When I read my mother's post last week I was standing in line for airport security in Detroit. I was as impressed by the eloquence of her writing as I was unexpectedly moved by her candidness. When I got to the lines:
Obviously, reading that I had not given her the childhood she would have chosen for herself, caused a wistful sorrow to wash over me, even though it wasn't a surprise. I know this is true.
I teared up a little, as I imagine some other readers did. (Nobody likes to make their mother feel wistful.) I put my iPhone on the conveyer belt with HuffPost Canada still displayed on the screen. After a full-body scan, I retrieved my phone and shoes, and continued reading as I walked to my gate.
On the plane that day, and over the week that followed, I thought of how to respond. My mother had touched on so many things in her post! Should I talk about the freshly baked cookies she greeted us with every day after school? Or the four different men who have been, at one point or another, my father? Am I touched by her pride when she lists my obscure academic awards, or amused that she clearly Googled me to find out what they were? Like most mothers and daughters, our relationship is a fuddle of polarities...
Her post appeared with the title Can You Give Your Daughter a Happy Life? Reading the blog, I was mostly saddened by her implicit conclusion... No.
It is true that as I was growing up we had many "challenges" (as my mother would call them). Between kindergarten and the twelfth grade, I attended eight different schools in four different cities, while living in nine different houses and apartments with seven different names (some real, some assumed) on the mailboxes. This comes with an upside: people are impressed by my ability to memorize addresses, ZIP codes, birthdays, and telephone numbers. But there is a downside, too: I am terrible with faces and a suitcase feels most like home.
And yes, we had a rotating cast of fathers and friends and a backdrop that changed so fast we sometimes barely got a hold of it. Still, consistency is important for children! And my mother "dancing around the room flinging generous fistfuls of glitter and pretending it is fairy dust" -- that never changed.
Wherever we were, we celebrated holidays and other milestones with a pagan fervor. On Valentine's Day we sang and danced, hands clasped, in a circle, around the same ceramic pig painted with hearts every year. No matter where our refrigerator was, leprechauns managed to dye our milk green each St. Patrick's Day. When I presented the Tooth Fairy with a sealed envelope, elaborately decorated and signed over the flap, the Tooth Fairy found a way to extract her tooth and provide my quarter without ever breaking the seal. And when there were ghosts in the room, we opened the windows and chased them out, shouting "Get out of here! We don't want you!"
It's true that we were on the road a lot. But we were on the road with a beloved trained attack Rottweiler and a shoebox full of ducklings, singing songs with complicated harmonies and all the windows down, in between contests over who could suck a root beer lifesaver to nothing the fastest. We were, at all times, confident that the angels who periodically visited my mother's shoulders to whisper in her ears would guide her right.
Mother and daughter relationships are complicated, in no small part because we are all growing up together. Any mother who does the best she can is good enough -- more than good enough.
If you want to know the truth, I had a magical childhood. And I will take "magical" over "happy" any day.