Welcome, Mamma Crew! Today is Mamma Thursdays when it’s all about us! The mammas!
There’s a good chance that most of you have heard about “The Day of the Dead.” After all, it’s often brought up in elementary school, and many of us have seen the movie “Coco.” The cemeteries are decorated with colorful flowers, banners, shrines are created of flowers, food, and many pictures of those loved ones that have passed away. It’s not uncommon for there to be music, often live music, in fact, like mariachis, bandas, and any other kind of assorted groups that the deceased enjoyed during their life.
The holiday is, in fact, a mixture of pre-Colombian culture and the Catholic holiday called All-Saints’ Day. In addition to going to the cemeteries, people often create smaller versions of those shrines in their homes. There are certain elements that are supposed to be part of these shrines. For example, you’re supposed to create an arch, typically with flowers, that are made out of paper mache, or natural, that represents that entryway between the world of the dead and the word of the living. There’s also supposed to be present elements from nature such as water, earth, fire, etc., etc. And of course, the religious symbolism cannot be missing. Most of the time, crucifixes are part of the shrine. Incense, beautiful-smelling incense, is typically lit. And of course, central to all of these, are the pictures of our loved ones that have passed on. It is also not uncommon to place their favorite food as an offering for their return visit.
But this Day of the Dead was different for me. This Day of the Dead is the first holiday since my mother’s death. And suddenly I found myself approaching the holiday in a totally different light. The reality is I really didn’t know what to do about it. But I felt I should do something. I needed to do something about it. But I’ve been living in the United States for so long, and my culture is the American culture. I mean, I’m fifty-three years old, and if I put all the time together that I spent out of the country as a child, it’s probably about five years. So yes, I have fully assimilated to this culture, but yet, there was that pull, that tug to return to my mother’s heritage.
I felt the need to put up a shrine for the Day of the Dead in her honor. So I did. I stumbled through it, not really knowing how to go about it, how to approach it, what to even put on it. I really had to think about it. I didn’t want to research the holiday, or the costumes because if I did, it felt fake. Untrue. As though I didn’t love my mother. And I ADORED my mother. We had such a difficult relationship. She was a difficult woman. I was a difficult woman. Well, I AM a difficult woman. And our relationship was often rocky, but always full of love. Love was central to our relationship. And a great deal of admiration that we didn’t fully, ever share with one another. So it was important for me to put up the shrine.
But as I struggled to put it together, the tears started falling. Tears that I don’t shed easily, because I didn’t want to disappoint her. Here I am, a fifty-three-year-old woman with too many degrees to my name. I have both known financial failures and successes. I have a lovely family. But there’s always that tiny little part of me that is a little girl that doesn’t want to disappoint her mother. And more than anything, I wanted her to know that I loved her, and I still love her, and I refuse to forget her. So I did my best to put the shrine together. If you have the time, check it out. I’m going to put a picture of it in the blog.
I feel that I didn’t do full justice to my mother’s culture. But I was very honest and very open about my love for her. Of all the pictures that I have of her, and I have many, I decided to put up the picture of her wedding day. My mother was a beautiful, very vain woman. And even though everybody thought she looked beautiful on her wedding day, she always felt that it wasn’t quite good enough. And this feeling that she carried with her throughout her life that she wasn’t quite good enough is definitely one that she projected onto me.
I was never quite good enough, no matter what I did. When I was young, I saw it as something negative. I always felt that perhaps my mother didn’t love me enough, because if she had truly loved me, she would have accepted me. It took me decades to understand that it was her way of saying that we could always be better that we should always strive to be better. And I’ve realized that perhaps she didn’t present the message in the best possible way. But her purpose, her ultimate goal, was a good one. So I decided to do this blog in her honor because I think that my mother represents the best of what it means to be a mother.
She didn’t always get things right. She didn’t always understand. And she certainly didn’t always appreciate me. But the one thing she did do was that she always loved us. And she always did her best. And I think that when we’re young, we don’t have the capacity to appreciate that. But as we become mothers ourselves, we begin to understand how hard it is to reach that ideal image that our children often have of us. And as my children enter adolescence, when things get really hard for mothers, and when they start saying things that are hurtful that they don’t really mean, once again, I remember my mother’s struggles. And once again, I realize just how much she loved me and just what a great mother she was.
