The Perfectly Imperfect Daughter

I always felt small around my mother. As a child I experienced her as the commander in chief of the family, in charge of all decisions and the source of everything I needed and wanted.

I remember being six years old, one afternoon polishing the wood floors of the living room of our apartment. I was focused on doing a great job for my mother’s approval. Every single corner of the floor was shinny. I polished under the sofa, dinning area and console table, where the large white vase, that belonged to great grandma was displayed. That was the only ‘valuable’ item in our household of six kids and a dog. The cord of the floor polisher got entangled around one of the legs of the console table without me noticing.  As a proudly walked away towards the hallway thinking I had done a great job, I accidentally pulled the cord, shaking the table. The vase fell on the ground and broke in dozens of pieces.

My mother didn’t get upset as I expected. Instead, she exhaled in resignation and without looking at me, left the room. A feeling of guilt built in me and stayed for decades to come.

I grew up aware of my mother’s long work hours at the house. We didn’t have dishwasher, laundry or dryer machines. We all live under a tight budget. She did the cleaning, shopping and cooking. She sew our clothing and she was a part-time tailor fixing clothing for neighbors, producing the extra pesos we needed to make it through the month.

My mother didn’t have time take me to school or sat down with me to do homework. She missed most of the teacher-parent conferences and my elementary and high school graduations. I was too young to understand and reconciliate the need for her attention and connection, with her demands of raising six kids.

As a teenager, I resented the fact that my mother was busy doing things for someone else and didn’t have time for me. I grew distant: she didn’t know about the sexual abuse I suffered, my frustration with social injustice, my dreams of traveling around the world, my boyfriends.

A few days before my first trip to Los Angeles, where I eventually moved to, we were sitting at the kitchen table: she wanted to talk to me about my trip. My mother had never left the country; she was concerned. I was already in my twenties and an intimate conversation with my mother felt awkward and strange. I didn’t know how to talk to her, so I placed my head on her lap, like small children do, for the mother to caress their hair.

My mother didn’t move. Physical contact was uncomfortable for her and she asked me to sit up straight. There I was again, feeling like the unwanted daughter that didn’t know how to please her mother. A string of similar situations came to my consciousness:

  • I didn’t keep my curly hair short like she asked me; instead I wore my hair long and blond, then, blue, then read and then black.
  • I didn’t want to get married and depend on a man.
  • I didn’t study to be a secretary, school teacher or nurse, the jobs destined to the women in my family. Instead, I studied drama and arts.
  • I joined street protests on human and women’s rights.
  • I didn’t confess my sins to the priests. I didn’t go to church; instead, I joined groups that questioned the existence of God.
  • I didn’t stay at home until the day before I got married like my sister and brothers did. Instead, I got a job and rented my own apartment.

And then, I moved to another country, and for several years we didn’t communicated.

My mother survived all disappointments, hurts and pains. She didn’t give up on our relationship, and neither did I. I healed my feelings of abandonment, my misperception of being unwanted, and grew up.

Years later, after our reunion and healing, we did talk, looking at each other’s eyes. We didn’t become best friends, but, nonetheless, we established a real and deep connection.

Eight years ago, while sitting at the end of her bed at the hospital, I was tenderly massaging her feet. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer and her body was weak. With remorse, I mentioned my mother about my feelings of guilt for breaking the vase. She laughed. I didn’t expect that. She said she hated it, and she was actually glad that it broke. I tried to make a point reminding her how disappointed she was with me all through my teen years. She smiled. She said she was going through her menopause, and her behavior towards me had nothing to do with me. I love you, she said. I love you, I said.

Today, I can understand and reconciliate our differences and love my mother more than ever before. I am grateful, she was the perfectly imperfect mother for me, and I was her perfectly imperfect daughter.

