Claire asked to know more about my mother, and more about her ambivilence towards motherhood.
Its occured to me after I read her comment that in the context of an blog dealing with infertility and the raising children born from such struggle, that a post about an ambivilent mother is odd.
Let me set the stage:
My mother was born in the midswest in 1929. She was in the same generation as Betty Friedan and the women who led the second wave of feminism. Her mother grew up on a farm, 1 of 13 surviing children, and her father grew up in town, though I think his family was also in farming. My grandmother didn't want to be isolated at the end of the road, snowed in with 15 children, and though she and my grandfther ended up associated with farming and ranching, she wanted her children to have the experience of living in a university town, to read, and see plays, to play music, and to have more in their sphere than childbirth, threats of farming plagues and so on.
When my mother was 10 (1939), they moved from the midwest to California. The plan was to go in to hog farming with my grandmother's uncle. Of course, as these stories go, the hogs all got cholera and died, and grandma and grandpa were left high and dry. They moved around nothern California, my grandfather was the foreman on Ranches, and my grandmother labored mightily against dirt and pestilence, making a home where my mother could play her guitar, and her clairnet and dream of a life on the stage. Or maybe a life as a teacher. Whatever her dreams were, they were of her adulthood, and the things she would do.
When my mother was in high school, her family settled near a small town outide of Sacramento. The music teacher took an interest in my mother and a few other bright and committed students, and helped them apply to college. My grandmother, a high school graduate, was the most highly educated member of the family up to that point. My mother was sure that if it hadn't been for Mr Oakes, she wouldn't have even known that appying to college was a possibility. Mr Oakes represented a version of manhood, of fatherhood, that she hadn't known in her own home. My grandfather may have been an alcholic, though I can assure you that he NEVER drank in my grandmothers house. Stories of his youth include lots of blackout trips on trains (lovely friends would put a very drunk friend on a train and then the guy would wake up when the drunk wore off, in some town. Some friends!) He was clearly a withholding and abusive father, and depressed ,and just plain cruel to his children, and later grandchildren. So a man who was kind, attentive and interested in promoting her future was a godsend.
So off she went, at 17, to college. In 1945, girls who went of to college away from home were managed tightly by housemothers, curfews and parents who demanded bi-montly visits. She started out as a music major, but by half term she realized she was far out of her league. Music theory classes were populated by people who already knew the language and she was lost. She changed majors and became an education major. For her, or in her telling of her lifes story, the half term as a music major was a detour on the road to being an educator. But sometimes I wonder if it wasn't a bigger hurt. When my sister began playing chello at age 15, and was by all accounts a wunderkind, my mother was not supportive. The teacher was astonished. She'd never had a student who learned so quickly and played so well, and whose parents were so oblvious and dismissive. It's hard to let your children have things you didn't have if you never grieve the losses of your own life.
Somewhere in her college carrer she was offered a semester at the Sorbonne (she spoke french and spanish, and a bit of german with a french accent owing to her highschool language teacher being french!) I remember her face as she told me this. She said "I never even brought it up, I just assumed it wasn't a possiblity." Her face bore a look of sad bewidlerment. This was typical of my mothers early life (until her 40's). Staying teh course, not stepping off the track, being a good girl. And to have not been a good girl in her era was not much of an option. I imagine the combination of fear of asking her father, fear of stepping so far outside the famiys experience, and on a more subconcious level, the sense that if she did this, she would be ruined for regular life. Not by her actions, or that she wouldn't have been as tightly supervised for all I know, but "How are you going to keep them down on the farm?" once they've seen Paree? To me, the look on her face said "How could I have been so scared? How different my life could have been!"
Even if she married my father in the end, I think having stepped, nay leapt that far outside of her familial comfort zone would have made a world of difference in how things turned out for her. But I'm getting ahead of myself.
In her sophmore year she met my dad. They met on a blind date, and dated exclusivly until my father went half-a-state away to college. When he dropped out and moved home to work in his family business, she sent him a letter, and at the bottom signed it "Love". And he said he was off like a shot, and they were married within a year.
My mom got her first teaching job, and my dad worked in his family's business. They had plans to build a house. They purchased a plot in what had been orchards, and had the land paid for in a year. And then my mom became pregnant with my sister. She was 21. My brothers were born in quick sucession at two year intervals. Her life was subsumed into the care of home and chilldren, much as her mothers and grandmothers before her had been. She wasn't on the farm per se, but she was hanging her laundry across the house through the winter and struggling to feed and clothe them all on a tiny amount of money. But that's not terrible in itself. Its the lot of mothers and young mothers, and the mothers of young children. But for my mother, it was a tidal wave of others needs before she'd even gotten her head around being out of school, married to someone who she felt had changed dramtically on the honeymoon, and her fertility was in charge. She was holding on to post, and struggling to stay upright in the force of all of those other needs.
My sister remembers my mom as aloof, not meeting her eyes, so much so that she thought that to look in anothers eyes was wrong. She remembers my mom sitting at the table with the 100 yard stare, and my brothers begging her to do the Tarzan yell, just to jolt her out of her reverie. She was depressed. And she was angry. Angger wasn't allowed, but in later years, she recognized it as something she supressed to survive.
So this is where the ambivilence arises Claire. In order to hold on to herself, that flegling adult self she had begun to form in college, she kept some part of herself separate from her chlildren. And in her era, her personality, her immaturitiy, it was expressed as ambivilence. Or at some points, rejection. My sister, a tremendously self contained and competent person from teh start, suffered terribly. My mother needed a child who didn't need her, and on the basis of self care and school performance, my sister fit that bill. Sadly there is never a child who doesn't need their mothers affection and delight. My brother Joe, the one who died when I was merely an embryo, was a demanding and needy baby, and thus got my mothers attention. As was I, though, when I was a baby, my father stepped up and stepped in, and gave me what he'd never given the others, and some measure of what my mother couldn't. But again, a child needs the affection and delight of their mother (regardless of teh sex of the motehr, we all have a primary attachment object.)
In her 40's she finally began to know herself fully, and to assert herself. Her career, which had always been her refuge (she went back to work in the early 1960's and worked until 1988) gave her the opportunity to truly shine. She was a brilliant educator. And wonderful collegue, and an exhausted mother.
I keep seeing the paralells between her early life and her death. She was thrust into motherhood and wifehood by cultural and familial currents. And was bewilldered and lost, and angry. I think she would have said that marriage and motherhood was a dirty trick--she felt tricked by my father, and by the notion that if you stayed on track, you would be ok. That adulthood would hold some of the magic you imagined it would. When she was lucid, she would say "Its a dirty trick. 7 or 8 years of my life have been stolen from me!" and it was a dirty trick. To have a backace, to be told you are an old fat lady who needs stronger stomach muscles and some vicoden, and then to find out months later that its metastisized cancer, is a dirty trick.
Even if she hadn't 7 or 8 years more to live, what was stolen from her was the time to metabolize her diagnosis, to tell her story one more time, to say those last words to her family. And I think my sister and both wish, to have had some sort of healing between them. My sister was a rock during my moms illness. She was dogged in pursing comfort for her, fighting my fathers denial, and showing up during the work day to meet with the nurse to make sure my fathers minimizing didn't impact mom's care.
My own little ones are awake. So I'll leave this as it is. Better to publish than to pefect!