Mother’s Day as a mom without a mom

Mother’s Day used to just be a bitter reminder that I don’t have a mom. The holiday dredged up latent anger that my mother died of cancer when I was 11. I couldn’t call her or send her flowers, and I resented everyone else who could celebrate their own mothers.

Twenty years (and a stern talking-to from a best friend) later, I am far less angry about Mother’s Day. I no longer yell at the television when Hallmark and JC Penny ads come on, and I am not as depressed in the days leading up to it. But there’s not a day that goes by — holiday or otherwise — that I don’t think of my mom.

And now, I’m a mother.

Becoming a mother without one was probably really difficult, but I don’t know any better. She’s been dead for more than 20 years, so I’ve pretty much lived all my adult rites of passage so far without her here.

Having a baby certainly made me long to call her with questions, want her here to help out in the early weeks, and miss sharing this intense joy and struggle with her. I wanted to hear stories of my birth. What did she think about natural birth? Sleep training? And it would have been really nice to have her around to tell me I’m doing OK at being a mom.

But she wasn’t and hasn’t been. Instead I’ve had to imagine what I think she would say, how I think she would react upon seeing my son — or seeing her daughter as a mother.

So in honor of Mother’s Day (and my love of lists), here’s a list of things I would tell my mother if she were here today. I’ve narrowed this particular list down to a few things I would tell her about my own nascent motherhood experience.

  1. When I was pregnant, I wanted stories of my own birth, but Dad didn’t give me much. He did say you told the nurses to get the hell out of the room when they came in to give you an episiotomy and a shave — which were apparently common practices then. When I asked him if you had natural births, I think Dad’s response was “of course.”
  2. I really wanted a daughter. I wanted to braid her hair like you did mine and teach her the confidence-building mantra you taught me. I wanted to tell her about sex and take her bra shopping because you and I didn’t get to. But now, I can’t imagine not having a son — my son in particular.
  3. My son cried for the first seven weeks of his life. Not just evening fussing, either. He cried all the time, and nothing we tried worked. Dad told me I cried for my first nine months, and that just when you two were ready to research adoption agencies, I stopped, almost as if I knew or was satisfied with the level of torture I’d put you through. I’m sorry about that. Now I have kind of an idea of how crappy that must have been.
  4. You once told me I had almond-shaped eyes. I was young, and the image stuck with me. And they were your eyes. I’ve passed them on to my son, and though his are a bit lighter, they are shaped like almonds.
  5. The lessons you taught me as a young girl have guided me through my life and guide me now as a new mother. I aspire to have your strength, grace, and humor, and to teach my son to live creatively and lovingly as you taught me.
I invite you to share what you would like to say to your mother — living or not — on Mother’s Day.
(Feature photo of my mom and me.)