I was 25 when I became a mother and my mother became a grandmother. We were both caught by surprise by the whole thing. I grew enormous in my first pregnancy, and while I waddled around managing a health club the owner plyed me with any food I wanted which mostly included escargot sautéed in tomatoes with garlic. Many celebrations surrounded this pregnancy, and my partner and I at the time made the quick transition from youth to adulthood.
This pregnancy was a milestone for many people. It was certainly a first for both my mother and I – this entry into mothering children. We were just beginning our own relationship – and now we would become a team and raise this child that was growing inside of me. We have a unique story my mother and I. Most people don`t really understand it – but we do.
I was adopted at 4 days old by my first parents. I had always felt “proud” of being adopted. The story I was told was that I had been chosen because I was special. They found me in a room amongst a hundred other babies, fell in love with me, wrapped me in the pink blanket I was known to hail with me everywhere and took me home. I had a lovely childhood, filled with an abundance of people, birthday presents and travel. Everyone in my life loved me and I became the focus of attention for my large family which included 4 much older sisters and 2 much older brothers.
My siblings were mostly grown and had moved out of the family home. All except my two sisters, one a singer, the other an artist. For most of my early years, they plied me with their inspiration, taking me with them everywhere. I remember being as young as five years old, when my parents would wake me and bundle me up to g and see my sister sing in beautiful dinner clubs with velvet cushions that felt nice under my cheek as I would curl up on the bench and fall back asleep to my sister’s strong melodic voice. I was literally weaned on the live music scene. I began to get on stage at 5, with her tambourine, playing easily and rhythmically to Chatanooga Choo choo. Those were the days of live disco and excitement in the clubs ran high as I grew older and began to follow her to dance clubs where women wore flashy eye makeup and men wore white pants. It was a great time to be growing up.
Back home my other sister, the artist, would be my “home ground”, and safe place. She taught me visual self-expression, taking me to cool places like the YMCA Montreal where she ran an arts and crafts programs for kids,and we got to make masks out of papier-mache, all painted and freaky looking. She introduced me to Swensen`s Ice Cream in Montreal and sang me lullabies. She taught me how to sing harmonies, always making doing the after dinner dishes fun. And when my parent;s marriage began to fall to pieces, she became my refuge and gave me a home.
I learned about mothering fundamentals with her. As she had her own children, I would spend many summers and weekends at her place, learning what it was like to have to pay constant attention to small people. creatively gifted, she would initiate the most amazing projects with the kids and we would spend happy summers under the sprinkler, eating popsicle and watching the kids skip and play hop-scotch on the streets. Long nights of backgammon, getting my butt kicked in Trivial Pursuit or learning difficult and addictive card games like canasta are all tucked neatly away in my happy memories.
Every life has turning points. One of the biggest ones for me came when at 13 I discovered that one of my four sisters was in fact my biological mother. This is the part when most people take out a paper and pencil to try to make all the right connections: My mother is my sister, my nephew and nieces are my cousins and my sister is my mother and my mother is my grandmother, my father is my grandfather and my brothers are my uncles and my sisters are my aunts. Did you get all that? No? Well don’t feel bad – neither did I for a long time. So, I just ignored it.
I guess that’s probably the best way to see it at the time. I chose to continue to maintain the same relationships with people. Certainly, I reasoned, you don’t have the same relationship with an aunt or uncle as you do a brother or sister? And with my sisters especially since I was so close to them, it was unimaginable for em to have to about establish some sort of preemptive distance from them now just because they were really just Aunts? Aunt seemed less important than they were to me and I couldn’t seem to “downgrade” them.
Most of the people in the family, including my two sisters, did not know my biological history. It only strikes me now in my adulthood that I had never considered their adjustment to the news and relationships in their own head. Obviously, this whole “outing” of a big family secret caused some changes.
I was sent to Africa to live with my biological mother where I lived the happiest months in my memory. My parents meanwhile made arrangements to separate. My mother moved to Florida soon after I returned from Africa the following year. I was placed in private boarding school. Two years later she died of cancer in Florida.
I graduated and went to university at the young age of 16. My father was dating again and I had 6 years to spend with an awesome woman what he took up with, She loved big family events and had enough money to spend to have a really great time with all of us, so we would have enormous family gatherings and celebrations for no other reason than just to be together. one year we all went to Florida. About 10 of the kids (because together we were 12 kids), and my father and his girlfriend. She taught me how to make a chocolate mousse as she had learned at a cooking school in France. We screwed it up about 5 times but had a terrific time eating the remnants 🙂 We did art with clay with her girls and played football on the beach. She made my father happy in a way I had never seen him. And when he refused to stop working because he was addicted to it, and she wanted to have a happy free life from work , she broke up with him and taught me about self-respect and putting yourself first in making choices for your life.
My father remarried another woman after her. A nurse and caretaker, she helped him in his final years happy and peaceful and well cared for. A quiter person and less inclined to spend time with the children, she probably gave him the time to himself that he needed after so many years of raising children and caring for other people.
At 25 my pregnancy hailed the real onset of my relationship with my biological mother. After so many years of missing being my mother, she jumped into grand-parenthood with all of her heart and soul – loving and caring for my children as she would have her own. We were a great team! She always respected the views I had on motherhood, supported and cared for me during my divorce. She married and he became the my children’s most loving attentive grandfather imagineable. I couldnt imagine anyone else being their grandfather. She taught me more in the example of her living than anyone could through the wisdom of their words. The courage to give up a child and then stick around to support it throughout its life, putting your own wishes and desires aside for the best interest of the child – I can;t imagine how much strength she had. I am at a loss as to what to say about my biological mother. Right now she has cancer. We are all afraid for her health. Long ago we decided together that we would “drop the labels”, that labels aren’t important when it comes to people’ relationships. Our relationship is beyond label and description – it is sister-mother-friend-guide-partner….it goes on. I am so grateful.
How the story ends…or begins again? Karma – I ended up with seven of my own children. In the end no big daunting revelatory thought…just that Motherhood has taught me about love. Perfect unending unconditional love.
Mothers come in many forms. I believe we pick our mother – or in my case, team of mothers. They all teach us different important things:
I picked a courageous woman to give birth to me. I picked a woman who needed to love again to mother me. I picked a woman whose eyes see the world beautifully to teach me. I picked a woman who could help me find my voice to guide me. I picked a woman who would believe in me to help me succeed. I picked a women who would teach me about forgiveness in the end.
See here`s to all of our mothers – the women who have taught us to be the men or women we are: The women who put band aids on our cuts, made our lunches and told us to go to bed. The women who listened to our stories of teenage angst and tried to stay out of our way as we were finding our own identity. Here`s to the women who stuck with us when we made choices they could see would cause us pain and misery – and then still listened to us at 2:00 in the morning as we whined about consequences.
Here`s to the mother`s who have helped you find your soulshine.
Happy Mother`s Day.