Two things reminded me of my mother today. My hands, and the chow mien eaten for lunch by a colleague at work.
As I rubbed hand cream into my hands this morning I couldn’t help thinking that I have my mother’s hands. Even as I type these words I hear Tim telling me (one of his usual [bad] Dad-jokes) “you’d better give them back then!” My hands are small, my nails are short and rounded, my knuckles are beginning to show some signs of early arthritis, there are some new dark sun spots and the veins on the back stick out like road maps you could read blindfolded in the dark! If you’re a nurse – you could cannulate with your eyes closed. Exactly like my mother’s hands.
My mother was not a cook and this is unfortunately something else I’ve inherited from her. I don’t just lack natural culinary talent but I also lack any desire to do anything with food. (Other than eat it of course.) My brother and I grew up on a basic diet that consisted of only a few standard meals. As far as I can remember we had fish and chips one night a week, McDonalds one night a week, we ate out at a restaurant one night a week (or so it seemed) and on the other nights we ate either sausages or chops served with mashed potatoes and peas, carrots and corn (from cans) or she would make her version of chow mien. Beef mince, curry powder, onions, cabbage and rice. Macaroni Cheese was also a standard on the menu. Today, as my friend opened the lid on her re-heated lunch, the memories of childhood meals came flooding back to me.
You probably think I’m going to write about how these small glimpses into my past today made me emotionally reminisce about the ‘good old days’ and made me rush to the phone to call my mother and tell her how much I love her.
The reality is a different picture.
Growing up I was my mother’s daughter and my brother was my father’s son. Together, my brother and I rarely did anything as siblings. My brother went with my father and took an interest in sailing. I went with my mother (or rather she went with me because I wasn’t old enough to drive and tow a horse float!) to horse shows or pony club. At 16 I left home on a Rotary Student Exchange program to Canada. When I returned 12 months later, I had changed and my family had changed. My parents were divorced, my mother (bitter and alone) was now living in a new suburb with my 15 year old brother and my father (happy and newly in love) had a new partner and she and her 16 year old son were living in our family house.
My ‘homecoming’ should have alerted me that things had changed. Firstly, no-one was at the airport to pick me up (yes, I’m serious!). They thought I was coming back the following day and after waiting for 2 hours on my own at Melbourne airport, and since it was in the days before mobile phones I found a phone box and called and asked to be picked up! Some ‘homecoming’ that was! So I returned ‘home’ to a home that no longer existed. The decision was already made that I would live with my mother. It lasted only a matter of weeks. I was a mature, stubborn, (obnoxious) teenager who had experienced 12 months of independence and freedom and not only was ‘home’ different, but my mother had changed too. I remember how she blamed me for going away and told me that if I hadn’t gone away, she would have never left my father. That’s a hard thing to get past when you’re only 17, confused and hurting. My mother, never an overly happy person before, was now sad, tired, bitter and angry. Hurting people hurt people. And we were both hurting. She chose to leave my father and her home and in doing so lost not just a husband and a house, but a lifestyle. And then, as she sees it, she lost her daughter. Things were very awkward and we clashed continually. I still vividly recall the day I arrived home and overheard the conversation she was having with someone about me. Of course, the irony is that I can no longer remember what was said, but I remember my reaction to her hurtful words. I packed up my bags, called my father, and informed him that I was going to move in with him and his new partner. Welcome ‘home’.
That must have been the moment when I crossed over to the other side. No longer my mother’s daughter. I had chosen to live with the enemy.
Over those early years I tried numerous times and in numerous ways to patch things up between us. We never fought or argued and in fact whenever we saw each other my mother was pleasant and polite. But we were like two strangers who had nothing in common with each other. Both of us tried to carry on a conversation about two different topics at the same time. There was no animosity. There was no arguing. There was no blaming or name calling. There was no discussion. There was no explanation. There was just no ‘nothing’. Except awkwardness. And a feeling between us that we were supposed to know what to say to one another but had not idea what that was.
25 years have passed and nothing has changed.
When asked how my mother is, I can’t honestly tell you. Because I don’t know my mother. I know her name. I know her date of birth. I know where she lives. I know she has re-married. I know that she used to work part time but that now she is retired. I know that she has troubles with her back. I know that she has a dog.
