My mother is not the touchy-feely type. She arrives at the front door like the whole world’s behind her, the sing-songy hell-o-ooo of her arrival already pitched from a good thirty feet away, pre-warning you of her arrival. Although she might plant a quick kiss on your cheek, onward she bustles handing out food she’s cooked, jumpers she’s knitted and mail she’s swiped from your mailbox on the way in. She chatters on, firing questions but not really listening to your reply, too busy noticing that you’ve rearranged your lounge room, that your hair looks nice, or that there are children who require fussing over. She fills all the silences, my mum, and within the gusto of her presence, it can feel a little like watching a thunderstorm: while it’s exciting to witness, you don’t really get a sense that you’re being heard above all the noise.
Growing up, I don’t remember having heart to hearts. I don’t remember discussing boys, or periods, or sex, for that matter. I never told her the name of the first boy I ever kissed – Zorro (true story) – and that he had, unbeknown to me, kissed my friend five minutes beforehand and told everybody the next day that she was better at it than me. Homicide, when you’re an eighth-grader. She never picked me up from school like the other mums did, smiling as the air conditioning blew back her hair, offering cold apple slices and Montecarlos to snack on during the drive home. The last of three children, I don’t remember much one on one time with her at all, to be honest. No shopping trips to bond over, no hobbies pursued together, no big long embraces or tender words passed or eye contact held or honey, tell me, how are you going in this world?. My mum was busy. Or unreachable. Or distracted. I’m not sure which.
It was never the presence of boyfriends I envied in my friends’ lives. It was the relationships they had with their mothers.
Now, here, I sit inside a relationship with Joel. For a man, he’s all talk. He’s all touchy-feely. Where my word of the year was “patience”, his was “love”. He goes deep and he not only wants connection at this level, he’s not afraid to dig around for it. And now that I’ve come face-to-face with the kind of relationship I’ve forever craved, the game has changed completely. Because you see, Joel can say heartfelt things until the cows come home. He can bring home unexpected gifts. He can hug me through the bad days all he wants, but the minute he takes the rubbish out, or runs me a bath, or brings me coffee, or cleans up the kitchen without me asking, that is when I feel it: That someone cares about me so much they are willing to serve me.
All my life I’d assumed that love is something you say — something you convey through eye contact and hands held and great big embraces. Now of course, I see that it’s something you simply do.
And I think I learned that from my mother.
Kelly Corrigan, in her take-your-breath-away book Glitter and Glue writes, “It may be that loving children, radically and beyond reason, expands our capacity to love others, particularly our own mothers.” She’s right, of course, because it’s not until now, five days from turning thirty and two children down, that I see the person inside my parent. “What child can see the woman inside her mom”, Kelly writes, “what with all that Motherness blocking out everything else?” For so long, we experience our mothers as perfect. Superhuman, even. But with age, every flaw I discovered in my mum was a fatal blow. Every inadequacy deemed unacceptable. Every unsuccessful conversation pushed me a mile further away.
Of course now, I’m both a daughter and a mother. I’ve reached that strange middle place where these two roles intersect and all I can really say about that is that it has changed me. This middle, overlapping place has changed me. My perspective. My capacity to love. My capacity to see love.
Because for every I-love-you which goes unsaid, a lawn is mowed. For every conversation that stops short, a sink full of dishes is cleaned. For every great long hug that gets missed, my clothes are folded, my garden is watered, my phone beeps with the text message: How did Billy sleep today? And she’s the one, now, I look to when I’m in a rough patch with my kids. The how-did-you-do-this-with-three-children question gets flung around like a flailing rope, looking for her to grab it and hold it tight, offering me the security and reassurance I’m so in need of. She’s the one who understands me when I’m having problems in my ‘marriage’ – having been there and done that and faced so many of the things I’m up against. Like, Mum, honestly, the freedom Joel has. The freedom. She looks at me and says I know. I go on and on and she says, Rach, these things, they have been talked about in the kitchens of women since the beginning of time. I know. It’s just how it is. But listen, how can I help? And it makes me feel better, somehow.
And so now I find in my arms a little girl of my own. It both thrills and terrifies me, because one of my greatest fears is this: When my daughter’s an adult, she won’t like me. When she grows up, we won’t be close.
There are things I dream about — to be the one who gets to console her through her first heartbreak, to be the one who lies with her at night to talk about her deepest worries, to share in the joy of her first promotion, to be by her side as she brings her own children into this world. These things cripple me with both the joy I imagine they will hold, and the sadness I’d feel were I not a part of them. Yet I’m kidding no-one, least of all myself, to think that my daughter will love me in the same way I love her. There are times she will hate me, be embarrassed by me, push me away. There are times she will wish she had a different mother. We’ve all been there, right? And behind all these things is the sobering realization that it might well take another 28 years, minus five days, for this little girl in my arms to understand just a fraction of what I feel for her.
And so I will try my best to dance that delicate middle line where I neither befriend my daughter, nor govern her. Where I rise above expectations, but put in the efforts of which true intimacy demands. And somewhere within this middle line, this delicate dance, my daughter might just kick off her shoes and join me. Especially if Macklemore is playing.
“Lovey!” My dad picked up the other phone.
“Lovey! Great to hear your voice!”
While he told me about playing golf last week with Cousin Tommy and some other youngsters, I gnawed on the fact that in addition to helping the girls parse the world and all its awful truths – time goes only one way, things end, affections wax and wane – I was the sole distributor of the strongest currency they would ever know: maternal love.
– Glitter and Glue, by Kerry Corrigan.
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