I have spent the majority of my Mother’s days over the last several years at dance competitions doing all the things that as a Mother I do. Instead of breakfast in bed, it’s up early packing and prepping and preparing to spend upwards of twelve hours at the theatre to watch a mere handful of three minute numbers. It can be tiring and stressful but I wouldn’t give up the chance to watch my girls. To be part of their world for the brief time that I can. Especially when I know that privilege can be taken away even more quickly than expected, as it was for their Dad. As they get older and want to spend time with their friends rather than me I have more of these filler hours to myself. It has given me a lot of time for reflection. It has given me a lot of time to shed tears in the darkness of the theatre. What I realize is that the nature and the origin of these tears has transformed over time. I will always remember that first Mother’s Day weekend watching a happy little group of dancers perform ” Going to the Chapel”. The lyrics ”… we’re going to get married…and we’ll never be lonely anymore” cut me deeply. The irony or perhaps the innocence in that statement was too much given my situation. I was devastated by the enormity of our loss. By the cruelty of the universe that thrust not only loneliness but also desolation onto me without warning.
I heard that same song again for the first time this season and while I still felt some of the same sentiment, for innocence can never be regained, I also knew that I had come through to the other side of that loneliness. That I could remember and be grateful for my old life without the same sense of devastation. That any tears I cried were no longer out of a sense of desolation because of where I was but out of remembrance for where I had come and out of gratitude and pride for where I had managed to go. But…and there is always a but…there is still something about Mother’s Day that cuts deeply and so I suppose that some of my tears do actually come from that wound.
Much like my girls’ birthdays this day reminds me of the absence of the man with whom I chose to become a mother. The man who made me believe I could be a Mother and who promised to be by my side to help me. He was such a hands on Dad that it was a bit of a joke in his traditional Asian family that he was more like the Mother than I was. He always tried his best to give me time for myself while he did things with the girls. And on Mother’s Day he went above and beyond to make sure that I knew how much he appreciated that I brought his girls into the world. There was no question that ours was a family of Daddy’s girls, so he also took the time to find the perfect gift with the girls to help me know that I was loved and valued as a Mother. Looking back I wonder if these were more signs that pointed to some type of awareness on his part that his time was short. He cherished every minute he had with them, taking from me what responsibilities he could as if he knew that one day he would not be able to keep his promise and it would all fall to me. And maybe he did what he could to forge and strengthen the bonds of love between the girls and I with those gifts and with his teasing encouragement for them to call me Mommy mostest, as in Mommy we love you the most-est, because he knew that we would need them to survive later on. Perhaps who he was as a Father compared to who I feel I am as a Mother is another cause of my inner turmoil on this day. When Wing died I was so unprepared to be a Mother without him. I had no idea how to handle this precious responsibility alone. There were times when we were all so desperately unhappy that I wondered if I could ever resemble the type of Mother they needed. Times even, when I wondered if my kids would be better off with someone else. And certainly times when I was sure that the wrong parent had died. There was no illusion of “Mother knows best” in our home, nor any indication I could see that I had done anything to warrant his “mostest” nickname. I felt, and often still do, that I failed them over and over. So the Hallmark sentimentality of the day makes me feel uncomfortable and decidedly undeserving. But…I told you there is always a but…as I watched my girls this weekend interacting with their teachers, laughing and joking with their friends, taking time to hug their Step Dad and even pausing long enough to tell me they loved me, what I saw were happy and engaged kids. There were moments of angst of course, as there is bound to be with teenagers and their Mothers. Overall though there was a sense that they were part of something special. Something I realized that I had worked to give them. I had learned from my failures as I went and I had done what I needed to do in order to give them this opportunity. Perhaps that meant that I was not just resembling but actually becoming the Mother they needed after all. They were not better off without me but rather they were better off because I had surrounded them with people who would help them in ways that I could not. Perhaps it meant that somewhere in my heart I would know that there was no right or no wrong in which parent had died. There was simply the reality of that which was. The reality that Wing had died and I had not. The reality that now I was privileged to have a relationship with my girls in a way that perhaps I would not have otherwise. And the reality that, although I miss him on this day and I miss how he made it special, the best gift that Wing had ever given me was Motherhood itself.
When I took my seat in the theatre to watch their final dance I allowed myself a moment to acknowledge how far we have come together. As my eldest is graduating next month this number was also the last time my three girls would be together competitively on the same stage and I needed to absorb that. As I pondered how we ever managed to get to this point and what our future might look like it triggered within me a cascade of loss. My feelings around the loss of Wing and all that had meant in the past interlaced themselves with the continued impact of his loss in the present. Both of them intertwining with the anxiety of how I would face the coming changes in our family dynamic. And while that change is actually a beautiful and natural progression of life to me in that moment it was another loss I would have to navigate. I found myself blinded by my tears and wracked by silent sobs as what felt like the origin and transformation of every tear I had ever shed in a darkened theatre flooded me. Sorrow. Devastation. Remembrance. Gratitude. Pride.
I know I will never be the Mother that knows best, and that part of me thinks if my kids love me the “mostest” now it is by default. I know I will always be slightly uncomfortable with this day, but…and there it is again….this Mother’s Day after the cascade was complete and I was able to watch my girls revel in their successes I was filled with the resultant sense of pride. Despite my short comings, the bonds we have continued to forge and the love we have continued to strengthen to sustain us might very well mean that maybe there is a little bit of me, their Mother, in all of those trophies.