Intrinsically, I must have always known. Always known that I was my mother's keeper. Certainly, always her emotional keeper, and not because I wanted to be. As a young child, adolescent and adult, I out of all four of her children would have to be the one to handle, deflect and absorb her immature outbursts and financial mismanagement. Never a task that I cared to shoulder and one that has kept us at odds ever since I can remember. One that I now realize figured in very prominently to my personal indecision about motherhood.
As a second-grader I was called into the principal's office. In all earnestness and with good intentions, both my teacher and the head of the school explained to me that they understood that my parents were behaving like children and that I would have to be the parent. Hey, it was 1962 and clearly, they had no idea what sort of impact something like this might have on a child. It was confusing. It was also strangely calming. At least they got it, I thought. They must have an idea about what I was going through at home. My position as peace-keeper in the family had only just begun.
Fast-forward forty-seven years later and not a lot has changed. Except for me. Or, at least the way that I have learned to cope and to shut myself down emotionally when it comes to her and to the family situations connected to her. It may sound cold,but it's for self-preservation and really important for emotional well-being and survival. It's important.
What is equally important is how distance, albeit even just emotional, creates perspective. She was/is a physically beautiful woman. A knockout, really. Even at 85 years of age people remark at her attractiveness. She is used to being complimented and a little bit vain but not in an unlikeable way. Her energy is high and her mind is whip fast. Her body is breaking down and she is pissed about it.
For the first time, I find her a little bit vulnerable. I begin to take the time to listen to what her childhood friends say about her, the stories they recall about times together when they were young and wild and free. They speak of their 'salad days' and how much fun she was back then. And, how drastically her outlook and personality changed with the sudden, tragic death of her father in her early 20's. The more I listen, the more I understand. The more I understand, the more bittersweet each exchange becomes for me. I want to be angry when she is verbally and emotionally abusive to me. It's a natural decades-old reflex. But, the specter of her mortality allows me to be softer, slower, a little bit more patient and forgiving. Ah, forgiveness. The gift you give yourself. That may be so, but it works both ways. By getting past my expectation of what I wanted our mother-daughter relationship to be, I am able to accept what is and even better, who she is. And that, is plenty good enough.