Mom (a belated Mother’s Day post)

One memory I wish I still had was of my fifth birthday. I wish I had it actively – I know it happened, I know the pictures, but any actual memories I have are pretty fabricated. I remember a blur of birthdays, of worrying about who would come, and getting my “activities” list in order, the look and feel of my family’s house. But specifically if you asked me to render images in my head of my fifth birthday, and put myself there, I can’t do it.

The photos describe the dresses my friends wore – why in fact my mother had convinced me to wear a dress, an incredibly rare occasion of my pre-adult life – frilly affairs, white frocks with trim in blue and pink that we wouldn’t be caught dead wearing 10 years later. The one boy there, besides my brother in the background, was my after school friend, with whom I hung out before we grew apart in grade 1 or 2. We played Star Trek together. The majority of the photos capture us around the dining room table (a crowded room that doubled as a home for the piano, and the location of the computer, which I might add was THE computer in the house, it being well pre-2000). We’ve bunched in there to cut the cake.

The cake. How could I forget this? How could I forget what obviously should have been the highlight of my childhood? When my mother spoke about the cake in later years, I said, “What?” She had spoken about it as if I would naturally remember. And I didn’t. I am not only ashamed in the failings of my brain, but also disappointed the memory is not more solid.

My mom had made me a Dinosaur Cake. Not some little round cake with dinosaurs on top. No no – a Dinosaur Cake. A Stegosaurus. It was PHENOMENAL.

The pictures show a vanilla cake Stegosaurus covered in vanilla icing (I was a picky eater), complete with tail, back plates and tail spines. And an adorable happy face smile creeping around the edges of its earth bound chin.

Using a bunt cake tin, my mom had made the cake in the round, with a hole in the middle, and then cut it in half. She used the first half, Loch Ness-like, to create a serpent back, a U-body coming in and out of the tray. With the other half she sculpted (sculpted!) a tail, a head, and haunches. She completed it with diamond digestive biscuits on the back for plates, toothpicks for spikes, and drew a face into the icing.

Holy Awesome Award, guys.

Yes, this is a Mother’s Day tribute. My mom and I don’t really do mother’s day. It more involves sometimes doing brunch with the rest of the family, and congratulating them on their lovely Hallmark inspired motherness. Mom and I don’t even really do birthdays (which are, I might add, only two days apart. Happy Birthday, Mom! Labour!…18 hours worth…oh god I’m sorry, I really am!). I think some of the family think we’re snobs, too intellectual to be involved in excuses for celebration that don’t involve thousands of years of history. In truth, I find it embarrassing. Mom is stronger than me here; she is embarrassed by almost nothing, and accordingly I think she just dislikes the noise and excess.

Returning to the tribute, the cake is a small example of my mom’s above-stated awesomeness. She has been the breadwinner for the family my entire life; she mends all our clothes and frequently makes us beautiful sweaters; she does the taxes; she helped with the math homework.

I was inspired to write this post because, in response to my last post about Not Myself Today, my mom wrote me to say, “I don’t know if you can see objectively how incredibly, dramatically better you sound.”

Two days after that, I had my first panic attack in a year. Thus go the ups and downs.

My mom is one of the only people who reads this blog (that I know about). She has since the beginning. She says it helps her to understand how I’m feeling, and what it’s like, which is why I’m writing, so that’s great. But it causes her horrible pain to read about me…well, doing what I do here. I wouldn’t blame her for not reading. It makes sense. I’m a child with an infinitely deep and everlasting booboo. An invisible sickness that came out of nowhere and won’t go away. You can’t see it, you can’t help it, and when it hits hardest, that’s the moment she can do the least.

I’ve only once or twice had a panic attack in front of my parents. One time my boyfriend and I were visiting for dinner. And I couldn’t make up my mind if I felt so homesick I had to stay and miss work, or if I should go home and be an adult. On came the panic. It took 45 minutes to convince me to do something, and I rode the whole way home alone, in the farthest back spot of the van, hiding in my winter hood.

They had tried to touch me, physically, with words, with anything, and it just made me more upset. I know it must be frustrating, to say the least.