I also know that she doesn’t know me.
If you asked my mother the same question “How is your daughter?” I wonder what she
would could answer.
This is what she should say to you:
Nic (because she wouldn’t call me Nicole) is doing so well. She’s happily married to Tim. They met at school and have been married coming up 22 years now and are still so much in love. I still remember their beautiful wedding day. They went through a tough time a couple of years ago but they’ve come out stronger than every. Nic is doing Post-Graduate study at university this year. I’m so proud of her achievements. To start a Nursing Degree as a mature aged student and now to be working in ICU and doing further study. She is such a good nurse and her patients are so fortunate to have her caring for them. She is so busy – I don’t know how she does it all. She seems to be thriving though and spends time with friends and family. She loves God and goes to church. She writes a blog – I love reading it. And she even has time to make the most beautiful scrapbook albums. I should show you the one she made recently. Tim has a new job which is so good after being unemployed for so long and he loves it. It’s a school chaplain and I know he’s perfect. I bet the kids just love him. They have four amazing kids. Let me tell you about my grandchildren! Jeremy is 18 and at Uni studying to be a teacher. He has a part time job, loves basketball and just bought his own car. He’s loving the independence. And Chloe. Ah, my gorgeous grand-daughter. She’s 16 and as passionate about life as her own Mum. She’s involved in everything from church where she helps out leading the kids church program on Sundays and youth group on Fridays. She loves theatre and has one of the lead roles in an upcoming production. Did you know, she spent 3 months in America last year – kind of like an exchange student program just like her Mum did! I’m so proud of her. And then there’s Zach. He’s School Captain of Middle School this year. At 14 he is already so tall and handsome. Such a natural leader. Like his older brother he loves basketball and music and is playing percussion in three different school bands. Toby is 12 now – almost a teenager and he’s in high school. I can’t believe how much he’s growing too. He played footy last year but has swapped to basketball and seems to be loving it. He’s started playing drums and going along to youth. I am so blessed to have call these people my family.
The reality is very different. When I do see my mother, she calls me Nicole for starters. (I’ve been known as Nicki by all my friends and other family members since I was 12. She hasn’t caught on.) When I do see my mother, it’s usually when she calls in to drop off a birthday present for one of us. This is how she does it: she calls over in the middle of the day (while the kids are school) and either drops a card in the letter box if I’m not home, or stands at the door and hands me a present to give to them. On the rare occasions she has attended one of their birthday parties (in the early years she was invited to every single one), she would arrive, bearing the largest wrapped gift, which she would then deposit in the birthday child’s lap. She would wait for them to open it, wait a few more minutes (and I’m not joking because we have actually timed her) then she would announce she had to go and she would leave! When I do see my mother (around a dozen times a year) she is pleasant, polite, friendly, smiling and appears to have no ill-feelings towards us. Unfortunately it also seems that she just has no feelings towards us.
It’s like I crossed that line and ceased to be her daughter. I became a stranger. Someone she knows. And someone she feels obliged to visit on occasion. Because, after all, that’s what mothers are supposed to do.
I wonder how long it will be before I hear from her. I’m guessing September because that’s the next birthday in our family. My birthday.
Please don’t think I am hurt and bitter and sad and disappointed about my (lack of) relationship with my mother because I’m not. The person that should be sad is my mother. Because she has missed out. She has missed out on 25 years of courtship and engagement and marriage and overseas trips and babies and interstate house moves and building and buying and selling houses and ministry and toddlers and job losses and depression and sporting games and teenagers and more house moves and theatre productions and children becoming young adults. She has missed out on my life. Not only does my mother not know her own daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, she has no idea that I still like chow mien and that my hands look just like hers.
And that’s her loss.
In the book of Ephesians in the Bible it says: “Children, obey your parents as the Lord wants because this is the right thing to do.The command says, “Honor, esteem and value as precious your father and mother.” This is the first command that has a promise with it – “Then everything will be well with you, and you will have a long life on the earth.” (Ephesians 6:1-3)
I’m still working out how to do this when the person I should call “mother” doesn’t play that role in my life.