Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Mothers and daughters

A to Z challenge

Day 13: M is for Mothers and Daughters


Mothering came easier to me than being a daughter. It seemed more straightforward. I didn't have to walk through a landmine of unknown rules and confusing messages. I simply loved my daughter and she loved me back.

It was more complicated with my mother. I never seemed able to please her. I have not been a good daughter.

My one tender memory of my mother is her showing me how reflections work in a mirror. I had written my name in my Beatrix Potter's The Tale of Peter Rabbit book. The letter S backwards and I was inconsolable because my favourite book was ruined. My mother sat me in front of her vanity and showed me how the letter was the right way in the mirror. I calmed down. I was four years old.

Most of my memories are more difficult. They still colour my reactions to my mother even though I now understand her better. She was suffering and overwhelmed: A girl with too many babies to look after and a drunkard husband who never brought home his pay cheque.

Now, I understand her behaviour the day I came home with half my knee sliced open. I had that same reaction when my daughter ran out into traffic and I snatched her out from an oncoming truck. I had never been so frightened and so relieved at once. When my mother saw the blood on my tights she slapped my face. I had broken her rule and not saved them for Easter Sunday. Her face became white when she saw bone through the tights. To this day, I can't remember where I had fallen or what had sliced through my knee. I don't even remember the trip to the hospital. I wanted my mother holding my hand as the surgeon worked on my knee. I was alone and sat up once to see the green cloth covering my knee and the black line of stitches. I fainted and when I woke up my mother was still not there. She managed to get the blood stain out of the tights; I wore them to church, my stitches under the bandage pressing against her stitches in the tights.

Emotions have always terrified my mother. Her instincts is not to console but to suppress. I was not a calm child. I had a temper and my emotion usually overwhelmed me. The wet washcloth against my neck usually stopped my uncontrollable sobbing. I'm not sure when the washcloth turned into a sink full of water. I don't remember when the sink turned into the toilet bowl or even how long this punishment went on.

I do remember the day it stopped. It was August and we were at the annual exhibition and fair. We looked forward to the "EX" the entire summer. Our Dad took us all on the last day. We arrived at noon when the heat was shimmering over the pavement. Immediately, we all started pestering our Dad for money and bickering over which ride to take. Eventually our hungover father had had enough. He dragged my younger brother and me over to the ride called the Bullet. The sleek ride started off like a pendulum gathering more and more speed until spun over itself in a continual loop, each one faster than the next.

Money exchanged hands and even though neither my brother nor I reach the height requirements, we were strapped inside. I don't remember if my mother was there or not. The Bullet started and it was not fun. Halfway through the third loop, my brother threw up and the cabin was soon slippery with his vomit. My seat belt was too loose and I banged from side to side, my elbows slamming against the moulded plastic. My brother started crying and the snot from his nose was soon splashing in my face as well. We called to our father to stop the ride. My father had bribed the carny to keep the ride going for an additional five minutes. I glimpsed my Dad laughing on the ground below. Just before the Bullet stopped, my brother passed out.

I lunged at my father as soon as the door opened and started hitting him. When he laughed, I kicked him hard in the shins. He slapped me up the side of the head and I started to cry uncontrollably. My mother dragged me off the the public washroom by the back of my neck. With her free hand she opened the tap and shoved my face under the water.  I was still crying. My aunt stepped into the washroom. She had been given a day pass from her convent to come with us.  I watched her cross dangling against the brown fabric of her habit as she reached up and turned off the tap. She grabbed my mother's wrist. '"Stop. Go for a walk," she said to my mother.

When we were alone, my aunt washed away the sweat, vomit and snot off my face and out of my hair. She took off my shirt, washed my neck and arms and then gave me her tan cardigan to wear. She took a brush out of her purse and combed my wet hair. Finally, she gave me lemon candy. We walked out together to join the rest of the family. My brother stood beside my mother, looking tiny and pale. My Dad threw his cigarette onto the pavement and twisted his foot. "Ok, time to go home," he said, "Some people can't handle the rides."

After that day, my mother never touched me again.

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