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September 20, 2006 / allyo

A rose by any other name? It matters

This is my entry for the April 2nd Pulsate Olympics: Parents, sponsored by GNM Parents.

I don’t remember this, but shortly after I went to live with my grandparents (around the age of 4) I began calling them “mommy” and “daddy.” They (gently I’m sure) explained to me that I had a mommy and a daddy and that they were grandma and grandpa. And that was the end of that.

Except, it wasn’t. I find it interesting that even back then, before I have memory of it, I was wanting a mom and dad. Maybe it’s just a typical response to the situation, I’m sure every child has that want or need, at least if that is what they once knew. But knowing how for years I carried that longing inside of me, how I mourned the loss, how I wanted to be able to say, “hi mom and dad,” together, in one breath, like everyone else I knew, I wonder. (I grew up in the ’70s. We were all Catholic. I didn’t know another child of divorce until middle school.)

Anyway, that’s not the point of this particular post. The fact was, yes, I did have a father. A young father who spent every sunday with me, even when he lived with other young guys in an apartment not fit for a small child to visit. We went everywhere- to movies, to the park, to his parents’, to campus, all around. I never missed having a dad, because he was there. And when my grandpa died, I mourned him deeply. I mourned his constant presence in my life, his patience, his love, but I still had a dad. A mother on the other hand, no I didn’t really have one of those. And while I could always appreciate my grandpa for who he was in my life, my grandma was more of a struggle. Partially because she could be so freaking difficult. She was completely inflexible, manipulative (out of love, she just knew what was good for you better than you did), and petty. Except when she wasn’t. After my grandpa died I demanded more of her. I needed her to give me what I had gotten from him – patience, understanding, hugs and kisses. She met my demands and then some.

I ran across a postcard last weekend that I sent to her from Florida. It was years ago, I was a college student, I was working hard to get the damn degree done already (undergrad, although a theme in my academic career), I was taking a brutal courseload, and I was burned out. So she sent me to Miami to visit a friend for the weekend. Anything she could do to make me happy, to make my life better, she did. When my grandpa was dying, they talked about me, about how much work raising me had been, and how it hadn’t been what they had planned. And about how it was the best thing they could have done with their life together. (Second marriages for both of them, they had been together less than a decade when they took me in.) I know that she would have died for me, just like any mother.

But all my life, in regards to C, I was always told, by grandma, by my stepmom, by others, “but she’s your mother.” The same way people reacted when I left the Catholic church. “You think you hate it now but you’ll be back. People always come back.” Except I haven’t, and I won’t. And C gave birth to me, but she is not my mother. My mother is dead. And that’s how I have to mourn my grandma, I have no choice. That constant presence in my life, my support, my best girlfriend, the grit in my machine, my conscience, that voice whispering in my ear, the devil and the angel on either shoulder, she’s gone. One of the strongest people anyone could ever hope to know is gone from the world. It surprises me still, every time I think of it.

I always wanted something I could never have, a mother in name and in action, in one person. That never happened. I had a mother, but that’s not what I called her, and the woman I called mother, wasn’t. It was an incredibly frustrating way to live, all those years. With names come certain expectations and I guess I was never able to let those expectations go. I wish now I had just accepted it, but then, I think I could have without all those other, well-meaning people saying, but she’s your mother! I’m not angry with them, they meant well. But I wonder, what was the point? All those times I wanted C out of my life. The only reason she’s been in it the past 15 years is for my grandma’s sake. Why couldn’t anyone take my word for it- that she had never been a mother to me? I think it’s because they wanted me to have that relationship and truly believed that some how, some way, she’d step up and be a mom. But it just isn’t in her.

Ah well. My grandma was one of those people, and it’s because C is her daughter. While she loved me, was a mother to me, of course she wished C had been the one to raise me, to be my mother. She felt that conflict too. I think that is why, even though I regret the way things played out in the last few years, the three of us being who we are, our history being what it is, I don’t know how it could have gone better.



Leave a Comment
  1. Jody / Sep 20 2006 9:12 pm

    I’m sorry. I wish I knew what else to say.

    I have to believe you’re going to be such a strong, wise woman, with a deep well of love to give your son, because of the struggling you’re doing to process this.

  2. whylime / Sep 21 2006 5:59 pm

    Oh my goodness. I’m so sorry for your loss. What a beautiful entry. I’m off to get the tissue now.

  3. thordora / Apr 4 2007 9:22 pm

    Don’t forget to add the GNMParents link to the entry in order to qualify for the draw…

    Beautiful dear….parents are made, not born…

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