Friday, May 10, 2013

"Do I Make You Proud?"

The piece of sky above the trees in the distance have turned from dark to a dull grey-blue. I scan the expanse, searching for my mother's spirit, knowing she's nowhere there.

Eleven hours ago, I was at the book launch of Motherhood Statements-- a collection of essays on mothers, motherhood and mothering-- where a piece I wrote is included. I was giddy. My first published essay! Friends and family came to show their support, their presence a gesture of unwavering faith and maybe even relief that finally-- finally!-- I've accomplished something that deserved their pride. My joy was great, but not quite complete.

I thought of my mother. My piece in the anthology was about her, after all, and about our long and painful relationship together. I thought of what she would have worn to the event, how uncomfortable she would have felt around the people who attended, how she would have been thinking that I wasn't dressed appropriately, and how this young writer Mookie, who read an excerpt from her essay, was so pretty and confident and had already achieved so much while I, her own daughter...

In the 1999 movie The Sixth Sense, my favorite scene was towards the end, when Haley Joel Osment's character finally admitted to his mom (played by Toni Collette) that he could see and speak to the dead. He said that he spoke to his grandmother, who told him that her answer to his mom's question was, "Always." When Haley Joel Osment asked his mom what the question had been, she replied: "Do I make you proud?"

At 42 and more than 5 years after my mom's death, I still measure my worth by her standards. I can still feel the shadow of her eyes burning through my skin-- watching me, appraising me-- and the cluck of her tongue, accompanied by a disapproving shake of her head, is almost audible. None of my children see dead people (thank goodness) and I am not courageous enough to stand by my mother's grave to ask whatever part of her that's left beneath that headstone if I make her proud, with any degree of confidence that the response would not be painful to hear.

It has been a challenge to break free from her opinion of me. Every Mother's Day, I offer her the gift of my perseverance to be better than she thought me capable.

To love myself as I deserve, that's my gift to myself.

1 comment:

Joan Sowards said...

I love your writing style. It is smooth and healing. I can relate to this essay on mother-daughter. So true. Though it was my father whom I tried so hard to get his approval. It wasn't until he was 90 that he told me he was proud of me and my achievements. I realized then that I didn't need his approval anymore, but it was nice to have it.

Keep writing.