8 comments on “The Perfectly Imperfect Daughter

  1. M Patricia Aguirre on

    I read this and reflect on my mother who had to care for 4 kids…in a new country…no helper, all alone…similar to your mom. she didn´t have time for me…and I felt jealous of my older sister…
    However, she brought breakfast to all her kids in bed…every single day…before we left to school…She was there always in her own way. My Dad was the hero…Today I feel sad i didn´t honor her while she was alive. She was silent…back stage…And all the love for nature and for caring for people came from her…In silence. thanks Aerin. Te quiero muuuucho!

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  2. Patricia Steach on

    Thank you so much for sharing your story Aerin. It couldn’t have come at a better time. I celebrated Mother’s Day yesterday with my son, daughter and granddaughters. The day had been wonderful until late in the afternoon when some ridiculously insignificant comment set off an argument with my daughter which escalated into a physical confrontation. It took me by surprise but I was not shocked because I have been aware for decades of the resentment my daughter harbors towards me and understandably so. I have found that even the women in my life I am closet to are reluctant to talk about this subject because it carries so much shame to admit that the “sacred” bond between a mother and her children is not always easy, pleasant or even filled with love in every moment. My son spoke with me after the commotion had settled down and he suggested that instead of the two of us continuing to force a phony camaraderie, we accept the fact that even though we love each other dearly we have a personality clash that apparently is never going to completely resolve itself no matter how much we both wish otherwise. He said we should let the relationship be what it honestly is, allow each other space and trust that love will find a way. Curiously enough I had a similar relationship with my mother, she with her mother and my sister with her daughter. Mother daughter relationships can be convoluted, beautiful, ugly and a blessing as we help each other grow and develop into more complete human beings. Today I feel released from so many years of bottled up guilt because I understand more than ever that we are all flawed and just trying our best. Thank you again for your honesty and strength in bringing this taboo truth into the light.

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  3. Sergey L’aryushkin on

    Thank you for the beautiful letter. I think I understand you. my relationship with my mother was not smooth. and I had to work hard to heal our relationship. a little sad that we are a little late with our love for our parents. and they leave. and we love them after.

    Reply
  4. Masha on

    wow! Thats a great story! The authoritarian figure of mom produced the rebelling daughter! The guilt is a common thing – i have it too. To the point i can not leave the man i dont like for 10 years. Out of guilt and out of feeling that “it could be worst”. Thank you for sharing!

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  5. Marie Kvarnström on

    Thank you Aerin,

    This is so deeply touching! I guess we all want to be perfect mothers, but you remind us that we are good enough just as we are, and so are our mothers, with our imperfections. Thank you!

    Reply
  6. Nohra on

    Querida Aerin,
    Muchas gracias por compartir esta parte de tu historia, una historia que me es familiar, la historia entre madre e hija, que tal vez puede ser también la historia de dos seres humanos. En tu caso gracias al amor es que los corazones se unen más allá de toda una vida llena de desencuentros emocionales. También fué mi historia el saberme amada y sinembargo no sentirme vista, no tener la antención o empatía de la madre triste, de la madre amarga, de la madre ocupada. Ahora sé tambien que es mi tarea amar, amarmeme y amarla. Ella no me amó como yo hubiese querido que lo hiciera sino como ella podía. Solo el amor puede sanar y perdonar y limpiar para que al final solo haya dos corazones que se aman. La historia ya no importa.
    Te agradezco muchísimo porque tu experiencia me inspiró a resolver la mía.
    Un abrazo querida Aerin,
    Nohra

    Dear Aerin,
    Thank you very much for sharing this part of your story, a story that is familiar to me, the story between mother and daughter, which may also be the story of two human beings. In your case, thanks to real love, that hearts unite beyond a lifetime full of emotional disagreements. It was also my story to know that I was loved and yet not to feel seen, not to have the attention or empathy of the sad mother, the bitter mother, the busy mother. Now I also know that it is my task to love, to love myself and to love her. Exactly how she is. She did not love me as I would have liked her to do but as she could. Only love can heal and forgive and cleanse so that in the end there are only two hearts that love each other. History doesn’t matter anymore. I thank you very much because your experience inspired me to solve mine.
    A hug dear Aerin,
    Nohra

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