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.