The going wisdom in my childhood was that the mother’s love was unconditional— “I will love you forever no matter what”—and the father’s love conditional—“I will love you if you meet my expectations.” With the addendum, “And I probably won’t tell you.”
That’s a lot of pressure on the mother! And a loss for the father. But both were true for me. My father did eke out a few words of affection, but almost always in a convoluted way, something like, “You’re no good, you never were any good and you’ll never be any good” with a smile and an affectionate pat on the head.
But my mother and I had an understanding and it continued up unto her dying day. Which was today, April 6th, seven years ago. Later this month, I’ll write her a card for her 100thbirthday, but today, I want to thank her yet again for this quality of love that I believe I needed (don’t we all?) and gave me a sustenance that is indelibly part of my feeling that I belong on this earth, part of some deep confidence (often tested) that I am worthy of love and can accomplish what I set out to do. Where is the end of gratitude for those gifts? No arms can stretch that far.
My mother was bi-polar and even in her young days, it was often difficult to follow her train of thought. If you dug deeper into comments she made, you sometimes could find that tracks that train was riding on and it did make some kind of sense. But it was an effort. In her last years (she died at 93), that quality combined with dementia made for some interesting monologues. I remember one day sitting out in the garden of the Jewish Home, looking at the statue of a mother and her boy, she starting talking and I had the good sense to grab my pen and notebook and scribed her stream-of-consciousness comments. Amongst them these:
• How can you tell what a little boy can do? And you did it!
• You did all that hard work and you’re a good person! And you always find me when you want to. Amazing!
• Wait. Just wait and see. People will find out what you’re capable of.
• I love it. I love everything about you. Everything.
Mom, wherever you may be, I hope you feel my own undying love for you and endless gratitude for everything you gifted me. See you on your birthday.