By Caitlin Kelly
This lovely young girl survived a rough, strange childhood…
This week is awash with reminders from every direction to celebrate your mother — to buy her flowers and presents and take her out for dinner.
It’s a time of sentiment and emotion and gratitude for all that nurturing and support, feelings we’re all meant to share.
Not for some of us.
My mother has one child.
She wants nothing to do with me; the details are too tedious to repeat here, but she can’t be bothered acknowledging my existence.
She lives a six-hour flight away from me in a nursing home.
She has plenty of money to pay for it so needs nothing material.
She has a devoted friend — a woman my age who is rude and nasty and bizarre to me — so she’s all set in that department as well.
She is bipolar and suffers several other conditions.
I lived with her to the age of eight, when my parents divorced and I was sent to boarding school and summer camp, arguably steeped in the kind of privilege that protected and cherished me and made me feel safe and secure and valued.
Boarding school meant sharing a room with two or three or four strangers, most of them young girls like me who didn’t want to be there.
It meant a life regulated by bells — 6:55 wake-up, 7:10 go out for a walk around the block (neighbors set their clocks by us), 7:25 breakfast in the dining hall, seated at a table chosen for you.
We ate when we were told to and ate whatever we were given, whether we liked the food or not.
To make a phone call meant filling out a permission slip detailing the reason you needed to speak to someone.
No one hugged or cuddled or kissed us. That would have been weird.
Boarding school also meant having no privacy, ever — even the toilet stalls and bathtub surrounds didn’t reach the ceiling and girls would throw paper bags of cold water over the walls.
So I quickly learned to be private, self-reliant and extremely cautious about opening up to others.
Luckily, I loved summer camp and looked forward to it every year.
But this life meant I spent little time with my mother; I lived with her full-time only in Grades 6 and 7.
She threw great birthday parties and we enjoyed a comfortable life. Over the years, living very far away from her, I saw her once a year or so.
She taught me a variety of skills: how to be frugal, how to travel safely and alone, how to set a pretty table with linen napkins and candles, to read widely and voraciously.
But I’m not sure she really ever wanted to be someone’s mother; her own mother was often a selfish monster to her, although very kind to me.
Then I left her care forever when I was 14 after she had a breakdown in Mexico, where we were living. I couldn’t take how scared this made me feel.
She inherited money so, in my early 20s, she traveled the world alone for years.
The only time I saw her was flying, at her expense, to wherever she was at the time — Fiji, Colombia, Peru, Costa Rica. Some of the trips were terrific, others less so.
If I didn’t get on a plane and go to her, I would not have seen her.
I learned to do what she wanted.
It all looked so glamorous from the outside.
But she had many breakdowns and hospitalizations, starting when I was 12 and continuing for decades. As her only child, I had to make snap decisions about her care with no outside advice or guidance. It was exhausting and overwhelming.
I rarely told anyone. What would I have said?
She drank. She had multiple health crises. She had no male companions and few close friends interested in helping out.
We later had about a decade where we got along, seeing one another once a year or so while exchanging regular, loving letters and phone calls and birthday cards and Christmas gifts.
For the past six years, we have had no contact and likely never will again.
This makes me sad and angry.
When I see women enjoying their daughters, and vice versa, my heart hurts.
If you and your mother love one another, this is a great gift.
If you have children — which I don’t, by choice — cherish their love for you and devotion to you. Savor it and protect it.
Millions of people hate Mother’s Day, for a good reason.
And reasons usually only our very closest friends ever really understand.
It’s socially taboo to not love your mother deeply, these days professing it loudly and repeatedly over social media.
We just want to get through it.