The punchline to my father's favourite joke of late goes (imagine Linda Richman Cowafee Toalk Jewish mother accent for effect), "Oedipus Shmeedipus. As long as you love yo mutha." Except, he says it with his accent and just repeats "Owedipus Schleedipus" over and over and laughs his hilarious high-pitched laugh. Oi vey it gets annoying, but it also makes me laugh just thinking about it.
Sometimes when I look at my son sleeping, I think, "I too have been loved like this." The feeling overwhelms me, like getting water up your nose when swimming. While wading though the fog of adulthood, we often find ourselves suddenly seeing the earnesty of our parents' early methods and intentions. Like most people, I find myself saying or doing things that they would -- with increasing frequency these days. When the shock and awe of this bomb dropping on me subsides, I feel very sad for the way I interpreted my mother over the years.
It's not that my mother tried to make us think she was perfect. Nor did she set out to reveal her weakness. It's just that growing up, I was brainwashed to believe my mother was a saint. Grown-ups were forever telling me, "Your mother's a saint for taking your father back after what he did to her." I often found myself uttering the words, "My mother's a saint," without fully believing them. It just sounded good. I wanted to believe the words were true, as fiercely as I wanted to believe that Jesus Christ was hearing the desperate, self-hating prayers of an overly-ardent, romantic 15 year-old.
But if I knew I would be like her, right down to marrying a man with similar personality traits and having virtually the same birth experience with my first child, I might have taken a bunch of my sister's heavy duty period pain pills. Because what teenager wants to be like her mother? Which of us does not wish to try altering Fate?
I blamed my mother for a long time for what happened between her and my dad. I thought she hadn't been attentive enough, that she'd focused on her kids too much, that she didn't have an education, or interesting things to talk about. And from my perceived high perch I thought I could see everything. And from my perceived high perch, I often looked down at her.
I hadn't told my mother about my mental health issues when I decided to hideout chez Mom & Dad this past "ovulation weekend." My mother had invited her siblings over to eat the first mulberries from the tree in her yard, a nostalgic reenactment of their childhood picnics in Istanbul. And since her siblings are pushing 80, I thought that I could handle some slow conversation about which type of eggplant most-closely resembles the aubergine from "back home." I decided that it would be the best place to go, rest, read and have other people help with my child. I knew I'd be too far out of the city to even entertain any peer pressure to attend Gay Pride festivities. I just needed a safe place to weather out the storm my mind could create. I felt like a Floridian, boarding up windows in anticipation of the inevitable hurricane.
I had been agonizing over whether or not to tell my mother. I think I just needed time to sort out my own feelings. But I was also protecting myself from what she might say. I feared that she would trivialize it or dumb it down to a mind-over-matter matter. "Don't be silly! You just need to tell yourself you're going to be OK. OK?" I worried that she would worry. That she would think something more horrible was indeed wrong with me, and thereby feed the hunger of my fears. "Did the doctor REEELY check everyting? Are you sure der was not more tests she could do?" I was worried she would think I was an incompetent mother. "If you lived here with us, I could take care of Nate and you could relax." The fact that she would already have a sense of what was going on, by sheer fact of my being 50% her genetic clone, only made matters worse.
The weight of not telling her became greater than the burden of the anxiety itself. After putting Nate to bed, I casually turned on the kettle. She hovered around me as she tends to do, and reached for a bag of Earl Gray tea. "I'll just have chamomile," I told her, "I'm trying to avoid stimulants." She was quiet, drawing me out (she has learned a thing or two over her 30+ years as a parent). "Lately I've been having some problems when I'm ovulating," I whispered, trying to be non-chalant.
"Like what?" She was quick, but trying to hide her eagerness at learning a secret. She loves a good secret.
"Um, you know, I'm tired and really bitchy... and you know, sometimes I get anxiety." I tried to make it seem as benign as possible.
Her tone was serious. "Well, if you have anxiety, you should go see a doctor. I had anxiety and it's not good."
Cue the record screech.
"When did you have anxiety?"
She looked at me slyly. She too had secrets. "Bring your tea to the front porch and I'll tell you."
We talked for hours. She told me that when we lived in the townhouse (are we the only family who tells time by which house they lived in?) she would have chest pains, at night when she was alone, meaning my father was working and the kids were in bed -- the only aloneness a mother gets. It was after her mother died of a heart attack and her father was in and out of hospital with his own heart problems (a broken heart, I always suspected). She would get the pain and think she, at 40, was having a heart attack too.
She woke the family doctor up one night to ask what she should do. "My dear girl," he said in a gentle tone, "Go downstairs, pour yourself some whiskey and try to relax." He indulged her by sending her to a cardiologist, who indulged her by sending her for a stress test, which all came back showing a healthy, young, child-chasing heart. She took meds for her anxiety for a while, but then realized she would have to learn to turn her brain off when it started to show it's ugly face.
I felt a gazillion times lighter after telling her. I told her so. "See," she said smugly, "Always tell your mother."
I'm not ready to open my windows, but there doesn't seem to be any signs of a category three storm this month. It's hovering over the coast of Mexico, threatening, scaring the tourists away, but so far I haven't felt more than a few drops of rain.
I love you Mom.