I always know when my mother is stressed out. She wears it all over her face. And last night, when she stopped by for a visit, was no exception. In the 47 years I’ve known her, I’ve never seen her stress over anything other than our family. My mother’s children, grandchildren and husband are the air she breathes- every molecule of her body embedded with her very distinct DNA. Her DNA, flawed by a faulty gene responsible for loving and worrying way too much. It’s difficult to write about this because I am most guilty of wearing this amazing woman down. In comparison to my brothers, I have caused the most sleepless nights.
I am not the daughter my mother deserved.
My birth brought about so much hope. While my mother would have been thrilled with any baby, delivering a girl after birthing 3 bouncing baby boys became the stuff fairy tales are made of. Prior to even leaving the hospital my life was pretty much mapped out. I’d be my mother’s best friend forever. We’d lunch, shop, chat and do our nails together. Our relationship would be different than the one she had with her mother. I would no doubt make her proud and the envy of all her friends-because our relationship would be impenetrable and the joy I’d bring to her life would be plethoric.
But that’s not what happened.
According to my mother, it was out of shame that my grandmother didn’t announce to the world that her daughter was pregnant again and expecting her 4th child… me. Although my mother had married well, with a loving, supportive, successful husband (who fathered all her children), having a fourth child back in 1970 was frowned upon. At least in my mother’s family. Even today, my mother recalls the story with complete clarity… how she told no one because she was embarrassed. Why, I ask? Because I was the first of my friends to have a 4th child -NO ONE had a fourth child.
The logic of that being an impossibility-surely SOME women had four kids, or more- made no impact on my mother. In her family, and in her circle, at least, they didn’t. Little did I know, in my unaware fetal state, that I’d be arriving with baggage. Nevertheless, a day after I was born a birth announcement was placed in one of New York’s most prominent papers: “It is with utter joy that we announce the arrival of Princess Meredyth.”
I am no princess. I let go of that lofty ambition years ago. It was never my dream anyway. But now that I’m a mother, I long to be upgraded from status quo… otherwise known as a disappointment.
Last night’s mask of stress was unrelated to me. Better stated, the stress I cause wasn’t on the front burner- not at that moment, anyway. I sat on my bed staring at my beautiful, elegant, loving mother, and began daydreaming that I were a magician who could go back in time and become everything she ever wanted. No doubt the list of things I’d change would be long. She deserves so much more than I’ve given.
I turned to her and said, “I just wish our differences didn’t cause so much animosity. I wish the six of us were closer.”
“All families fight like this,” she replied. “No family is all fun and carefree.”
But I couldn’t help but wonder, and nearly said out loud: True, but are all families as fractured as ours? I wanted to say it. Indeed, I feel my mother needs to hear it. But it would cause her more pain. So instead, I did something incredibly uncharacteristic; I held my tongue.
Moments later, we did what all respectable Jewish New Yorkers do (and that includes those like my parents and me who’ve relocated to Southern Florida). We put on our prettiest smile, fixed our hair and headed out for Chinese food. Just so long as we look good, folks. Don’t you know, all’s well, that looks well?
After dinner, on the drive home I couldn’t help but think of my “sister wives.” That is, the mothers of my daughter’s half siblings-the other moms who chose the same sperm donor I chose. We’ve had our share of conflicts over the years- not so much by way of fighting, but differences of opinion. Different styles of parenting. Yet through it all, we’ve remained a united front. We’re thick as thieves, no matter our differences. I wondered what it was about these women that made it so much easier to be around them. My mother claims all families fight the way my family has always fought, but my fellow donor moms- they’re family too, and we don’t stop speaking when someone ruffles a feather. They are the extended family fate created- a fact I’ve had to remind my own traditional family of…. Genetically, Gabi is more closely related to her half siblings than her own grandmother, uncles and cousins. The fact that not all families fight like my own original family is a lesson I hope my mom comes to realize one day. My own realization is that I don’t always have to be the one forcing people to learn lessons they’re not ready to hear.
My New Year’s resolution for 2018? Simple. Before speaking, think what I want to say three times, and then remain silent.
I think I’ll start today.