I've spent a good measure of my adult life without my mother. Even though I was forty-one when she passed. We were just reaching that state of equality where we were both adults and might have become friends.
I spent much of my childhood into young adulthood trying to be different from my mother, seeing only the aspects of her that I didn't want to become. My mother had her struggles with anxiety and worry. There were times that, in my childlike observance, I thought she might not be happy. I wanted to be my own person, strong and worry-free. People would constantly remind me, "You're so much like your mother." And it would spur me to try harder to be different, something that expanded the gap between us in those years. I had to admit, when I had my senior photo taken, that I did, in fact, look just like my mother.
My mother passed away in 1991, ten years after we lost my father. She was just sixty-six. I remember the relief when I reached and then surpassed my sixty-sixth birthday. I'd outlived my mother. It's sad, in a way, to have outlived the opportunity to finally move past the differences and settle into a new, easier relationship. It's a different loss to never reach that point where the struggle and the differences fall away and two women become friends.
It took a while, even after my mother's passing, for me to own and embrace the ways I am so much like Anna Catherine (Kay) Hennessey Rettstatt. Having outlived her years, I suppose I see in my own image now how she might have aged further. When I look into the mirror, I see the same sparkle in my eyes and can hear the same laugh at a good joke. I glimpse her kindness when I find myself in a situation to be generous and kind to someone in need. It's probably no accident I became a social worker. It's probably also no accident I became a writer. My mother loved to tell stories. Though many were true accounts of her adventures as a young girl, they came with the warning: Don't let me catch you doing that.
I think she would have enjoyed and been proud of my work as a writer.
My one regret or, perhaps, greatest loss is that I didn't have the opportunity to get to know my mother well as a person, as a woman. I think back on the things I would do differently. We all visit the 'if onlys' from time to time. We can't go back. Only forward.
Here's what I carry forward with me when I reflect on what I know to be the best of my mother--a woman who was the eldest of nine children growing up in small coal mining towns in the 1920's and -30's. She was a tomboy who loved baseball. She cared for her younger siblings. She was no stranger to mothering and hard work and giving care. She was daring once. She loved country music, singing and dancing, and the hula hoop.
I carry her zest for life, her sense of humor, her kindness (though I'm not always as good at that as she was). I carry her with me. I've turned that corner from wanting to be separate to wanting to embrace a relationship that never had the chance to fully develop during her lifetime. I've had only to allow her uniqueness and accept one fact: I'm so much like my mother. Thank God for small favors.
How many times I've said, "Oh, no, I've become my mother." It took all these years to realize that's not such a bad thing after all.
Happy Mother's Day.