In last week's post Emily posed the question, what it means "to daughter" someone.
Seven years ago I would have been able to answer that question with a clear conscience. I was what the world would call "a good daughter." Seven years ago, I saw my own mother frequently. I took her out to lunch several times a month. I called her often. When her Volvo was acting up, I bought her a new car. When she decided she didn't like the car she chose, I bought her another one. I invited her to any family celebration or get-together, big or small.
Once a reporter asked me what I splurged on with the money I earned from my first starring role in a movie. The answer was simple, I paid off my mother's mortgage.
What is a good daughter? Not me. Not anymore. I am the worst daughter in the family. It was hard to go from the "best" to the "worst" from the "good" one to the "bad" one.
And yet, if I could make the decision to step away, all over again, I would decide to walk this same path.
I don't talk to my mother. I don't call. I don't see her. She does not have my address or phone number. I prefer to keep it that way.
I do send her flowers, loving thoughts and money. It is easier to love her when I have no contact. It is easier to sort through the mess that was our childhood and forgive and forget. Not seeing her makes it easier to hold the good memories, the kind ones close to my heart.
Not so easy when I am in the same room with her. Not so easy when she insists that I am lying and none of it happened. Not so easy when she believes that my husband is her soul mate, not mine. Not so easy when she tries to turn me against my own children.
What is a good daughter? Not me. Not anymore.
People will have their opinions and judgments about this choice I have made and I'm sure some of the comments that will be posted will hurt my feelings, however, they have not walked in my shoes for the last 51 years. They have no idea.
It's weird, because it wasn't like I woke up one day and said, "That's that, I'm done." It just happened.
I had gone to a spa with my sister, Jennifer. We do this every year or so, whenever Jenny decides she needs to get back on a healthy track, wants to start exercising and eating right. And of course when she calls me to see if I'm free, I find a way to clear my schedule, act like it's no big deal to spend way more than I would feel comfortable spending for a week away. Because it means I will have a precious week with my sister, being sisters, talking, laughing, sharing stories, catching up on what's going on in our lives. I do whatever it takes to be able to go. It's worth it to me.
So this particular week, I went to one of Ann Harriet's talks. I don't remember the name of the workshop, but I do remember that she had us remove our name tags and then re-pin them back on our t-shirts. We all accomplished the task rather efficiently.
Then Ann Harriet had us close our eyes and told us to get a picture in our mind of ourselves at age four. Then she had us open our eyes, keeping the image of that four-year-old child in our hearts, and told us to take off our name tags and re-pin them on ourselves as we would on that four-year old child.
It was amazing the difference, the tenderness with which we re-attached those name tags.
We were then told to do something for that four-year-old girl twice a day. Go to the kitchen and ask for juice if we were thirsty. Take a little nap if we were tired. That kind of thing.
I found it very hard to ask for what I wanted, to look after, to fill my needs. I was an expert at anticipating other peoples needs, but almost embarrassed to ask for something for myself.
It was a very important week for me. This was one little 45-minute workshop and yet it had such an impact.
On the last night, there was a farewell labyrinth walk after dinner. From the dining room we walked in silence in the moonlight, crickets, frogs, night birds singing. A group of women together and alone, each one thinking back on the week and what we had discovered, the friendships made, stories shared. The rustle of our clothes, the quiet shuffle of our shoes and sandals, first on the wood boardwalk, then up the stairs and on to the dirt path, dried leaves crunching under our feet, the wind softly rattling the branches of the trees as we approached the labyrinth.
Then a row of us, waiting for our turn to step out onto this last journey, the one that signifies our departure from the safety and nurture of this spa and the re-entry back into our regular lives. Deep in thought. What did we want to take with us, what did we want to leave behind?
It was my turn to step out on the labyrinth and so I did and around one third of the way in, I felt a small hand slip into mine and I looked down and there was myself as a four-year old child. And we walked together, hand-in-hand, to the centre of the labyrinth and in the centre of the flower, I knelt down and I apologized for not taking better care of her and I made her a solemn promise that from now on I would.
And that is when it happened.
It wasn't a conscious choice. It just happened. And whenever my hand wants to go to the phone, to call my mother, to get back on that old path I was on, I remember the little four-year-old girl inside, and that promise I made to love her and keep her safe and I can't do both, be a good daughter and a good mother to myself. And so I make a choice.
For the first 45 years of my life, it was one choice, for the last six years another. Neither one right or wrong. Just the way things are.