Asking other women who are also someone’s daughter: Growing up, was your mother your best friend? My mom wasn’t. But I know she tried. As I write this, I am finally friends with mom. In fact, she is my best friend.
It is only now that I am a mother myself that I often look back at situations she and I went through together. I would wonder what thoughts went through her head; what she would tell herself so she could soldier through them.
I would wonder how many times she cried herself to sleep.
I am the only girl in a brood of 5. I have 3 half brothers with my father, and a younger brother. You’d think my father would have raised me like a princess — nope. He raised me like a boy. At the time, I hated him for it. But now, as a single parent, I am glad I have the strength to muster the “guts of a man” when situations call for it.
My father never coddled me. He never covered for me or pretended to understand if I pretended to be sick and wanted to stay home from school. He never did my homework for me. He never spoke to other parents on my behalf about their kids who were bullying me. He never thought twice about pushing me to read and write in English or watch the nightly news. I have my father to thank for the way I am now, for my good name, and for the colorful career I have had.
Not Mommy’s mini-me
I had to tell you about my father to help establish my relationship with my mother. My mom is a strong woman, no doubt. She left the province to study in the city. She took up Medical Technology when most of her sisters wanted to become teachers. She played the guitar and had short hair when most of them had long hair.
My mom can drive. I can’t. My mom can go to any government office and get things done. I would just accept what they tell me and return another day. My mom could figure out bureaucratic processes. I would just get confused. My mom is great at Math. I am not. My mom is an awesome home cook. I specialize in frying Spam.
Cracks began to form in our relationship when I noticed how she was much closer to my younger brother. They would go out and spend time together without me, shop without me, share books but not with me. Those were things I thought showed love; so I felt unloved. I felt alone. By then, she and my dad had already separated. I had no one.
Then I got pregnant.
I was 21. My dad just passed away. It was not planned nor wanted, but I wanted to be a good human being by facing up to the consequence of my carelessness. I had romanticized “High Fidelity” so much that I imitated what Rob and Laura did. Then reality bit and showed me that, in real life, actions have real consequences.
On the day we were about to have lunch with the parents of the baby’s father, my mom made the pregnancy about her. She had told her older sister — who is like my second mom — that I got pregnant to hurt her. Why would I do that?
I gave birth to my son at 22 years old. I was just a few years younger than when my mother had me. My mother became a backseat parent, and she made sure I knew she was there. In the beginning, it was amusing; eventually, it became irritating and obtrusive.
We lived for many years together — grandmother, mother, and child. My mother began raising my son like she did her own son (my brother), which I objected to. I did not want my son to grow up like his uncle. I wanted him to be better. I did not want to be the kind of parent that my parents were to me. I wanted to be better.
Discontinuing the pain
They say things are difficult before they are easy. I would not say our lives are easy now; but before my relationship with my mom finally began to mend, it had to go through years of stress.
These included physical altercations, shouting matches, running away, asking help from friends to help me get away, and throwing glasses, plates, or anything that could break. That time, we shared a one-bedroom space that was 30 square meters big. (I look back and realize she must have gone through so much stress that she did not show us.)
My son was so young but he was exhibiting symptoms of stress that I was passing on to him and that he was picking up from the atmosphere in the house. The air was hostile, yet it was air we shared with my mother and brother.
Who else would be the family that should have made it loving and peaceful?
I decided to begin with myself. One day, I just woke up thinking, feeling, and saying, “Enough.” I was tired of the unhappiness, sadness, anger, and frustration. There were other problems to deal with. Why were we creating problems for ourselves?
Then my mother got diagnosed with breast cancer.
It was only Stage 1 but she was HER2 positive, which meant her cancer could be harder to treat or quick to metastasize.
All of a sudden, nothing else mattered. Being right did not matter. Having the last word did not matter. New things did not matter. Ego and pride did not matter.
Only love mattered.
There were people who told me that cancer is a sickness caused by anger, unforgiveness, unprocessed emotions, and unhealed trauma inside a person. I would not go deeper into this because I don’t have the references and knowledge to speak on this.
But if it were true, then I felt very sorry for my mother, and for all people with cancer.
Aside from deciding I did not want to be like her, I also decided I would help her get better. And she has: she has been in remission since 2018. I am doing my best to take care of her now, along with my younger brother. I have helped her develop a consistent relationship with God, which has helped her throughout the lockdown.
I could summarize how we did it in 3 bullet points:
- Live separately. We all need breathing space even from loved ones.
- Communicate. Check on each other and talk like you would with friends.
- Be respectful. Ego will still be there from time to time, but remain calm.
Today, I speak to my mother in a way that — should she or I suddenly decide to go ahead to the other side — I would not regret the last thing I said to her. There is no such this as showing too much love or giving too much care. I only have one mother.
We wasted too many years having a bad relationship. Now, when I wake up and we greet each other good morning, another day together is already a gift.
My mom and I are friends, finally. (I love you, Ma!)