A moment that changed me — I will never be the parent she wants me to be
My stomach was still churning uncomfortably, reminding me of the childhood feeling of long drives in the family car, holding an empty plastic ice-cream bucket on my lap and readying myself for the inevitable vomiting that would happen as we wound our way through the Adelaide Hills.
The feeling has been with me for weeks now, emptying my bowels and giving me a mirthless chuckle at the thought that, if nothing else, I would be losing a part of the Covid weight I’d stacked on for the past couple of years.
My dog trotted ahead of me, fascinated by the smells, sounds and sights of the fields alongside us, tail wagging happily. I never managed to get my phone out fast enough, but every day he would approach a fully-laden dandelion, sniff at it and then jump back in shock as the seeds puffed up into his face before being scattered by the breeze. A few seconds of innocent joy, and ones I’d try to keep in my mind, to remember and focus on when depression tried to overtake me.
Last Sunday was Mother’s Day in most parts of the world that celebrated it. Facebook was left unopened, as were my emails. I did not have the strength to see, read and ‘like’ the posts made by my friends, as their kids showered them with bouquets, gifts and long lunches out.
I had arranged for a delivery of flowers to my mother in South Australia, albeit on Saturday as the florist was closed on Sunday. Done via a website a week earlier and half a hemisphere away, as we were away for the weekend. By avoiding checking my phone, I could only assume that she had received them and understood that communication with me via facetime or phone was not possible.
That was not strictly true, but I did not have the strength to put on a jolly façade, if only for a few minutes, pretending that all was right in my world; that my daughter had commemorated the day for me in some way, or considered me a half-decent mother. She had not.
Of course, everyone is busy with deadlines to make, budgets to stick to and futures to pull together, so I chided myself every time that depression or self-pity overtook my brain and my bowels and sent me running to the toilet. So what if you did not hear from your daughter on Mother’s Day: it is an artificial holiday, merely a celebration of successful commercialism, good only for market gardeners and delivery drivers.
In my fifty fourth year, and her twenty third, I realized that I had failed her.
There was no point in reliving things done and said in the past; she had cut off all contact and was going to let her father and me know how she would be ‘fully independent’ and live her life without any further involvement with us. Again I ran to the toilet; the physical manifestation of dreading her next email and the awful reality it would contain.
It would not be a phone call, but an email: this she had already told us.
Even today, as I tentatively opened Facebook, its faulty algorithm displayed post after post of happy Mother’s days, gifts, family portraits, barbeques, flowers and smiling faces. Each one a small punch to the heart.
There are melodic bird calls we can hear from the balcony of our apartment, pollen in the breeze as the sun shines down, high school students whooping and hollering as they stroll glacially slowly from their campus to the takeaway stores, flirting and laughing. Two floors up, I am detached from these signs of life and crushingly sad.
My daughter wants nothing to do with me, yet our apartment is full of things that remind me of her. The art works, framed photographs, spices she loved. The academic books, coloured pencils, stuffed toys. Snowshoes, prom dresses and make up remover in the bathroom cupboard. All signs of my failure as a mother.
Her father tries hard to provide reasons for her decision. The stress of finishing up her lengthy dissertation, completing some overdue essays, applying for graduate jobs, fear of the future. I admire him for his attempts to understand her, to justify her outbursts and to comfort me. He too is hurt, desperately so, and we cling to each other late at night, wordlessly wondering how things went so terribly wrong.
Unfortunately, there are no easy answers.
Music from the 1990s was never a great interest of mine, but the song ‘Affirmation’ by Savage Garden runs incessantly through my ears which ring with tinnitus each time a vigorous double-somersault of vertigo hits me. “I believe your parents did the best job they knew how to do….”
But did we?
Who assesses us? With what criteria? Do the final judgements provide examples, reasons and ways to improve or are we left to ponder our loss and inadequacy forever?
I guess I will never know, but as I watch my dog prance about the dandelions in delight, I know that this was the moment that parenthood had defeated me.