Monday, December 12, 2005

Who Are Our Mothers Really?

One of the unresolved issues in my life involves my relationship to my mother. She appeared to the world to be a saint. She didn’t smoke – gave that up before I was born. I never saw her drink anything alcoholic – EVER! She didn’t say swear words – not even an occasional SHIT! There was no mention of anything to do with sex, except for the occasional whisper about someone who HAD to get married. For the longest time, I wondered why anyone would ever have to get married. My only conversation about sex with her was when I was 10 years old and I asked at the dinner table what FUCK meant because someone had said it to me at school that day. That night we had our one and only talk where I got the most warped idea of sex – basically that my parents did it about once a month, when my father got the urge. Not exactly the foundation for a healthy sex life! She was the pillar of the church and helped every indigent person she came across in our small northern Florida town.

This saintly attitude worked to my detriment in more ways than giving me a screwed up view of sex. When beach week rolled around senior year, I wasn’t invited to join my friends who preferred to have more liberal mothers as chaperones – those were the days when there were chaperones. Instead they only wanted mothers who would look the other way if smoking or drinking or whatever else occurred. My mother would probably have started the church prayer chain if she had discovered what was really going on at beach week. I guess I can probably thank this DIS-ing for the fact that I don’t smoke today because that was when many of my friends started smoking.

My parents were both totally weird about physical contact. I knew that they loved each other and loved me, but there was virtually no physical contact in my family. My mother would come into my bedroom to kiss me goodnight, but only after she thought I was asleep. I think this is one of the reasons why I soak up massage today because I was absolutely starved for this sort of nurturing as a child.

I labored under this impression of my mother until after both of my parents died and I (their only child) was sorting through the mountains of memorabilia that accumulate when you live in the same house for 50 years and never throw anything away. But in the course of this cleaning out, I chanced upon her diary and old letters and found a very different person. I read about lovers that predated my father. I even read some pretty spicy exchanges between my parents when my father was overseas in the war. She seemed so much more alive.

I keep wondering what changed. Why was this normal person recast as a saint?

I am so glad that my daughter and I have fairly open communication about all aspects of her life, and mine. I will honestly answer any question she asks me about my past. I know that she could drink me under the table, and I do like to drink – mostly wine these days. I know that she has a healthy attitude about sex and knows how to protect herself from unwanted pregnancy and AIDS. With the help of a friend, she and I are planning an evening of mother-daughter bonding when she comes home from college on winter break – no specifics. I want her to see me as I am with all my “warts”, not as some shining example to emulate.

If my mother were still alive, there are so many questions I would like to ask her. I just wish I had asked them before it was too late. I think I would have enjoyed her company more if she had been the person that her diary and those letters depicted. But now I’ll never know.

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