Not the daughter she wanted, not the mother I needed

Right from the start of my life, I was far from the daughter my mother wanted. Her first born child, I was an alien creature with an independent spirit and overwhelming needs. As a toddler this is to be expected, but as I grew into my teen and young adult years, every decision I made went against the plan she had for me. I found my voice, and proceeded to spend every waking moment contradicting my mother’s every plan. Oh yes, I was far from what she expected of motherhood.

“I don’t know where you get it from,” she would often remark. “You must be adopted or dropped off on the wrong doorstep.” When I was a child I would imagine that this family I was given was actually my temporary family, and my real family were adventurers in deepest, darkest Africa or some other far off place. I fell in love with books like Anne of Green Gables, because I identified with orphans and adopted children. As a teenager I was sullen and moody, more so than most. I listened to sad, poetic music and in my young adult years I made decisions based on what my mother would hate the most.

She was far from what I needed as a mother. Where I needed support and nurturing, instead I wore the brunt of her anger and regret. I felt I symbolised every bad decision she ever made for herself. She was quite the rebel in her own time, until she met my father and started a family. I wanted acceptance, but whatever I chose, whichever path I followed it was always the wrong one for my mother. All my life I wanted to please my mother, to hear her tell me she loved me. I wanted her to say that she was proud of what I’d achieved.

Today, two years after her death, I have been thinking of all the ways in which I have noted how similar we actually are. In her early twenties, her flirtatious behaviour with men. In her later years her strength and independence. Her smile and glittering eyes, hers deep chocolate and mine green but both sparkling with life. Her love of good food, and better wine. Her insatiable sweet tooth. Her determination. Her fierce independence. Her warmth and wit. Her stubbornness and inability to admit when she was wrong. Her complete faith in her beliefs, especially when challenged.

After her death I searched her belongings for an explanation. A letter, a diary – anything. I was desperate to know her as someone other than my mother. I wanted to know her thoughts about me and my life, not just the ones she had to voice as a mother but the innermost opinions. Was she proud? Excited? Disappointed? I can guess, based on the last few months of her life and the conversations we had right at the end when she was too sick to speak anything but the truth. But I wanted that story of her life, I wanted to read it, I wanted her to come back to life through her words. I wanted to know her as a young girl, to know if she was ever any different to how I knew her. I wanted to know what she was like before she met my father and before he tore apart her confidence. I wanted to know how she built herself back up. I wanted to know how she managed to wade through the grief of losing her own mother, with three young children to care for and worry about.

My mother was far too practical to do such a thing. She would tell me to stop being such a romantic fool. With all the ways I have noticed we are similar, the fact remains we were very different people. In the time since her death, I have grown to accept that I will never know the things I so badly wanted to know immediately after she died. I have come to accept that I might never know for certain her exact thoughts on my life.

And I have come to learn that it actually doesn’t matter, because I know without a doubt that she loved me.

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