First Love


I wanted three words
She gave me the night sky
A stormy ocean

I wanted three words
She gave me jumping jacks
An eggnog
Homework help

I wanted three words
She gave me books
A daily phone call
Newspaper clippings

I wanted three words
She gave me recipes
Beach rocks
A cup of tea

I wanted three words
She gave me show, not tell
I loved you too, Mom

Had you asked me as a child if my mother loved me, I would have said no. And I would have added that I hated her too. Too. I believed she hated me, that she blamed me for her unhappiness, that my existing caused her unhappiness. I carried those beliefs from late childhood through my teens and into adulthood. We went years without speaking.

Then I had children of my own. I didn’t know how to mother, so I promised myself that no matter what, I wouldn’t be like her. But as my children grew, and challenged my patience, and tested my resolve, something in me shifted. In a moment of anger and exasperation, one of those days that can break an introverted mother with an extroverted child (or an introverted mother with her equally introverted other child), I realized that I could love and hate at the same time. That anger and hatred were real, but they weren’t about the child. They were about me. I was struggling to raise two precocious children, my mother had seven.

It took work during those years to seek out and choose the other memories of my childhood, of my mother. She taught me to look up and wonder at the stars. She took me to the beach in all kinds of weather. She filled the house with books and left me to discover which ones I loved.

Our relationship got better when I stopped seeing her as a monster, stopped blaming her for mistakes that she couldn’t help making, stopped holding her to a standard I couldn’t meet myself. Our relationship got better when I forgave her for being human, for having needs that clashed with mine.

My mother never said she loved me, but she showed me in her own way. I was the one who had to be willing to see.