There is not a word for fearing your mother. There is no maternaphobia or matriarchaphobia. I know, because I searched for those words and they don't exist. People aren't supposed to fear their mothers - it goes against the archetype of the loving, nurturing, protective mother. Intellectually, we know that not all mothers fit that mold because we read the stories in the news of the horrific things that some mothers do to their children. Still, those are exceptions. Most mothers love their children and want the best for them. They may not be perfect but they are doing the best they can. We hope that is true, so, we believe that it is. To say that my mother is a presence in my life is like saying that Mount Vesuvius spit a little ash. My mother has always been the presence in my life. I have sought to please her, to make her proud, to pacify her, to protect her and, often, to excuse her. My childhood was not tragic and my mother was not a monster but she was no June Cleaver either. Hell, she wasn't even Bonnie Franklin from One Day at a Time. Mom wore black cowboy boots, western shirts and blue jeans. She drove an El Camino and chain smoked Viceroy longs. She listened to country music and lived the life that cried out for a Tammy Wynette cover. Mom drank, swore, had a quick temper and a long memory. You just didn't cross mom. Even as a child, I knew that she was different from other mothers. I thought that if she just wore more pastels or the occasional applique sweatshirt, she would be that other kind of mother - the loving kind. I didn't expect her to make cookies for class parties or to go on field trips, I just wanted her to cuddle up with me and tell me a story. All of my needs were met except for that one...the need to feel safe and loved. Yeah, I know...that's a pretty big one. Despite all this, I loved my mother fiercely.
I tried very hard not to disappoint her...perfect grades, no adolescent rebellion, reasonable and good mannered friends, college. I toed the line. She adored me in that she was proud of me. I adored her in that I cared what she thought of me. There is really no Hallmark card for that kind of love. When a relationship is built this way, it is bound to come tumbling down and ours did because I stepped out of line. I came out. She freaked. There was crying and gnashing of teeth and when I wouldn't agree to change, she threatened to disown me. That is when I made the painful discovery that my mother didn't love me so much as love the idea of me. She loved the perception that I was perfect. She loved that I had lived my life exactly as she wanted me to live. She didn't want what was best for me. She didn't want me to be happy. She wanted me to do what she wanted no matter how it made me feel. Our love affair ended and, like all juicy breakups, the aftermath is still felt today.
My mother didn't disown me but only because I was determined to have a relationship with her. I don't think I'm giving myself too much credit - ask anyone that knows the story and they will tell you that I deserve some type of medal of honor. I took the high road and brought my mother along, dragged her along really. I would like to say that we now have a genuinely loving and honest relationship but we don't. I tiptoed through my childhood and, now, I find myself still tiptoeing...after all of these years. I'm 37 years old with children of my own and I am still doing everything possible to keep my mother happy. We are driving to Kansas City to visit her next week and I am already doing the Don't Upset Mom Waltz. I'm so tired of the dance, so tired of forcing Luisa to be my partner in it, so afraid of my children having to keep the beat as well.
My mother once told me that there is no such thing as unconditional love but I know that isn't true because of the fierceness with which I love her. I know it isn't true because I know that I will love my children even if I don't always love the choices they make. The other night, I told my son to go to his room because he pushed his sister down and was being a tyrannical 4 year old. He was sobbing when I went to him to talk about things. Tears were pouring down his face and he croaked out, "I'm afraid that you don't love me!" I looked him in the eyes, trying to burn what I was about to say into his heart - "I will always love you, no matter what." I know it is true and I hope that he will believe me. You can love someone even when you don't like something they have done. It's a difficult distinction for a 4 year old. Apparently, it is a difficult distintion for a 71 year old too. I then held him close to me, hoping that he would soak up all the love I felt for him at that moment. I cuddled him...that's all, just cuddled him. Sometimes that feels revolutionary. Those moments give me hope that I can give my children what they really need and heal myself in the process.