I wrote this two Mother's Days ago. Originally, I just put it on my Facebook, but wanted to bring it out again today. I also think I need to clarify that my family calls me "Nicki" rather than "Serene" as Nicole is my middle name. Thanks so much for reading and a Happy Mother's Day to all of you!!! I say this all the time, but whether you've given birth to a child or not, as a woman, you've mothered someone! Much love!
I feel like the story of my life begins, "She did not grow up with her mother". My parents divorced when I was 5 after long periods of separation due to the Vietnam War and marital problems. When they divorced, my dad asked my mother for custody of me. She agreed. She kept my younger brother with her and I and my sister (her mother lived in Germany and gave up custody of her also) went to live with my dad, or actually my grandparents. Our family story is a complicated one, to say the least.
Growing up, I literally craved the presence of my mother. I would anxiously wait for her visits and there are times that she did not show up when she said that she would. I remember one time in particular, my grandmother telling me, "Nicki, your mom's coming to see you today". I was so excited! So excited, that I stood in the front yard and played and played, performing imaginative shows to the cars as my audience just so I could see her arrive. I don't remember eventually realizing that she was not coming, I just remember the anticipation.
When Momma did come to visit, she always had a goodie. She carried this really cool white basket that was lined in a beautiful orange floral fabric (hey! this was the 70s after all!) and that basket was always so much fun to peek into. I have pictures of me holding my mom's leg like a toddler, but by this time I was 7 years old and half her height! I had to bend almost in half to hold onto her leg. But I just could not get close enough to her. I wanted to inhale her, to keep her with me always and never let her go. At that age I was not old enough to be hurt by the reasons for me not living with her, I only hurt because I did not have her.
So much time passed and so many events happened during those years that now wash my childhood portrait in a sepia coated sadness. I just wanted my mom. So many times during the sporadic and inconsistent visits, Momma would tell me, "Nickipoo, I can't stand for you not to be with me. I'm taking your dad to court so you can come live with me. In about 3 months from now, you'll be living here and you, me and Terry (my brother) will all be together." I would go back home and expect any time to get a call or someone come to the door saying, "Okay, pack your things. It's official. You're going to live with your mom." I was expecting this big error of custody to be rectified. My mom always said that it wasn't what she wanted, that she was tricked and I believed her. I believed it was she and I against a world that for some reason wanted to keep us apart. Helen Reddy's "You and Me against the world" was, in my mind, our song. I never put together reasons why we were apart, just that we were and that it was absolutely not my mother's doing.
Childhood Naivete is so gracious. It spares you from a truth that you're too young to handle. My adolescent head was just filled with too much contradictory information and I just did not know how to process it. But to process it with an outcome that portrayed my mother as anything other than a selfless beautiful angel was completely unacceptable. I adored her. I adored her smell, her hair, her nails, her style, EVERYTHING! She and my aunt were my paradigms of beauty and I aspired to be like my mother. I loved showing my friends her picture, because I was so proud that I came from such a beautiful woman. As if, "See what I come from? I have to grow up pretty because SHE'S my mom".
After having kids of my own, my mom and I went through a strained time in our relationship. I had to come to terms with reality and the light in which it portrayed her. Being a mother brought up obvious questions like, "Oh my goodness, how could you stand to be without me? I was your child?" and "Why didn't you fight for me? I'd move Heaven and earth to keep my children!". She did not have answers and to be honest, I'm sure she felt attacked and judged. I had put her on such a vertiginous pedestal that her humanity alone would knock her off. That was such a painful and emotional time for both of us. Neither of us could say the right thing to the other, every spoken word just seemed like a drive by bullet, wounding erratically but deeply.
It took me a lot of years to gather my mother's story and to see why and how she made decisions that she did. My great grandmother had put my grandmother and her siblings in an orphanage in Germany. My grandmother got out of the orphanage when she was around 17 and did some modeling to support herself. She had my mother out of wedlock and my mother's father left. My mother never met or knew her father. She only knew that he was in the French Surete and his name was Etienne Monier. My grandmother, then left my mother to be raised by the same woman who put my grandmother in the orphanage. My mom saw things and took on a responsibility far beyond her years. To see any picture of my mom as a child is to see the eyes of a time worn elderly woman. Momma moved to the US when she was around 13 years old to live with her mom and step-dad. She then married my dad when she was 16 immediately got pregnant. My mom delivered me, alone, a month after she turned 17.
