I’m sorry I made you cry.
I’ll never forget seeing you standing under the streetlight at the end of Carols by Candlelight, wiping your eyes, while the crowds streamed around you as they walked back from the beach.
I’d just told you I never wanted to see you again. I was scared, and I needed your help. Rather than asking you nicely, though, I demanded, and when you hesitated, just for a second, I panicked. And before we knew it, we were yelling at each other and, as you are well aware, we haven’t spoken since.
If I was logical, which I know I’m not, especially when I’m anxious, I would realise that time spent with you is a gift. We live so far apart, and we see each other so little, I should try to make your visits as fun and harmonious as possible. But instead I end up making them painful, usually about the past.
As you know, my life has been a series of disasters, from my stupid and impulsive teenage marriage to a string of incomplete university courses and jobs that I didn’t have the willpower to persevere with. But when I try to justify this history to myself, I find it much easier to blame it all on you and Dad for moving away when I was 19, rather than accepting any responsibility for my own actions.
Did I want you to remain rather than move across three states to be with you? I have argued “yes” many times. But the truth is, I was happy to see you go. I was a 19-year-old, recently-separated university student who was excited about the future and drunk on freedom and I didn’t need my mother hanging around. At least, that’s what I convinced myself to believe.
“Come with us,” you said, while you were packing. “See it as a new adventure. We’ll have fun.”
I turned away.
I didn’t want anything to do with what I thought was another one of your stupid ideas. And why would I want to live near my parents?
But fun times never last. And when I began to find things hard on my own, I started to blame you for my inability to cope. Money problems? It was because you’d moved. If I still lived at home, I wouldn’t have to pay rent. Failing subjects in my course? How could I study when I had to work as well? Binge eating? I was lonely and anxious.
The biggest thing I blamed you for, though, was the fear I felt when I was pregnant and discovered my baby was going to be a girl. I mean, how could I be expected to form a close relationship with my own daughter when the one with my mother was in tatters?
What really killed me though was a thought that came to me one day when I was buying baby clothes:, you wanted a girl. You’ve told me many times that you hoped that you were going to have a girl. But you didn’t know, of course. And when you first saw my raw, red, scrawny body you told me how you caught your breath.
“It’s a girl, isn’t it?” you asked the doctor. “Yes,” he smiled back at you.
So you started crying, because you were so happy. You had everything prepared for me at home. Lace trim on the cradle. A pram with a frilly canopy. A slew of pink teddy bears. You so longed for a little princess, but got me instead.
I wasn’t interested in having tea parties with you, or playing dress-ups, or making paper dolls. I was an anxious little girl immersed in her own little world and you didn’t quite know how to reach me.
We both know how it got worse as I got older. The harder you tried to establish a mother-daughter relationship, the more I pushed you away.
That is, of course, until my own daughter came along.
I had no idea, when I was trying to fall pregnant, that becoming a mother is one of the hardest things we will ever do. I couldn’t comprehend how much courage is required to get up night after night to feed a newborn, or how, when you’re caring for a child, your own needs get completely ignored. I wasn’t prepared for how often they get sick, or how often they cry, or how much attention they need every day. Nor could I have predicted that there would be moments, when I hadn’t slept properly for days, that the urge to run away from it all would seize me.
And it was during some of my darkest days that you came to help me. I am so grateful for all those times you changed Amity, and fed Amity, and took Amity for walks. Thank you, Mum, for giving me those moments to breathe when it felt like I was suffocating under it all. The fact that Amity has grown into a happy, healthy three-year-old is something for which I have you, in no small part, to thank.
Time and time again, what has surprised me is how much she reminds me of you. I can’t even count how many times she has said something to me in exactly your tone, or given me your “trying-to-be-stern” look, or put her arms around me with the same fierce and unguarded love that you did.
The other day, Amity and I were scrolling through photos on my phone and we came across one of you. She touched the screen, looked at me and then blurted, “I want to see Gramma.” What could I say? I’m sorry, little girl. I fought with your grandmother and, being the proud fool that I am, I haven’t spoken to her in more than four months. I’ve ignored her calls and I haven’t responded to her emails. I didn’t open the letter she sent.
One of my friends once said to me, “Having kids is like a drug. They heighten your experience of living but destroy you in the process.” I laughed then. I just assumed she was joking. But looking back, I realise, that there were times I destroyed parts of you. When I’ve made you sob with frustration, when I’ve made you feel like a failure, when you’ve been wracked with worry over some of my choices.
It has been more than 20 years since you moved interstate and we’ve never spent a Mother’s Day together. That’s my fault. You make an effort to visit every Christmas, but I’m sorry, Mum, I haven’t made the effort in return.
Amity is asleep at the moment. It’s past 10 pm and the night is getting colder. I just went to tuck an extra blanket around her and found her lying there with her arm around that pink bunny you bought her at that last fateful Christmas.
There’s a saying that always makes me cry when I think of you and Amity: “One day, someone is going to hug you so tight that all of your broken pieces fit back together. “
I’m sorry, Mum, that I broke you sometimes. I’m sorry I never tried as hard as you did. I’m sorry I wasted so many chances with you. But if you’ll just give me one more, I would love to come and see you this Mother’s Day.
Please forgive me.
There’s a little girl who wants to hug you. And a bigger girl who needs to.