“A Freudian slip is when you say one thing but mean your mother.” Unknown
I know this blog is about resilience in sports. I wonder though if everything I’ve learned about resilience was from my mom, and from being a mom myself….and more recently becoming a single mom and widow. I first wrote this piece about 10 years ago and have since revised it. It’s amazing how much has changed in 10 years, and yet how much has stayed the same.
There was once a woman who taught me to love. Through her love, I learned to respect myself and in turn, learned how to love others. She held me when I cried, listened when I talked. She went without so that my brother and I could always have the best of everything. She stood in the rain for countless track meets, played chauffeur, cooked whatever I asked for, and taught me an appreciation of opera and to be proud of my heritage and culture. She made me feel like I could accomplish anything, and pushed me to be a strong and independent woman. There were times when we had difficulty navigating our common ground. Although my mother was very proud of me, I don’t think she fully understood why I would go to school for so many years, why I would exhaust myself staying up all night working on research, why I would worry about work and put in 60-70 hour weeks. But after my daughter was born, we found our common ground—she now got why I was so exhausted staying up all night with a sick child, or why I would worry about any illness or symptom she had. We spoke the same language now.
My mother was gentle and loving, but at the same time, one of the strongest women I knew, full of energy and fight….and certainly no wallflower. You always knew where you stood with Camille (her name). But there came a time when she couldn’t fight anymore. It was like for your entire life, watching Superman, who had been previously able to leap over tall buildings with a single bound, and then all of a sudden watching him drown in Kryptonite. It was her time to leave this earth. Like most mothers and children, we didn’t see eye to eye on everything, but when she died, I had no doubt how much I was loved. And her strength and confidence flow through me every day…in the way I am able to love my daughter with an intensity that knows no bounds, in the way I value my family, in the way I fight to the end and don’t give up. I’m not a religious person at all, but in the most difficult times, I hear her voice and feel her energy.
L to R: My great-grandmother, grandmother, yours truly, and Mom
Then further downstream is my daughter….most definitely no wallflower either. She was named after my mother’s mother. As you may know, I’m a shrink. And my daughter is a teenager. People often say to me, oh you’re a psychologist so you must know about child development. I could just laugh my ass off at that. First off, I only work with adults. Second, I’m slogging through this unknown territory in the dark, just like the rest of you. So my poor kid is forced to talk about feelings and emotions…and process….and process…and process some more, kind of like a marathon with no end. When we argue, I tell her “it’s developmentally appropriate for you to push away and form your own identity” (and I mean it, well sort of… just don’t push too far). Which is followed by massive eye-rolling and her telling me “don’t throw your psychology stuff in my face.”
But in all honesty she is the light of my life, and has been since the day she was born…wow, fifteen years ago. When the nurses first showed her to me, she was crying…no actually screaming at the top of her lungs. It was her first cry, a very loud cry for this little person and actually a good sign. They handed her to me and I started to sing to her, and her screaming suddenly stopped. She opened her eyes long enough to take a look at me, then furrowing her brow (a look I’ve come to know so well now when she is thinking really hard), as if to say, “Hey, wait a minute—I know that voice…it’s you.” She closed her eyes and went to sleep. It was love at first sight for me.
Fifteen years later, her presence still illuminates a room. She has opened up a side of me that no one else had been able to see. My late partner used to tell the story that in the many years we had been together before having a child, she had never heard me sing—never, not once, not in the car, not in the shower, karaoke was out of the question…not anywhere. But what kind of mother doesn’t sing to her child…well, if you dare to call the noise that came out of my mouth, “singing.” I haven’t stopped singing since then. I learned to be an expert in pretending. Over the years I have been the voice of Cinderella, Snow White, Gepetto, and the Wicked Witch of the West. Then we passed the princess phase and I was Selkie, the sea lion from Nim’s Island or sometimes an evil pirate-Arrrghhh. We used to blare music and dance around the kitchen after dinner every night. It was for her sake ten or so years ago that I pushed myself to improve my health, lose 100 lbs and start triathlon training. And perhaps, if it wasn’t for her, would I be a triathlete?
Holding my little creature, just a few days old
Despite its constant joys, motherhood has been the most difficult (yet rewarding) undertaking of my life. Although I feel comfortable with my ability to be a mother, the uncertainty of it all can be daunting at times, and so I focus on that which I can control. It doesn’t get any easier with time. With every new phase of development, I feel as helpless as I did as a new mother, only in a new way. There are times when I’m so sure of what to do, and other times I’ll ruminate about whether or not I have handled a situation or answered a question the “right” or best way. Fortunately, I get many chances to make up for the times I might mess up. What do you mean children don’t come with a manual? I always think, WWCD? As in “What would Camille do”?
Well, it’s been many years since we’ve pretended. More recently, we discuss our binge watching of Grey’s Anatomy, and she does a great Ellen Pompeo impression. Now, she can talk twice as fast as I can during an argument and is way more articulate. There are times when I foster this sense of autonomy and other times when I draw the very clear boundary of who is the child and who is the parent. She knows the look on my face that means don’t push another millimeter. At times I’m not very popular, but this is not about a popularity contest. This is about the creation of a world citizen who is kind, loving, respectful, independent, and confident. One who can have fun and will find happiness, in whatever way she defines happiness to be. I love hearing her ideas of social justice, and her idealism about a world that is often hard to be idealist about.
From the time she was three, she thought that every other kid got up at 4am to pack up the car and go watch their mama on race day torture herself swimming in the dark, biking and running (also in the dark) for endless hours. Anyone who is an endurance athlete knows that moment of darkness that can make or break you. It was the thought of her at the finish line that pushed me through some grueling hours of pain and doubt. She said to me one night as I dragged myself across a finish line in the middle of the night, long after the fanfare and cheering crowds, after every other triathlete had finished, “I’ve never seen you give up Mama.” I hope that is the message of motherhood that is never forgotten…..And we still dance in the kitchen.
Happy Mother’s Day!
Light at the end of the 140.6 mile tunnel