As you can imagine, these differences have caused us to have a complicated and sometimes difficult relationship over the years. It's only since becoming a parent, and now a parent to three little ones, just like she had, that I can finally begin to understand life through her lens.
My mom grew up in an Irish catholic family. The epitome of a middle child with five older siblings and five younger siblings. As one of eleven, she and her brothers and sisters had the bare minimum growing up. A room she shared with various siblings, two outfits to call her own (worn in rotation), one pair of shoes and just enough food on the table to get by. Life was hard, she felt invisible. Wanting desperately to begin her own life, she married young, (too young) she never got to go to college, had her first baby at age twenty and two more in quick succession. She was twenty five and had been working half her life already. At twenty six she was divorced and the single mom of three. From then on she did everything on her own, working two jobs and had no help at home. She did not remarry until I was well into adulthood with a husband of my own.
When you are a kid you don't see the whole picture. Where I was always disappointed that she never volunteered for school field trips or took me out on mother daughter dates I didn't understand then that it's not because she didn't want to. It was because she couldn't afford to miss work or hire a babysitter. When I wondered why she never seemed to want to go do anything fun, it's because she was too busy worrying about if she had enough money to pay this month's bills and keep us off public assistance (though we certainly would have qualified for it). Maybe things would have been easier if she would have gotten help through the welfare system. Maybe she would have had more time to play with us kids and been less stressed and had more fun. But in her mind accepting public assistance would have meant she was a failure (it wouldn't have). She thought she was doing the right thing by doing it all on her own. Even though it meant working two jobs and spending less time with us, she never asked for help.
I ask for help all the time. When Josh has to go out of town for a week I feel like I'm going to drown in the responsibilities of parenting on my own. I lean on our siblings for babysitting, my mom for picking up Wes from school, Josh for doing half the household chores, half the cooking, half the baths and bedtime stories. And you know what? I'm still dead tired at the end of the day. HOW did she do it? How did she get up, get three kids off to school, work all day, come home, cook dinner, keep the house clean, help us with homework, do the laundry, give us baths, cut our fingernails, brush our teeth, get us to sleep and THEN sit down at her typewriter to start her second job doing medical transcription from home. No wonder she didn't feel like playing with dolls or taking us to the park. No wonder she sometimes yelled and sometimes cried and definitely slept a whole lot less than she probably wanted to. No wonder she didn't think to paint my nails or read me Anne of Green Gables. She was in survival mode for most of my childhood. The whole time I was feeling sorry for myself did I ever think to stop and wonder what it was like for her? Where was her fun? If I was in her position I would have fallen to pieces long ago.
Now when I look back at my childhood I can see all that she DID do. Though the small trips we did take to the local pool or SeaWorld might not have seemed like much then, looking back on it now the fact that she pulled off those outings on her own and in her financial situation they seem damn near miraculous. The fact that she never once asked for or expected a single cent of help from the government or her family tells me just how hard she was working to keep the lights on and clothes on our backs. I had more than two outfits. I had plenty of shoes. We even had snacks and soda, plenty of toys under the tree Christmas morning and probably countless other luxuries she could only dream of having as a kid. The fact that she told us she loved us every single day, the fact that she still managed to bake us cookies and throw us birthday parties. She was providing more for us than her parents were ever able to provide for her. She was doing her very best with what she had and she still is.
So today I wanted to tell you, mom. I see you. You are not invisible. Everything you did, it did not go unnoticed. It is not unappreciated. You did everything you could. You did more than enough. You did more than anyone should have to.
Thank you. I love you and I see you.
Happy Mother's Day.