When I was mature enough to put all of this into perspective, I understood my mother so much more. My mother was too proud to defend herself to me, so this process of understanding took longer than maybe it should have. But what I learned was a gift. I learned that my beautiful mother was human, fallible, uncertain, scared and searching. She was too young to have a child and I believe she was overwhelmed. There was nothing in her immediate lineage that she could use as an example of what a mother is and does. Her Oma (Grandmother in German) had left her daughter, my grandmother left my mother, my mother left me. I remember after one particularly ugly argument, I went to another room to gather up my kids and Momma came in, hugged me and said, "Nickipoo, I guess you and I have just always wanted our mothers." That summed it up and I saw that my mother and I had this huge longing in common. While I was trying to get her to meet my need to be mothered, she was busy trying to glean the same from her own mother. I was finally able to reconcile that for me to acknowledge that she made mistakes where I was concerned, did not lessen my love for her and did not make me disloyal. After all, isn't that what true love is? Seeing someone as they are, blemishes and all and still valuing them greatly?
My mother and I became closer than ever after this. I love poetry and when I mentioned this to Momma, I was surprised to find that she also shared that passion. From the time I was a child, she had kept a small black journal that she filled with poetry and quotes she collected over the years. It was an ongoing poetry journal that she passed onto me and seeing what inspired and moved her gave me even more insight into the life that she lived and the choices she made.
My family and I moved to NC almost 6 years ago. The Mother's Day right before I moved, I called Momma to say "Happy Mother's Day". It hit me in that moment and I said to her, "If everything that we have been through, even not being able to be together when I was growing up, brought us to what we have today, I'll take it. I would not want to change anything and risk not having this wonderful relationship that you and I have now." That was such a new beginning for both of us....no more judging, wishing, lamenting and wishing for something that was not.....we had moved into acceptance and gratitude for what we had right at that moment.
Three months after I moved to NC, for my family to be closer to my mom, she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We went through the cancer together. I went to every doctor's appointment with her. She refused to have any treatment, she had already seen her step-dad go through hell trying to save his life from cancer and she wanted no part of it. I was her mouthpiece when she needed me to be and when she signed herself up on Hospice, it was just she and I and the Hospice nurse sitting around her kitchen table talking about living wills and did she want a DNR order. It was surreal. I couldn't believe I was actually going to lose my precious mother, I had just gotten her back! But that time with her was precious and we used it well. We spent so much time together talking, joking, questioning, pondering and coming to terms with the past and the present. Momma would tell me, "Nicki, you just don't know how strong you are. You just don't know how much you're worth. You sell yourself short".
After the expected head shaking and "Oh Mom" from me, I got it. She was trying to do in a few months what most mothers take years to do and there was such an urgency in her voice. She wanted to make sure she did not leave me without getting it through my ridiculously thick head how special I was to her and her not raising me was not a reflection on my worth. It was about her, not me. I would dishonor her now by ever selling myself short or thinking of myself as less than a precious creation, as we all are.
About 16 months later, she would die in my home, in my arms. It was just she and I when I came into this world and it was so fitting that for those few moments, it was just she and I when she left this world. My mother's life continues to influence me, at times as an inspiration and at times as a warning. As a mom now, I do the best I can, but I've blown it many times. I've made stupid decisions. I've been selfish when I should have been more giving and I've martyred myself when I should have taken what I needed. I hope my kids know, that in spite of the myriad of traits and moods that make me "Serene", I love them with a love so deep and so strong that sometimes it's the only thing that feels consistent and unchanging in life. I want to cement it into their soul that they are NEVER alone. I want for them the opportunity to go out into the world and follow their hearts and live their passion. They needn't live next door to me, just to make me feel good. I try to tell them often, "Live where you want and do what your heart desires. I'LL get to YOU. You don't have to live your life for me." I want them to know that through all of life's uncertainties, there is one thing that they never have to be uncertain about......my love and loyalty to them; which comes from The One Who first loved us all.
Mothers aren't perfect. They aren't pillars of angelic virtues. They're just girls who've had children. Now and always, I love you Momma.