To read about me cutting, crying, freaking out, being alone, struggling, just non-stop messiness. The worst pain for a parent must be – is – not being able to help.

But she still reads them.

My boyfriend deals with the brunt of my health. He sees it every day. He has learned to predict, to expect, and has learned when to help, and when to step back…but it really does take seeing me every day to learn how to manage it. I haven’t told him what he’s learned. He’s picked it up with the amazing statistical brain that we all have.

My mom, my parents, they don’t get the frequency. Thank goodness! But on the other hand, when It does happen, when crisis strikes, it looks all the more alien, all the more insane.

My mom is smart enough to know that it’s not her fault. She knows how genetics and environment and life factors all play a role. But if there was ever a fragment of doubt, I don’t blame her for any of it (nor my dad). I think I had an amazing childhood, and that I have amazing parents. I could never, ever ask for more. I don’t want anything different. I am so lucky.

To be honest, it was one of the factors of the anxiety – it was because I had such a perfect youth. I didn’t think I deserved it. I compared myself to my friends, to those less fortunate the world over, and I said, how do I deserve such luck? How could I ever live up to it? Thus began a tiny part of the cycle.

I think my parents worry that they aren’t doing enough. I declare the contrary! They are patient with me. They never waver in support of my decisions and emotions. They keep their home open to me at all hours of any day. They will come and get me if I’m panicked. My mom jumps up and makes me breakfast and smoothies and ice cream when I can’t get up the will to stand. Any more involvement would scare me, pressure me, or make me dependent, and this way I feel safe without feeling alone.

I’ve always felt I’ve had this kind of relationship with my dad. But compared to when I was a little girl, I feel I have a completely different relationship now, with my mom.

I look like a duplicate of my mom. I’ve mistaken pictures of her, at my age, for myself! Even my dad has. Growing up, it was always, “Oh, she looks so much like you!” I didn’t hate that, but I resented that I couldn’t see it. My young brain didn’t compute the way we looked similar. I thought we looked anything but.

But. I didn’t know my mom that well when I was little. Being the working parent, she was out all day and worked late. In the meantime, I spent the whole day with my dad, grocery shopping or messing around. It wasn’t until bra shopping that we began to really hang out. If she was jealous, she never expressed it. I know I couldn’t be that strong.

Bit by bit, when we went shopping, or when we commuted to work together, we got to know each other. She was almost always the one to take me to the doctor.

She took me when I had a million ear infections. She took me when I hadn’t been sleeping. She took me to the walk in clinics when I had infections. So it seems appropriate she was the one to really see how sick I was at first.

When I had my first panic attack, before I knew what it was or why it was happening, I slipped into the bathroom, to escape the family dinner at the restaurant. She passed me as I came out, and I think she saw something then. She asked me later if I was ok and I lied.

I escaped to Quebec for two months. When I came back, I got a concussion the first day home. When it became clear I could no longer pass it off as just a headache, and the panic set in about how injured I might really be. She took me to the hospital, with my boyfriend. I was barely aware of what was happening, what with the panic, and subsequently the morphine injections. She drove us home, and stayed strong. When I was younger, I used to say she was “just practicing” when she drove. I don’t think I had a lot of faith in my mom, then, seeing her so little. I cannot tell you how much that has changed.

My mom doesn’t offer suggestions about how to be healthy to me, how to get better, how to snap out of it. She doesn’t question my experiences. She reads, and she watches. Every time I come home now, I give her a hug. I don’t know if she realizes that I began to do that more religiously since the concussion, since she saw that night how sick I was, in order to feel ever so much closer to her. I want her to know how much I love her. I want her to know that it won’t change no matter how sick I get, that I will always love her even if I’m insane, I just won’t be able to tell her. I want her to feel like I can get better, so she won’t worry. And to let her know that what she does is exactly what I need.

I’m very eager these days to tell people how much I look like my mom. It makes me feel more beautiful, and proud. I like to tell people how lucky I am to have a mom that accepts whatever I am, whatever I’m going through, including being a geeky kid that preferred dinosaurs to doilies.


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