There’s this saying that I’ve heard a million times throughout my life that goes something like, “You never appreciate your mother more, until you finally become one.” It’s said many different ways, but the gist is all the same. It’s one of the truest sayings I’ve ever known.
When I was young, my mother used to tell me that one day, I would have a child just like me, which I thought was sweet until it actually came true and I realized that it was more prophetic than anything else. It was a curse of sorts, all to say that at some point I would be faced with the same hell that I gave, all on my own.
I’ve had my two daughters home with me all month long…. They’re both just like me, in completely opposite ways. One is shy, introverted, worried about what everyone thinks about her, timid, people-pleasing and a touch insecure about herself verus the world around her. She is the epitome of the girl that I once was before life smacked me around time and again. Before the hardened shell of determination, headstrong impatience and self-defense formed itself around my skin. She is the me just before bullies, sexual assault, marital abuse and relentless nasty foes disguised as friends and loved ones, were fully realized. The me that I still see in the mirror each time a wound is opened exposing just how shakeable I really am.
My other child is the all-round fighter. The one who knows what she wants and how she wants it and won’t settle for less. Somehow, before ever knowing my personality now, she was born as the embodiment of it. Defiant, independent, willing to make plenty of mistakes and live in a state of perpetual trouble, solely to find her own way and do her own thing. She’s rebellious, hilarious, intuitive, self-sufficient, hard-nosed, blunt and in-your-face. The exact replica of the me that I turned out to be. The person that so many days I wish that I weren’t. If for no other reason than to keep myself from consistently falling smack on my face.
Listening to the two girls fight is like hearing the two halves of myself colliding in an epic battle. The sound of the same inner conflict that lives within this sack of skin that I call me. Though I fuss at the two of them to stop, I do it knowing from experience that the friction between them is one that cannot be tamed. And just as I fight my personal inner battles with self, eventually one half gets tired of fighting and surrenders to the half that is primed for the fight. Usually the defiant, bull-headed side — While the meek one slinks off into the background just waiting to get their day in the spotlight, again.
Yes, my mother warned me, as I do to both my daughters that one day I will have a child who is just like me. She warned me, and back then, I thought it funny. But if there’s one part of being a mother that I could never understand until I had my children… It’s the abounding appreciation that I would someday have for my mom.
My mother is kind, compassionate, warm-hearted, giving, caring, always willing to sacrifice and do so with a smile on her face. She never took sides amongst us kids, but embraced us all individually and rooted for our success. She never guilted us with manipulations or fed us stories to make us believe her as victim. No, my mother has by every account always been the hero. The one who could tackle any hardship and make it seem like a walk in the park. Her fighting spirit has gotten her through loss, grief, cancer, abuse and so much more without most even noticing that she was fighting a battle at all. My mother has never been the victim, only the survivor. Her courage and strength rests in her convictions and the hard belief that we should always treat others the way we would want to be treated. She lives and breathes by this value.
She never believed in the word “can’t,” as I came to find out at a very early age when I mistakenly uttered it. She taught me that I could do ANYTHING that I set my mind to, and to never give up. She taught me that “can’t” was just an excuse for something that I truly didn’t want to do. And she was right. She taught me so many wonderful qualities of which I in turn abandoned in my younger years because I thought that it didn’t make me seem strong enough. That being kind to everyone was something that others with ill-will would inevitably prey upon. And sometimes they did, but we she was trying to teach me was that the ultimate gain wasn’t in whether or not anyone took advantage of my kindness, but how I viewed myself by having not been. She moves at a snail’s pace when it comes to anger and never harbors resentment towards anyone, especially the ones most deserving. As a woman, I thought that being quick to anger would show that I could and would defend myself. That it would work as a safegaurd to keep attacks at bay. I was wrong, it only made more angry. I thought that holding onto resentment would keep me protected from having to repeat the same old tired and trivial experiences. I was wrong again on that front, it only called more to my doorstep.
On all accounts my mother was right and this may well be the very phrase that I have enscribed across my tombstone one day. She was right that I would have a daughter just like me — I have two. She was right that “can’t” is just an excuse, as I remind my own daughters of this fact when they show the slightest signs of giving up. She was right to treat others kindly no matter how they treated her, because forgiving yourself for your own bad behavior is far more difficult than forgiving others for theirs. She was right to claim role as survivor rather than victim, because true respect is earned in one and totally lost in the other. She was right to be slow to anger — She reaped the harvest of a happier life because of it. She was right to treat all of her children as individuals, deserving of individual love — Each one of us we grew up to be our own person, needing her in ways different than the other. And equally we each knew that she would always be there, unconditionally, without judgement, but instead only love.
Watching both my daughters, I see the fighting spirit passed down from my mother, to me, to them and I’m in awe. One having suffered a major injury and bouncing back with a vengeance in order just to be where everyone else her age is. She didn’t give up. She’s never once allowed her hindrance to be her excuse. She fought back, never considering herself as victim, but instead survivor. She didn’t pine for attention rooted in pity, but waged her own war to be seen as normal. The other, was born with the fight engraved in her outer skin. Her willful demeanor lets you know right off the bat that she suffers no fools. She’s kind, but expecting of the same kindness in return and smart enough to know when it’s manufactured or genuine. They are two parts of me, the two I inherited from being raised by a woman much stronger than me. There aren’t enough words to thank her for this. Though I spent a good deal of years running from what and who she taught me to be, with the ludicrous idea that it would make me more resilient, I have come full circle to understand that every lesson she brought was that of pure strength.
As I write in the midst of this madhouse, I have never appreciated my mother more than I do in this very moment. For modeling to me what a good mother ought to be. Though I fail far more often than I ever saw her fail. For patiently and lovingly giving me so much time to find my own way to these same truths — Though it must’ve been hard to continually watch me fall. For always being there no matter how difficult I was and for loving me just the same today as yesterday. For being my guiding light when I clearly don’t know what to do.
If these two girls grow to be even half of what my mother is and has always been, then they will be a mighty force of inner strength and perseverance, where some are merely pale imitations adorned in flashy lipstick and high heels. I hope that they bypass all of my stupid mistakes and, at times, lack of good character, and skip right to the grace in authenticity of the woman whom I call, Mom.