Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Making Peace with Mother

My mother: Marcella Theodora Olckers
13 October 1942 - 22 November 2001

Eleven years ago, around four in the afternoon, my mother, quite literally, dropped dead. Heart attack. One of such magnitude that only if she had been open on an operating table, would they have had a smidgeon of a chance of saving her.

Now before you all start composing comments that start with "OMG, I am so sorry...", save it. Seriously. Comments like that annoy me. I discovered a taboo after she died: people find it really difficult to deal with me telling them I don't miss my mother and I am really not sorry she is dead. There've been a lot of how-can-you-say-thats and you-don't-really-mean-thats. Of course I can say that. Yes, I really do mean that.

You didn't know my mother. Even if you did, you would have found her charming, generous and dedicated to helping others. You would never have guessed that she was a controlling, narcissistic, emotionally abusive bitch.

And I am sure that that last paragraph evoked a lot of a lot of how-can-you-say-thats and you-don't-really-mean-thats too.

I assure you that I can and I do.

Enough of that, though. I decided this year to make peace with my mother, even though she is long dead. And what it means is actually saying nice things about her, which I find quite challenging. I did put some thought into it and I discovered that I actually do have a few  nice things to say about her and I thought I would say those nice things today (Ten. Ten nice things to say. That's as far as I got.):

1. My mom was a beautiful woman. It is from her that I get my good looks (no, really, I am a good looking woman beneath all that fat)

2. I got my love of music - particularly the vintage and classical stuff - from her. She was musically enclined herself and I guess she passed that on to me too.

3. She made awesome fish cakes.

4. It was rare to see her laugh or smile, but when she did, there was suddenly light in the air.

5. Because of her, I became the funny, clownish person I am today.

6. She taught me how to make potato salad

7. She birthed me and took care of me and for a time, she must have felt some sort of affection, if not love, towards me. I think mostly when I was a baby and a toddler.

8.  She sometimes let me stay home from school for a day or two if I wasn't sick, but didn't want to go.

9. She believed me when I told her I had really bad headaches, which later turned out to be migraines. She could easily have told me I was silly, but didn't.

10. She understood my fear of the dark.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Personal Thoughts on Motherhood

I took a book out of the library on Saturday called “Mother-Daughter Wisdom” by Dr Christiane Northrup.  The book goes into much detail about pregnancy and birth, while also giving insights into how these events affect mother-daughter relationships. I chose the book purely because I believed that there may be something in there to help me heal my relationship with my own mother, who will be dead for eleven years this month.

Reading through the pregnancy and birth stuff, and the glowing joys of motherhood stuff, it came crashing in on me that I will never know how that feels in this lifetime. It surprised me a little, and as short lived as the “OMG – I will never have a child” moment was, it was more than a little unsettling. More unsettling, in fact, than being reminded that women who have never birthed a child are more likely to die of ovarian cancer.

There was once a time when I ached for children. It was a visceral ache. It pulled on ever nerve ending and I questioned my sanity much of the time.

As women, we live within an ocean of chemicals that trigger all kinds of very bizarre reactions. My (almost) demented longing for a baby began at 25, reached its peak at the age of 35, with me weeping uncontrollably every time an advert for formula or nappies flashed across the TV screen. It was clear to me that there really was a biological clock and that I could, in fact, hear it ticking.

And then, just like that, it stopped.

I figured that, realizing that babies were so not going to happen, my body decided that rather than waste its time on pushing me towards procreation, its energy would be better spent elsewhere.  I quickly became comfortable with the idea that there would be no children for me.

I am not a natural nurturer. I have little patience and I have not learned how to “kiddie-speak”. When I talk to children, I talk to them the same way I would talk to adults, because that’s what I know.  I have never been that natural earth mother that children are inherently attracted to. I am more of the strange lady with the cats that it’s best to avoid – in case she’s a witch. Despite all of that, though, my cousin’s three children seem to love me. A great deal to boot. Weird.

I also do not understand why complete strangers in a doctor’s office or queue at a till wish to engage me in lively conversation about little Johnny and little Stephanie. I find that the only news of children I would actually like to hear, is news of the children I know, not random waiting room and queue children.

As a young woman, and even while married to a man, I felt ambivalent about having children. On the one hand, I felt that perhaps my life would have some sort of meaning if I had a child. On the other hand, I feared that I would be the kind of parent my mother was, completely messing the poor kid up and sending it into many years of therapy. And even then, even with one or two ‘oops’ moments, I never conceived.

I have no idea what that is like. I’ll never know the anticipation, the heartburn, the swollen belly and swollen feet or the ‘push, dammit, push’. And sometimes it does feel as though I have missed out on something. Then I remember that along with the gift of life, I would be handing them the not-so-much gift of depression and an insane woman as their mother who will make their lives a living hell.

I don’t regret not producing a mini-me. It’s been a long time since I moved from ambivalence to the choice of not having children at all – not even through adoption or fostering. I do, however, feel a little less of a woman for not having had the experience of that.

Still, when the inevitable question of children rolls around to me, I reply: “I have five children. Four girls and one boy.” There are delighted smiles all round, “None of them are human, though,” I add. Crestfallen faces. Oh well.

Sometimes I do try to imagine what my furbabies would be like had they been human: Tippy would have been the athlete, Jock the little boy who does boy scouts and rock climbing and adventure games, Bokkie would be one of those popular girls, Bijoux would be our ADD child and Coco the delightful little toddler with a fondness for sticking everything in her mouth and pulling all the tablecloths off onto the floor. They’re all the children I’ll ever have. It’s the closest I am ever going to get to parenthood, and I guess that whatever nurturing feelings I have in me is channeled into them.

All of which sounds silly, and which, no doubt, will alienate my friends with (human)children. Sorry guys. But furkids are the only kids I am ever going to have.

I’ve contented myself with being the cool Auntie. Ok. Not the cool Auntie. The Weird Auntie. Which will most likely see me excluded from wedding invitations in the future. “Not Auntie Tam. She’s too weird. She’ll just talk about aliens and anacondas. OK. We’ll just have to seat her next to your senile Uncle Simon.” I can see it coming.

I have a great deal of admiration for my friends and family who have taken on parenthood. It’s a task too daunting , and motherhood far too noble a calling for the likes of me. I am a selfish cow and a coward. I’d have been one of those clingy psycho moms. I don’t have the stamina or the strength or the grace to be a parent.

So, no, I can’t do what you guys do. I feel sad that I will never know what it’s like to be a parent, but relieved too. If that means that I can look forward to being seated next to senile Uncle Simon at family events in the future, I’ll take it. I discovered that Aunties can do no damage to the children they love from their safe, distant palace, and that’s where I choose to stay.