Olivia left her study abroad program early due to the pandemic. A year later, I suggested she return to complete the experience. Boldly, she agreed to go without the structure of a program and students. She got permission from her new job and rented an apartment for two months. Being the great mother that I am, I flew with her to Paris for five days to get her settled.
When I was pregnant, I could hardly wait to meet Olivia. When I held her for the first time, I had a thought so vivid I didn’t want to tell anyone. And the thought was, “I don’t need another thing. Ever.” But I was wrong then.
My mother died when I was forty-one years old, and our girls were ages five and seven. It was early morning and our house phone rang. I knew. I just knew. It was my dad. His words were definitive. Everything after that was a blur. I had a primal scream. I didn’t know where it came from. Something happened to me.
My day three in Paris, we went to Shakespeare and Company Bookstore. I saw the book The Art of Loving on the shelf. I had heard of Eric Fromm but hadn’t come intending to buy his book. I opened it and read motherly love comes in two stages. The first one is the love and care for the small infant and easily achieved by most mothers. The second stage and highest achievement of mothering love is the care for her growing child or when they become their own person. A stage, he wrote, a minority of mothers achieve.
I am a woman willing to stand on the front lines of her life and not back down. I want that for our girls.
But how do you carry the torch?
My primal mothering as I wanted it to be changed when I was seventeen and ended when I was forty-one. When I was 17, I watched my mother relearn how to talk, eat, walk, and go to the bathroom by herself. I was shocked, embarrassed, and angry. Whatever love she had then I couldn’t understand. Now, I’m knowing she stood in her way on the front lines of her life.
In the fourth grade, Olivia was admitted into an elite school. The school was recommended by a new friend of mine. She was very friendly, and we spoke a lot in the waiting room during our kids’ music lessons. I told her we weren’t happy with Olivia’s current school. Olivia was a quality student. It didn’t hurt that my friend had pull at the elite school’s admissions.
Once Olivia was admitted, the first time I saw this woman again was at the school cocktail party. She looked me up and down and curtly said, “You moved?” And, yes, the truth was we had to what I feared now she thought was a lesser town. She turned away from me to the women next to her. I had never felt diminished like that.
So, from then on, I didn’t go to the school when she was there, and she was always there on every board. I never told Olivia how I felt. I wanted her to belong.
I never wanted my girls to make decisions based on my opinions, and I couldn’t shake my opinion of this woman.
With the girls as my bottom line, I knew something was wrong. I needed help. I went to a life coach. She helped me realize I had a belief that women in Westchester are mean. With every slight I got from this woman and every mean woman, I’d come home and pat myself on the back. “See, these women are horrible.”
I changed the belief. Like-minded women came into my life. I made friends.
I stopped drinking. I had to. I couldn’t handle it.
The girls never knew I drank. I put my drinks in small juice cups.
I was clear again. I got to be there when they were growing. My love for my growing children was growing.
When I was 12 years old, I was super adventurous. I used to wake up at 5:00 and go ice-skating. Alone.
I’d sit at the frozen lake’s edge in the dark and lace up my white skates. I wanted to skate like the beautiful girls in the Olympics. I would spin, twirl, jump, click my skates, and then plop down on my back to make snow angels. I was tired and delighted as any Olympian would be.
Mothering without expectations was like being back when I was twelve years old and gliding without the skates. It is still elegance. It is bliss.
Olivia just sent this text. “Mama, I’m so happy you were here. I will cherish our time together forever.”
Leaving Paris, I don’t need another thing.