Literary Mama writing about the many faces of motherhood
My Mother’s Gift


It's one in the morning and I'm packing for the wedding. We leave in two days. I shove five pairs of "Spanx" into my suitcase. I can't believe I need today's version of a girdle. The antidepressant I'm taking is helping my mood, but the side affects are taking their toll. I'm sleepy during the day, my metabolism has slowed, and my libido has disappeared.

The next day while Simon is in school and Gus is with the sitter, my sister Naomi calls. She wants a more detailed explanation of why Jack and I aren't bringing Simon and Gus to her wedding. She's taking it personally and wants me to change my mind.

I want to tell her about "independent-me" and "mother-me," and how I need "independent-me" to be at the wedding to handle my dad, but I can't seem to find the words. I know I sound clipped and defensive, but why doesn't she just get it?

"Maybe when you have kids you'll understand."

The conversation escalates. Naomi isn't taking no for an answer.

"Why can't you just handle Dad? I agree with you about everything about him. But I've made different choices about him than you have, and I just want him at my wedding. Why can't you accept that? I want my nephews there, too. You're my maid of honor. You should be smoothing things over, making sacrifices for me."

"Naomi, I am supporting you! I just can't do it exactly how you want. I can't do this one thing. I'm not bringing the kids." I feel like the old Rebecca, cornered and needing to get out.

After the phone call I can't help thinking, is this the easy way out? Is that what this whole thing is about? The selfish, easy way out? I'm literally hot with fury. I take off my sweatshirt and call my mom.

I want to hear that this isn't my fault, isn't even Naomi's fault. It's Dad's fault he's so fucked up. He's the one who caused these problems and we're stuck trying to deal with it. I want my mom to be our voice of reason. But I'm still focused on Naomi.

"I'm so mad at her for making this about me and her and not about him!"

Mom tries to be neutral. I picture her sitting in the middle of an old-fashioned "teeter-totter" with Naomi and I weighing down either side. Mom is trying to make sure no one pushes too hard or throws off the balance.

"I do think it's okay to make the right decision for yourself ... but you can't expect her to be happy about it." Is she taking her side?

"Why don't you get it? I do not want my kids around Dad."

I feel abandoned and unsupported. I've always felt this way. I was the first to separate from him, my mom leaving him only after I cut off all contact following my wedding. Naomi barely speaks to him, but she has this idea of what a wedding "should be," and she wants him there. Secretly I wonder if Naomi is just trying to pretend the abuse never happened, just like my mom did before their divorce. Even after the divorce, Mom vacillates between acknowledging what our family was really like and minimizing it to make it more palatable. Is she doing that now?

"Why aren't you supporting me?" I hang up, too scared, too hurt to hear an answer.

Later that night, my mom calls back. She reassures me that she thinks things will work out between me and Naomi. And she also has another point to make.

"I want you to know that when we are at the wedding, and all the events before and after, I will not leave your side. We can even go to the bathroom together. You will not ever have to be alone with Dad. We will celebrate and he will be in the background. I promise."

Could she really be coming through for me? I've only ever been able to count on myself where my father is concerned. My mom's silence while I was growing up spoke volumes. She opened up a little about him during their divorce but she's always thought that saying anything against him would hurt us. She wants her daughters to have a good relationship with their father. I know she wants the best for us. But I also feel like her balancing act helps her deny his abuse, as well as her tacit complicity.

"Oh mom, I don't know if I can trust you. What if you feel differently at the time?"

Then she gives me the greatest, most unexpected gift: "Rebecca, I won't feel differently. I know I never protected you before. Let me do it now."

Relief, gratitude, how to describe the feeling of being understood, really understood, by your mother? How to describe feeling mothered? Up until that moment, that second, I never let myself wish for it, never knew how much I needed to hear those words.

The next day I call Naomi. "God, Naomi, I love you so much. I don't want your wedding day to be about Dad, I want it to be about you and Marc. I know you're disappointed about the kids. Please, let me be there for you anyway."

She says okay. I'm not sure she completely gets it, but I can see she's trying, and I think she sees I'm making an effort also.

She says "I can't wait for you to be my Maid of Honor." And for the first time since she announced her engagement, I can't wait either.

Rebecca Kaminsky, a Founding Editor, is a writer who lives in Berkeley, California, with her spouse and two sons. Her work has appeared in Literary Mama: Reading for the Maternally Inclined (Seal Press, Jan. 2006), as well as the locally best-selling anthology Wednesday Writers: Ten Years of Writing Women’s Lives. Rebecca wrote the column Down Will Come Baby for Literary Mama, and she has been a guest blogger for The Washington Post. She holds a Master of Arts in Liberal Studies with a concentration in Women’s Studies from the CUNY Graduate Center.

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**Relief, gratitude, how to describe the feeling of being understood, really understood, by your mother? How to describe feeling mothered? Up until that moment, that second, I never let myself wish for it, never knew how much I needed to hear those words.** Rebecca, these words were especially moving. I'm so glad your mother was there for you, and that your sister met you where you were. Best, ~Deesha
Rebecca, that part about the feeling of finally being, that's hard stuff to write. Bravo. -Susie
It is so difficult when family members react so differently to the pain of the past. I can relate so much to your need to be understood. I am the one in my family who seems bent on making everyone remember things the way they truly were and not gloss over the those defining moments that took away irreplaceable elements of our childhood. I have two sisters, one who seems to live by the mantra, "can't we all just get along?" I have had some tough conversations with my mother about protection and feeling so alone in the world. She has felt for years that I want her to make amends somehow, but I've only wanted her to acknowledge my fears and feelings that are a direct result of the choices she made as a mother. I have become what many people descibe as aloof however I am really always assessing people because of a lack of trust with the general population. But finally my mother and I have come to a place of honesty in our relationship and it took quite a bit crying, screaming, silence (18 months worth), and faith to get here. I will be praying for you to find that safe place where you can be understood and loved by the people who should understand and love you more than any other people on this planet. Your courage is breath-taking!
I do not post regularly here but I wanted to chime in on the special love/hate relationships of mothers and daughters. My mother recently passed away and I find that no matter what my mother and I went thru...we managed to respect eachother and love eachother enough to get thru anything. Ky'a (Philadelphia, PA)
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