Saturday, May 13, 2006

Mothers, Daughters, and Ladybugs

I like to remember my mother as the strong, downright feisty woman she was when I was in elementary school. For someone who cannot remember much of her childhood, I can recall a surprisingly large number of occasions from that time. As for the woman that my mother became, after the recovered memories and the diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, I can only say that she tried. Which is more than I can say for myself. I'm not proud of my behavior; on the contrary, I'm very ashamed of it, and hindsight being what it is, would love to go back and change it. That being said:

Mom and I got very close after I had surgery my sophomore year of high school. I was admitted into the hospital right at the end of school before Christmas break began, and we spent the following two weeks of my recovery together, staying up late, getting up early, putzing around in general. Before school started again I remember sitting down and tearily writing her a thank-you letter, telling her how much I enjoyed spending that time with her. I can't remember if I ever gave it to her or not. I would like to think that I did, but I can't remember.

Then we moved. And I turned, viciously and suddenly, into a sullen, angst-ridden, defiant teenager. I rebelled with fervor and passion, dropping out of school, picking up bad and dangerous habits and friends. I remember the last few months that I lived in Jacksonville Mom and I went at each other almost nightly. I would waltz through the door, usually rather late into the evening, all full of attitude and swagger. Mom, who would sit up and wait for me, would find something to pick a fight about: the late hour, my appearance, I smelled funny, was I on drugs? We would argue for hours, and sometimes, despite our best efforts, would get a little too loud, and either Dad or Teresa would come into the room, squinting in the light and sighing heavily, either asking us or ordering us to quiet down. "Just stop," I remember Dad saying one night. "Just stop, you're killing me". It was in the midst of one of these fights that she said, "One day, I hope you have a daughter just like you and then you'll know how I feel right now".

After she returned to Pensacola our relationship had cooled down. We no longer fought so bitterly, but there was nothing. I pitied her. I pitied her choices in life, pondered what made her the way she was, and, in a way, grieved for the woman that she had been. I have always wondered about the nature vs. nurture theory. Did her upbringing and incidents in her past make her who and what she was? Or was she just that way? Could she have changed, if she wanted to, and did she want to change? Did she like the way she was? Of course, I never thought to ask her. I remember the day she and dad were supposed to close on the house, she was over-medicated. She would fall asleep anywhere, at any moment. She was sitting at breakfast at Grandma's house, a biscuit in her hand, snoring and slack-jawed. Dad was wringing his hands and fretting and trying to wake her up. "Vicki, we have to be around people for this, you can't be like this". I left the house and drove around, angry, smoking cigarette after cigarette and hating her, just a little bit, for the way she was. And hating myself for hating her.

The months before her death are sort of vague and blurry. In my own defense, I was pregnant and in the throes of completely rearranging my life. It became as though she was on the perimeter of my life, just someone who I passed by occasionally. Her hospital bed was in the living room, immediately to the right when you opened the front door. I would come in the house and she would immediately start throwing down rapid fire questions. I would offer vague responses, generally over my shoulder as I walked down the hall to close myself in my room. That was how we communicated: short questions from her, shorter answers from me as I walked into the kitchen, or to the garage, or out the front door.

When mom died, I was numb. I didn't expect her to die. I remember how crowded it seemed afterwards, how wherever I went there just seemed to be so many people around. At our house, and Grandma's house, at Brian's house. I would escape by driving around, slowly and with no destination. I would listen to music and cry, and would occasionally say, out loud, "Oh, mama". Always 'mama', never mom. And I would hope that she knew that I loved her, always, despite how I may have acted or what I may have said. I still hope that: that she knew, and knows, that I love her.

And now I have a daughter, a daughter who, according to my mother, is going to be just like me. And I'm scared. I want so much for her, and I want so much for us. I want her to have a good sense of self worth without thinking the world revolves around her. I want her to develop her own dreams, and I want her to be ambitious but patient. I understand that she has her own personality, and I want to impart standards of behavior and morals while allowing her to maintain that shining personality.

I once said, in the throes of self-pity and woe, that the only good advice I have to offer my daughter is to not turn out like me. While in some ways I still feel that is true, she has picked up some of my habits and personality traits that I don't mind imparting. She cares deeply about other people, and can't stand to see the people she loves mad at each other (Teresa can vouch for this). She's creative, and imaginative, and has a sense of whimsy that I find breathtaking. I might not have practical advice or skills to offer, but whimsy and imagination I've got, and it's delightful to see it in my daughter.

I said in my first paragraph that I can only say that mom tried. Before I had a daughter myself, I didn't think that was good enough. Now, however, I give her more credit. No matter what else she was going through, mom still tried. And she loved us.

There have always been ladybugs around mom's grave. Every time I'm there, there are a few ladybugs buzzing around. And I seem to attract ladybugs. In the spring and summertime they like to perch on me. Just the other day, I left work for lunch, spent the entire time in the car running errands, and when I went back inside there was a ladybug meandering around on my back. There was one on the windshield of my the other night. Jacelyn attracts them as well; when she sees them on her and freaks out, I'll calm her down and tell her the ladybugs are from her Grandma, so she will know that she loves her. Now, when she sees them on me she'll brush them off and say, "Grandma's giving you bugs again". Incidentally, whether or not I actually believe they are from mom is completely beside the point, to me. I find the idea to be lovely.

Happy Mother's Day to all. Live well, love much, laugh often, and all those other cliches about life. And, I suppose, don't let the little stuff get in the way of the bigger picture. I love y'all.


Teresa said...

I think this is a beautiful and inspiring post. Thanks for sharing. And you'd better not delete it. I love you. Happy mother's day.

Jen said...

You brat, you made me cry. But I agree with Resa. Love you, too!