On Mother’s Day: an open letter to my daughter
My darling Tessa,
You came into the world at 2:07 am on March 24, 1993. It was the happiest, most joyous, wonderful day of my life. When you were born, I held you in my arms—after a two-days-plus labour that ended in a Caesarian Section—and you looked up at me with your huge eyes, so peaceful. So calm. So trusting. I fell in love with you there and then.
The truth is: I fell in love with you before you were born. I left your father when I was three months pregnant with you. I knew I wanted to have you because, at the age of 29, I was desperate to be a mother. And you were the pregnancy that survived. The timing was right, and to tell you the truth, I was ready. You see, I had been pregnant three times before in my twenties, but I chose to terminate. They are the babies I never had, the older brothers or sisters you never knew. Could never know. I am only sad about one—although I don’t regret the decision to terminate—and that was the baby I was going to have with Brenton. The others were slightly scary, inconvenient, easily removed, blips on the radar.
But I wanted you, my darling. I really did.
You see, my own mother did such a bad job at mothering me that she left a permanent wound carved deep in my soul. It is mostly healed over now, but sometimes, every now and then—when the circumstances are right—it starts oozing blood and pain and tears. I was hoping to completely heal that wound, and the blood and pain and tears with you. I thought that if I could be a mother, and a good one, if I could love you with all my heart, that you would love me back with all yours. We would look after each other, and care for each other and be mad about each other. Like a fairy tale, we would live happily ever after.
But it hasn’t worked out that way.
Because from an early age, my darling, other people would be much more interesting and attractive to you than me. I can’t put my finger on why this is, but it has always been the case. Like when I took you to the pool when you were a toddler, and you wanted to go home with another family. I want to go with them, you said, when I told you it was time to go. I laughed it off, thinking that you were too little to know your own mind, but even then, the toddler that was you wanted a mother that was not me. But why?
Was it because you were in child care from three months old? I don’t know. I had no choice about that because your grandmother—my mother—reneged on her promise to look after you when she said she would. It was only a few hours a week while I went back to university to get my teaching degree—after all, teaching was a terribly conducive job for a single parent, what with all the holidays and the family friendly hours—but she refused to watch you in the end, and I had no choice. You had to go into childcare so that our little family—you and I—would have a future. That I could provide you with the stability that I did not have as a child.
(As an aside, my mother had no trouble whatsoever making time for your Auntie Helen’s children, which is one of the reasons your Auntie Helen and your grandmother are both persona non grata to me. Then there was the time when you were a baby and I had mastitis and an awful fever and I was in a lot of pain and I called your grandmother to come and watch you and she said: No. I have to walk the dog. I stopped speaking to my mother while I was pregnant with you, because dealing with her, and all her judgments and accusations and empty promises was just too stressful. And I wanted peace. She came to visit you—and me—in the hospital as soon as you were born. She held you close and I thought: At least she’ll be a good grandmother. Another thing I was wrong about. And that Christmas—even more than your 21st—when you chose them over me, well, that was one of the unkindest cuts of all.)
Was it because I made the decision early on to not live my life through you? I wanted to give you the gift of independence, and I encouraged you to live your life on your own terms. I didn’t want to saddle you with the guilt and imposition and burden of a mother who lived her life solely through you. I could easily have done that, but I didn’t. I didn’t think it would have been fair. But I would be the mother to you that I never had: the mother who cared deeply about your welfare and well being. The mother who cared enough to set standards of behaviour and impart life lessons and encourage you to make your own decisions and choices and accept the consequences. I cared enough to ensure that, since you turned five, you have only ever lived in one place (unlike my nomadic childhood, where we moved each time one of my mother’s marriages went pear-shaped). I cared enough to make sure men didn’t traipse through our house like vagabonds. I cared enough to let you be you. Whatever that meant and all that that entailed, because it was always up to you to find out. You have to take responsibility for your own path in life, and for the most part, you have.
Was it because you met Daniel when you were so young? He is a lovely young man, and you couldn’t have picked anyone better to be your life partner, but I can’t compete with him and his huge, Italian family and the affection and attention and sense of belonging they shower on you. They make you feel so special and loved and cared for; I tried to do that, but it seems that I haven’t been able to do it in the way you wanted. I am happy that you have that experience, though, the experience of a huge family, because it’s one that I haven’t been able to provide you, although I did come close with the Italian. Maybe you liked being a part of the Friday night dinners when all the Italian’s niece and nephews and aunties and uncles would congregate around the table laden with eggplant parmigiana and salad and pasta and soup and meat and beans, with all the chatter and laughing and eating, that you wanted to replicate that feeling in your own life. I don’t blame you; it creates a powerful sense of belonging, and I felt it myself. I mourned this loss for a long time after I ended my relationship with the Italian.
Maybe it’s nothing I have done. Maybe it’s just you, and who you are. That’s ok. But what I do know is that whatever and however this came about, the fact remains that you view me as an embarrassing non-person, someone to be dismissed and ignored and excluded. It breaks my heart that you see me this way because I can’t do anything about it. Your view is your view. It is only as you live your life—and I hope to God it’s a long one—with all its joy and heartbreak and wonder and disappointment and milestones, when you become a mother yourself, I think it is only then that you will understand the hurt you inflict on me with your words and your actions. And there’s a chance that maybe you won’t ever understand how much you’ve hurt me. It’s funny: I fought my whole life to be loved and valued and wanted by my own mother—a battle that I ended up losing—and I can see I’m having to fight the same fight with you. This is not wanted I wanted for us. I now realise—on Mother’s Day 2016, some 23 years after I became your mother—that the wound I was hoping to heal with you will never heal. I realise that it’s not your responsibility to heal me, as difficult and confronting as that knowledge is. In fact, it is quite likely that I will never be completely healed.
But know this, my darling: even as you discount or ignore or exclude me from your life, and even as my heart is oozing blood and tears and pain, I will love you forever. You may think otherwise, but no one will ever love you as much as I do. Ever.