I wish I would have understood all of these things before she passed away. I wish I would have told her that I understood them. But one of the biggest flaws we have as children is that we don’t often forgive our parents for their failings, and that was certainly mine. So I’m saying to you what I should have said to my mother. She was not EVER perfect. But I want her to know that in her imperfection, she taught me that it is that very imperfection that does make us perfect. We are perfect mothers because we try our best, not because we are the best or because we are perfect, flawless creatures that always say the right thing at the right time, or do the right thing at the right time. But instead because, regardless of the fact that we are incapable of always doing the right thing, always saying the right thing, we always love. And, we always try our best.
As I look at my mother’s picture on the shrine, I let go of all the things that I thought she had done wrong to me, all those imagined or perhaps even real wrongs. And I embraced all of those times that she was there for me in which she tried to understand me. She tried to appreciate everything I did to make her proud. And all of those times in which she loved me. And I really hope that in doing so, I learn to forgive myself when I’m not my children’s ideal mother.
But at the time I was busy being an obnoxious teenager, I remember the first driving lesson she ever gave me. It was a complete and utter failure. We didn’t even go around the block. Midway through it, she developed a crippling migraine because she worked herself into such a frenzy. She was terrified, absolutely terrified that I was going to crash into something or someone. And I’m not quite sure what she was more afraid of, of me accidentally killing somebody, or of me accidentally killing myself. But she was sure something catastrophic would happen because she had decided that I was a nervous-nelly. The reality was that I was insecure. That’s different than being a nervous-nelly, but she didn’t quite understand that. So she wasn’t the one that taught me how to drive. It was my soulmate who ended up teaching me how to drive. Unfortunately, I broke up with him before he taught me how to parallel park and drive in reverse, so that continues to be a challenge, but, you know, let’s let bygones be bygones.
I also remember how disappointed she was when she was unable to buy me my high school graduation ring. She and my father were speeding towards divorce, and so they didn’t have the greatest communication at the time. And he thought the ring was a waste. She felt it was an important rite of passage. So she put it in lay-away but was unable to make the last payment, twenty-one dollars. I spent twenty-one dollars without even thinking about it, but for my mother, it was a struggle. She couldn’t make that last payment, so she lost the ring. On the day of my graduation, she gave me one of her rings from when she was young. It’s a gorgeous gold ring that somehow looks like it has this little diploma in the middle. And perhaps that’s why she gave it to me. And as disappointed as I was when she couldn’t bring herself to teach me to drive, I was elated when she gave me that ring because I understood that she knew how important this was to me.
But then, that’s part of the craziness of being a mother during adolescence, I suppose. It certainly feels like it, as I enter it with my own children’s adolescence, such as today when Andy interrupted me, quite literally, fifteen times, as I attempted to record this blog, to ask me if she could go out with her friends. I started of so patient, and in the end, I think it must have been around fourteen-time when I finally snapped, and I said, “Nope! Not gonna happen. I already said no. Go, do your homework!” And I could see it in her face. She did not feel understood. She did not feel loved despite the fact that she is very loved. Or when I tell Emmi that her performance at the fall festival, well, she needs to work on it. She needs to practice. She needs to learn to deal with the disruptions. And she looks at me with this HURT. She wanted to hear that she did her best. But I knew for a fact that she had not. And I found that like my mother, I was pushing. Pushing for her to be the best version of herself that she can be. Or when Bug is running around being obnoxious, and I had to sit him down and give his favorite toy a time-out. There’s nothing sadder than seeing Buzz Lightyear sitting on the top of that shelf and seeing Bug’s little frown. Or using Dora’s words against her when she tells me that she didn’t get the work done because she’s lazy. And then she complains to me about the grade that she got on her assignment, and I find myself saying, “Well, do you remember when you said that you were lazy? Perhaps if you had worked a little harder, if you had done your best, you would have a better grade.”
Isn’t it funny? All those times that I picked on my mother, and today, I have to say, because she earned it; because she deserves it: Thank you, Mom. For being such a good example. For teaching me to be the best mom that I can be. I hope wherever you are, whether you’re in heaven, you did too much good for me to believe that you’re someplace else, or you’re a tiny speck of light out in the universe, THANK YOU. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for teaching me to be the best mother I can possibly be. And from that little girl to her mommy, I hope you’re proud.
So ladies, if you share an imperfect journey to motherhood, just like me, please subscribe to our blog (www.oldermomsblog.com) or podcast (https://apple.co/34m7mUi). For links and resources please visit our website. Till next time… Toodles….
Day of the Dead T-Shirt: https://amzn.to/33JOXk5