To My Mother When She Was A Girl

Mother’s Day has always brought up a series of conflicting emotions with every passing year. As a child, I bought my mother home cards I’d made in school and attempted to make her breakfast, like I saw on so many TV shows. But she wouldn’t have any of it. Mother’s Day for my mother was taken over by reliving the traumas she’d experienced as a girl at the hands of her mother.

My mother was born in Brooklyn in the 1960s to a poor family. My grandmother had divorced my biological grandfather and found herself a pariah in her own community: unable to receive Communion at Mass, abandoned by friends, and left to raise her two year old daughter by herself.

It must have been difficult and lonely. I think about how often my grandmother, my Nanny, must have laid in bed staring at her ceiling, waiting for sleep to come before she awoke for her job at a fish canning factory. I feel for her, a woman who had been far ahead of her time but who could not be all that she dreamed of being because of the cycle of poverty and mental illness and the time she had been born into.

But I cannot love her because of everything she did to my mother. The name calling, the physical and emotional abuse, it all came crashing down on my Mommy, so small and without anyone to protect her. And so she became hard, difficult to love. She yelled and she yells because she doesn’t know any other way to communicate. I think of the times my mother read my high school diaries, not out of concern for me but because she worried how I felt about her.

It isn’t that I don’t love my mother, it’s that she doesn’t love herself and you cannot love someone into loving themselves.

So on this Mother’s Day, I write to the girl my Mommy once was,

You are sitting in a classroom and your teacher knows what’s going on. I know what’s going on. Nanny hits you, pulls your hair, says horrible things to you that no one, especially not a child, should have said to them. I know this will make you who you are, for better or worse.

Mommy, I want you to know that you don’t deserve it, none of it. None of the beatings, the smacks. I wish I could have protected you when you were a girl. I wish I could hold your hand at the dinner table, shaking and scared of the very woman who birthed you. I would like to sit you aside and braid your hair and listen to your stories from girlhood. I wish you could have gotten to live that innocence. Let your hair stay curly, don’t listen to everyone who tells you to straighten it. I wish I could explain to you how you don’t need to be watered down for anyone, not a man or a mother. I wish I could heal you but more than anything, I wish I could have stopped the hurting in the first place.

You have green eyes and blonde hair and you don’t see yourself in me — it’s okay, no one really does. I’ve grown up in the shadow of your relationship with your mother and I see how you did everything you could to not be her. Thank you. Even now, I wish I could tell you how we come from a line of women who outlive men, who stand alone when they must. Mommy, please know you are beautiful and so full of love for everyone but yourself.

To my Mommy when she was a girl, I mourn your loss of girlhood but celebrate your motherhood and all the beauty and pain that happened along the way.