By Caitlin Kelly
I loved this recent, powerful post by fellow journalist/blogger candidkay:
Those of you who told your mother all your secrets–and reveled in stories of her youthful escapades before you came along–will not understand what I’m about to write.
I didn’t really know my mother.
I was born to her and lived with her for many years but I was not privy to her essence. By the time I came along, I think it was long buried under disappointment, sadness and a sense of propriety.
I was born to her in her early forties, the last of six daughters. She was, by her own admission, more interested in her career by then than in birthing more children.
Of course she loved me. She loved all of us.
But I was always stymied by her lack of disclosure. I knew only about the “safe” stuff. Her parents losing their house during the Depression. Living on her grandparents’ farm. Editor of the school newspaper. Navy nurse during WWII.
I could piece together a patchwork quilt of her life but it was quite threadbare.
This rang so true for me.
Earlier this year, I pitched a story to a major women’s magazine about how women with distant or elusive mothers find other women, throughout our lives, who nurture us — whether friends, neighbors, a professor, a co-worker or boss — instead.
Then the editor asked me to write, instead, about my own relationship with my mother.
In some ways, I didn’t want to, as she is still alive and the story is complicated. I chose to leave her care at the age of 14 and moved in with my father; between the ages of eight and 13, I had only lived at home with her for two years, most of my time spent in boarding school and summer camp.
But also for the same reason as candidkay.
I just don’t know enough.
My mother and I — her only child — haven’t spoken in three years, nor have I seen her, as she lives in a city that takes me an entire day to fly there. We exchange no cards or flowers or emails.
She is in a nursing home, a sad ending for a woman with brains, beauty, a huge sense of adventure and the private means to enjoy all of these.
But I know little of her life and she rarely offers details.
I keep putting off a trip out there, for several reasons. But I know one of them: my fantasy that we’ll suddenly get close, after all these years, is unlikely and quite sure to end in my disappointment.
Like candidkay I became a journalist, and, like her — like many journalists do — I have made my living for decades asking total strangers extremely detailed and intimate questions, about money and sex and death and struggle and family.
And they answer me.
So I finally realized, it’s her, not me.
Do you know your mother (well)?
Do your children know you?