the early 1970s, when she was married to my dad and living in Toronto, and when they moved to Even Further the Hell Up North where I was, in due time, born.

I read it. I gave it back to her. We didn’t speak of it then and the subject has never come up in the decade since. I wonder sometimes if I hallucinated it: Mom’s pain and rage at discovering Dad’s infidelity; the removal from Toronto and relocation nearer to her own family in Northern Ontario; their apartment in the new town; Dad’s flying lessons and business trips; an awe-struck account of her pregnancy and of my very early infancy. In the diary she was a young woman, a wife, a person struggling to find her place, a soon-to-be-mother experiencing the happy anticipation of a family of her own, a budding feminist who fought to retain her dignity in trying circumstances. Not at all the woman I thought I knew.

I wonder if Munchkin will be curious about me the way I am curious about my mother. I wonder if my blog will be around for her to read, a sprawling digital archive of my stories and pictures and observations and my amusement among friends.

At this point, I feel like I want to remember for both of us: if I can capture the details of what I remember from before, if I can write while I live what is happening now, will we understand each other better? Or will I smother her with my version Of Everything? Or will I surprise her—look! Mom was a person, too!—so that she looks at me, at us, with new eyes, too, the way I looked at my mom after reading her diary? Right now, what I'm holding to is that even as we are so very different, my mother and I, she as practical and self-sufficient and well-adjusted as I am melodramatic and talkative and introspective, still, we are both, in our ways, diary-keepers.

It's not much, but it's a start.

18 comments:

Beck said...

Ah!
My relationship with my own mom is weird - too close and at the same time oddly distanced.
Your mother might love you with exactly the same amount of love as your sister, but feel more NEEDED (or more useful) in your sister's world. Many mothers I know roll exactly like that.

Catherine said...

my relationship with my mother is tenuous, and we'll leave it at that.

I've been exploring this idea of blogs being around longer then we will, and of them helping build our communities since we're a transient society. I started an interview series with bloggers, so that there's a little more of us out there - helping our children piece our puzzles back together for themselves.

The first one is here http://pinkasparag.us/2008/07/31/interview-with-kelly-o/

I hope for it to grow into something with substance, but for now we're picking the low hanging fruit.

Mimi - your posts always make me think!

Omaha Mama said...

This is lovely - the way you write it. My own mom and I have a very interesting dynamic. So very close, but she's always had her boundaries. My sister and I talk about how we never went in her room and she earned privacy from us without ever yelling. The other day, as I peed with the door open, I realized maybe I should try a little of that. Some of those boundaries. ;-) My kids would surely be thankful for that some day.

motherbumper said...

I didn't really get the personal side of my mom until I became a mom and understood why she seemed so removed. And while you think it's not much, I think it is.

crazymumma said...

I figure she will look at you in many ways with many eyes. Sometimes she will admire other times not. But at the end of the road, when she is musing at her diary, her computer, her stories, her memories. i think her thoughts will be kind and Loving I am sure.

Assertagirl said...

I often treasure a small notebook that my mom kept little bitty diary-type entries in when I was about two years old. It's so interesting to read the pages and see how she felt to be a young mom. She was only 21 when I was 2.

Mamalooper said...

I have a box of diaries that recently came out of storage. I have been mulling over whether to keep them for the girl or not.

There is a lot I don't know about my own mother - we are a family of secret keepers, even mundane things. Much of what I do know has been pieced together from random comments. She has had a hard life.

Mandy said...

My mom has always kept many of the details of her past from me, mostly because I think they were painful for her to recall. In some ways, I wish I knew more.

Jenifer said...

I can't imagine what I would do without my mother. That is not to say she doesn't make me a little nuts sometimes, and I am sure I do the same to her.

Our relationship changed dramatically with the birth of my first daughter. It was like suddenly we had a common ground we never had before.

I think finding out more about your Mom will help unlock a bit more of what brings to closer, those things you do have in common.

nomotherearth said...

I believe that our children will treasure these blogs as a way of seeing their parents as people. (And be duly freaked out by seeing us as people too.)

Mimi said...

Nomo -- I think that's exactly right, that seesaw of wonder and shock. Perfectly expressed.

Kyla said...

I don't know much about my mother's past...and I think I'm okay with that. If she had a blog archive, I don't know if I'd want to read it or not. I think that is the reason I never really think of my blog as being a record for my kids, it is for me, right now. If they come across it someday, that's okay, too.

Cloud said...

I've always had a good relationship with my mother. Becoming a mother myself, I felt even closer to her, and also something like awe- that she had gotten through the early days of motherhood with far less support than I had, and that she could look back on those years as the best ones in her life. Now that Pumpkin is older, sleeping a bit better, and generally being a bit more fun, I can better understand that sentiment. I'm not sure I'll share it, though, and I hope that Pumpkin will forgive me that when she gets older, if she ever finds out.

Lisa b said...

I wonder if it matters how honest we are with our kids, that they may be destined to not understand us and we them.
I judge my mother harshly for her mistakes and yes I suppose it would have helped for her to be more open about her own worries and struggles but we are fundamentally different people.

She is the type who would shut out a friend going through hard times - such as my godfather when my godmother died and our dear neighbour when she got divorced, using the excuse that her presence just upset them and reminded them of the past. I see her as the type of woman I would never be friends with; fairweather, superficial and shallow.

She is my mother and of course I love her but I don't know how understanding her motives more helps me to like her. We are just different people.
I can't help but wonder if my motivation to just be different from her will bite me in the butt with my own girls.

kittenpie said...

I think about this, too, how the blog could give my girl a whole new insight into me as a person who lived and loved and worked and thoguht and stressed about things big and small. I thik it will be intersting to see how these children of bloggers come to see parents they can know more easily in this way.

Patti said...

It IS much, I think.

I am a journaler, with a shelf full of journals from over the years. No kids though (which is quite fine with me). Maybe my niece will read them someday.

For now - on a different note - my family highly values our faith, which includes the Bible. My nephew just turned 13, and for part of his birthday present, we went together on a Bible for him, and we each took a month with it, underlining parts that meant a lot to us, writing little personal notes in it for him. He's 13, so it's no big deal now, but maybe in the future it will be meaningful to him to see how his grandparents and parents and aunts and uncles responded to their faith.

Very enjoyable post, Mimi.

Mimi said...

Patti! What a lovely idea that is!

the new girl said...

I keep a journal for my girl. Having lost my mom before she was born, I feel a lot is missing. Things that I would have asked my mom about her mothering experience, things about myself as a baby, stuff like that.

I'm writing a lot of things down for her but I wonder, is it going to be what she wants to know? Writing for the future-adult is difficult, in a way. I hope that she's able to gain some comfort or glean some information. Something tangible to hold on to.

Something left after I'm gone.