Mother’s day means so many different things to me. When my mother was present, it was her day. As a kid, I’d make a gift out of painted pasta and she’d fawn over it like it was Michelangelo’s David. As I grew, I bought cards, perfumes and piano-themed gifts. I’d always ask how her piano students liked the new wall art or knickknacks and she’d always tell me they loved them.
In my teens, I filled cards with heartfelt words and bought her flowers or Russell Stover chocolates with nuts. I tried to go practical as I got older, but she shopped nearly every day, so she was hard to buy for. As her Alzheimer’s started to kick in, I saw her awareness window closing fast, so I sent practical gifts and more heartfelt cards. I knew there would soon be a time that she couldn’t read or understand them. When those inevitable days came, I tried musical cards. I figured she’d notice the noise. I stopped sending gifts. She didn’t need anything. She sat at the dining room table all day, ripping up paper, shrieking or sleeping.
She was gone for eight years before she died, a year and a half ago. Last May was the first Mother’s Day I didn’t need to send a card.
During the 13 years of my mother’s illness, I remarried and had my first child. Rose never met her Yaya. By the time she was born, Yaya was so far gone she wouldn’t have acknowledged Rose’s presence, much less understood that she was her granddaughter. Rose was almost two when she visited my parents’ house the first time, for my mother’s funeral.
My mom had her parental shortcomings, but I got as close to her as she’d allow, and she was my go-to parent. And it was so hard to see her go the way she did. By the time she died, all of my grieving was over and I thanked God that she could now reunite with the soul she’d lost long ago.
I thought I’d done my grieving, but last Mother’s Day made me realize how much I missed her.
But a funny thing happened after that.
I got a letter from the adoption agency that had placed me with my parents. My birth mother wanted to meet me. Three weeks after that sad Mother’s Day, we talked for the first time. I had wanted that experience my whole life. I always wondered if she thought about me. I always felt the grief of abandonment.
It turned out that my birth mother had wanted to keep me, but her parents forbade it. She’d wanted to marry my birth father and make a family, but they wouldn’t allow it. She told me the real story of how I came to be. And last year, on my birthday, she called me, and told me the story of the day I was born. Most kids take that story for granted, but I’d never had it, and hearing it was the second best birthday gift ever. The year before, Rose took her first steps right before my birthday and beat her to the punch.
When I got pregnant the first time, I wished someone could walk me through the morning sickness, the emotionality, the fatigue – someone who’d been through it. Even if my mother was lucid at the time, she’d never been pregnant, so she couldn’t have helped me there. So it was a lucky coincidence that I was pregnant with my son the first time I spoke to my birth mother. She offered me was a camaraderie that child-bearers have shared for millennia. I was grateful for that. And I was able to offer her a first and second grandchild.
When Rose started preschool, the other moms would talk about how they were coping with motherhood, and I remember one lamenting a lack of emotional support from her mother. At least you’ve got a mother to ask, I’d thought, I don’t even have that. I would never have imagined that a couple of years later, I’d have a brand-new mother.
I’m really grateful for my relationship with my birth mother. Adoptee reunions don’t always turn out like mine. I’m one of the lucky ones. Not only did I have a mom to raise me, now I have a mom to guide me through parenthood. I had given up on finding my birth mom years ago. I never imagined anything like this. I met my birth father too, — don’t want to leave him out — but I’m saving his story for Father’s day.
So this year, when I send my Mother’s Day card, I’m back to writing heartfelt messages. But most importantly, I have a place to send it.