From raking to revelation
Yesterday I was out in my yard raking leaves. It was a brisk, cold day and it became quite strenuous as I threw myself into the task eagerly negotiating the wind whirling the leaves up and around me as I raked. At the same time I was thinking about what I had been writing in my book. My thoughts drifted back and forth and around and about seemingly uncontrollably, just like those swirling leaves. In fact thoughts go from one to another associatively latching onto memories that make us think of something else and then something different again. It felt as if my thoughts had no direct or organized sequence. And yet, somehow, when I reviewed them later I was able to understand how I went from swirling leaves to an understanding about my childhood relationship with my mother. In fact, it felt a bit like a revelation. Like one that I had not had so clearly before. For surely there have been many times I had thought about our relationship in the past. However, this time seemed different. I was reminded of a few lines from a poem by T. S. Eliot:
We shall not cease from exploration
And at the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know that place for the first time.
Suddenly in the middle of pushing the leaves into a large pile I was overcome with grief and almost doubling over in pain I stopped what I was doing, leaned on the rake and wept for a few minutes. It occurred to me then and there that when I was a very young child I loved my mother very much. I adored her. I loved how she looked and smelled. I most especially loved her hands. They were strong, firm and, in my eyes, the most beautiful hands I had ever seen. In fact, when I was eight while my mother was in hospital giving birth to my younger brother, I insisted on staying at a friend of hers because the friend’s hands resembled my mother’s. As I cried out there holding onto the rake, I realized that I have been missing her for a very long time.
Our relationship has been difficult with many challenging moments between us. However, loving her was never my problem. I realized that my problem was that I always felt that I was not her priority. More than that, I felt as if she wanted to be anywhere else, or with anyone else rather than with me. The only way I can describe the feeling is as if she was my lover but always dreaming of being with someone else while she was with me. At the same moment as I felt that old childhood pain rise up in me as if out of nowhere, I realized instantly that in my personal life I had always seemed to choose life partners who made me feel the way I felt with my mother: unloved and unwanted. Hence, a number of failed marriages ensued throughout my life. It was almost as if I had needed to repeat that feeling of wanting someone more than they wanted me or loving someone more than they loved me, over and over again. What a revelation!
Looking back, in reality, my mother did not mean not to focus on me. I was the fourth of five siblings and was born in the midst of three marriages. When I came along, her life was full of complexity and anxiety. She remarried when I was four and most of her energy and attention had to go into her new marriage and youngest son at the time. In addition, my mother was still caring for my three older siblings and negotiating relationships with her two former husbands: my father and the father of my older siblings. Unintentionally, I fell through the tracks. There just was not enough emotional availability or time for me. Today, as an adult, this understanding helps me forgive my mother. She did not mean for me to feel that way. She did the very best she could with what she had under difficult conditions. I realize now that she loved me. Life just got in the way!
Not only did my early childhood relationship with my mother affect my personal life choices, it also influenced my relationship with children. I understand why I have always cared so deeply for children who felt marginalized or unloved. More than that, I have always been very good at managing those kinds of children many teachers consider problematic. Somehow I identified with their pain, longing, or feelings of exclusion. I seemed to speak their emotional language. This sudden understanding that came upon me as I raked leaves in my yard surprised me. For, at age 58 I thought I had worked out and resolved most of my relationship challenges with my mother. I have been researching my self since my early twenties personally and professionally. I realized there is still more to uncover. Researching the self takes time, maybe forever!