On My Mother, the Greatest Love-Hate Relationship of My Life


When I found out my Dad was dying (or, really, already dead) one of the first things I did was cry to my mom on the phone that she needed to take care of herself, that I couldn’t lose her, too. And as his death briefly convinced me it would birth a better version of myself, I hoped that would involve being kinder to and more appreciative of my mother.

Alas, you can’t smooth over the knots of a mother-daughter relationship that quickly, but that hasn’t stopped me from continuously trying (constant failure, and all).

Ours is not a sob story—my mom and I are very close. I’d call her a best friend of a different stripe: not the kind who’s ever tried to fit in with me and my friends, slicing years off her life, but one who does her best to keep an open-mind when I torture her with stories of my sex life or casually drop the word “cunty” in conversation. She reads everything I write (for better or worse) and sends me lengthy notes in response, mostly complimentary though she doesn’t shy from criticism or pointing out my very human hypocrisies.

Having seen my fair share of ambivalent mothers, I consider myself very lucky that she cares, but I’m so used to her caring that I’ve taken advantage of it, too.

Oftentimes her caring downright offends me—sending shameful waves of disgust throughout my body. My inner child comes out in full force, wanting to do and get through things on my own, and despising any sense that I still need her. Rather than kicking and screaming like a toddler, though, I’ll offer up cool responses, thick with irritation. My mom is smart enough to know what’s going on here, but it’s not always easy to privilege psychological analysis over what feels like a very personal affront.

And so, it hurts—this child she’s given nearly everything to repeatedly taking a dump on that generosity. I suspect many mothers know this feeling well, and I’m sure that when/if I have children, the semblance of myself in the behavior will make it all the more nauseating.

But while we may not be a sob story, we’ve had our fair share of sobs, of vicious fights, of silent, tension-ridden dinners and the like. My teenage years, in fact, were 90% anarchy, a reality which was only tolerable because of how much love was underneath it. And I remain certain that we could assassinate each other with words more accurately than anyone else on the planet, because we know each other so intimately—so goddamn intimately—that every flaw or minor-misstep has been card-catalogued in our bones, ready for use at a moment’s notice. But we are not special… this is a curse that most mothers and their female children know well: how to take an overwhelming connection and employ it, misguidedly, as a weapon.

My poor brother, dancing with his ever-irritating (said with a wink and a smile) keep-the-peace-ness between it all.

Of course, my dad’s death did not transform our relationship into an endlessly smooth road—in fact it threw a few giant potholes our way—but it continues to remind me that, while I wanted to kill him often, too, the good would end up outweighing the bad, and that the bad was rarely, if ever, worth it. When I hear the bitchiness creep into my voice on the phone with my mom, I try my best to subdue it. When she doesn’t live her life the way I wish she would, I try to let it be instead of forcing her to follow my preferred map. I try to offer understanding instead of the easier-to-access well of doubt, shame and anger. And I look at her love—how much she cares—with a little more appreciation than before, beaming at her continued use of nicknames for me (“your Bunny self”) instead of bristling like a pissed-off teen, or revisiting her e-mails, always chockfull of advice, when I feel an overreaction coming on.

I make endless missteps, and always will. She, too, will continue to drive me insane. Our arguments will likely be just as inane, albeit delightfully well-worded due to our shared penchant for reading. But these last few years have brought more moments of clarity, too, outlining just how lucky I am to have a mother like her: whip-smart, selfless, endlessly trying to do her best (for herself and for her children) and filled with a love that even the darkest moments have failed to contain.

Happy Mother’s Day, Kath <3

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