My ex has Laurel this weekend, and I am trying to decide how I feel about not having my daughter here with me on Mother’s Day. Although I know Duane wouldn’t mind, it is difficult for me to ask my ex-husband to make changes to the custody schedule. He is the one who gets to alter things. Also, my daughter didn’t wish it. She needs more time with her father. Spending time with him is like eating snow heaped on a silver platter — it feels special, but one is always thirsty for more.
We agreed that we will celebrate when she comes back Tuesday by eating at a Japanese place we both like.
It’s okay, and it isn’t okay.
I tell myself that I am busy, and it’s true. I have end-of-semester papers to grade and writing deadlines to meet. My grass needs mowing. I am scheduled to work this afternoon. And Mother’s Day is not a real holiday anyhow. Let’s not forget that. Although Anna Jarvis pushed for this day when each of us might honor our mother’s contribution to our lives, she became disgusted with the commercialization of the holiday and spent the last years of her life railing against it. The last time people saw her before her death in 1948, the penniless Jarvis was going door-to-door collecting signatures to abolish her whole life’s work.
Good Heavens, Anna Jarvis.
The problem is I don’t know how to value myself as a mother in the wake of the divorce. When Duane was through with me, he wanted me to vanish without a trace. I remember frantically calling our marriage counselor, worried that he was going to kill me. His disregard for me had nothing to do with the process of growing apart or a need to move on. It was a palpable wish that I no longer exist, because life with me no longer served his interests.
He took no pictures and no records with him. He left the furnishings we had purchased together. When he sees me in public, he walks the other way. He has instructed his friends not to talk to me. At the same time, because he knows the right thing to say, he tells everyone that he tried hard to make this an amicable divorce. I try not to let it get to me, but it messes with my head.
Duane’s behavior has also affected Laurel. Following his cue, she has learned not to value the time she spends with me. For a long time, she blamed me for the divorce. She still recalls the days when she was her father’s go-to girl, the one he turned to when he needed validation. “You are the person I love most in the whole world,” she wrote in a card I found lying on his office desk. “Though I still like mommy.”
All that came crashing down the morning after Laurel’s last day of second grade, when she walked into her father’s bedroom and found a naked woman sleeping in his bed. For next six months, as this relationship developed in front of her, Laurel had chronic insomnia. She developed migraines. She told me she didn’t want to exist.
She has adjusted — two years of therapy helped — but her insecurity and denial persist. On nights when Duane doesn’t feel like answering her phone calls, she will dial his number 15 or 20 times. If he finally picks up the phone, she is chipper and upbeat. She takes an interest in his hobbies. She gives him financial advice and lends support.
She is ten years old.
Duane and I adopted Laurel from a foreign orphanage that severely neglected the children in its care. There are so many times that I’ve felt insufficient as a mother. Her needs are enormous, and so is her distrust. She has come to develop a closer bond with me over the past two years, but to this day, when I smile at her, she frowns and turns the other way.
It breaks my heart. It makes me mad.
I tell myself it’s not my fault. I look at the research on attachment theory and institutionalized children and tell myself that she would probably have had these issues anyway. I tell myself that I am not responsible for Duane’s personality or the choices he has made. I tell myself she’ll be okay.
At the same time, I blame myself. I don’t feel worthy of a celebration in my name.
Anna Jarvis didn’t have any children. Mother’s Day was her child, proudly and carefully nurtured over the years until it was introduced to a world that used it as a vehicle to sell chocolates and bad poetry. I understand her bitterness. I see her moving slowly up and down the streets of Philadelphia, another crazy old woman, trying to get people to listen.
I pick up the phone and call my mother.