Lately, I’ve felt a double-eged sword.
One is a creepy memory. A memory of my mother, who died in 2002. We were sort of estranged, I guess you could say, but healed in the last days of her life so that everything was OK. But the creepy memory is that of being an adult, married, adult woman with children: and a hug from my mother that was so tight, so suffocating, that all I wanted was to escape.
My mother was a narcissist. I truly believe that at times, she saw me as version 2.0 of herself. Every rebellious and self-differentiating, spiteful molecule of my being mobilized whenever she said, “Oh, I know. . . I did that. . . I know what that’s like. . .” Her insecurity and desperate loneliness made normal connection impossible. I felt her glom onto me, and my life, sucking every shred of individuality from me. I suspected her alcoholism, her rationalizations, hiding her smoking and spending that drove her to ruin her finances and every support system available to her. Her belief was that life was hard, that she was alone — and that is what she created. Our reconciliation was a great blessing. I was there, holding her hand, when she died. My daughter was there, too, sitting across from us, watching the universal drama of the generations play out before her. And then, after the papers were signed, we went to lunch.
What woman doesn’t fear that she will turn into her mother? What woman doesn’t wish for a perfect, ideal, mother, and to be a perfect, ideal mother herself?
The other edge of the sword is my own relationship with my adult children. My son and my daughter, fortuitously and serendipitously both now live in my city — where neither of them grew up or have roots. I see them regularly, as, happily, our social, professional, and political circles intersect.
Whenever I think of either of them — which is several times each day — I am horrified and amazed and awestruck at the sheer emotional force that overtakes my body. I have to turn my head, close my eyes, and take a deep breath as tears overtake me. I can hardly breathe, my eyelids squish together, and I half-sob before the self-check: ”get ahold of yourself, woman!” But I know that if one of them were within arm’s reach, I would hold and hug them as if to imprint their form upon the wet concrete of my soul.
Would that sensation suffocate them? Would my love for them be interpreted as a sad desperation — a holding or stifling of their becoming? Have I become my mother?
Awareness is my only salvation. A dogged determination NOT to repeat the past is the surest recipe for manifesting it. I hope I am more aware, more educated, more enlightened, less addicted, with less baggage, than my maternal example. I have parented very differently than she did. But that bond — that basic, human, maternal bond — how can you modulate that? How can you love someone that fiercely and not be a little crazy?
I hope that by giving my kids some advance notice of this recurring phenomenon, that they will be able to cut me some slack. I wish that my mother had had the resources, the technology, the confidence, to chronicle her amazing, bumpy, and adaptive life. All I have now are memories of her: some good and fun, some awkward, some filled with regret and pain. I have her photo albums to explore and wonder: who were these people? Is that her lover? Does she look happy, or what? My mother was, and is, an enigma.
I don’t want to be an enigma to my kids. I want to be a person — accomplished, flawed, joyful, encumbered, striving, contented. . . My generation didn’t really see their parents as three-dimensional, as having a life before and after child-bearing. I want my kids to feel the fierceness of my love, comfortable or not — so that they can share that and be that with their own children.
This deep ache feels primal. Every emotion, every physical sensation, every thought of past, present, future — all are carried in embodiment, muscle tone, facial expression, impulse — THIS quiet, intense, focused, poised, gasping, teary, almost exploding love — is this how it feels to be ALIVE?