"The relationship between parents and children, but especially between mothers and daughters, is tremendously powerful, scarcely to be comprehended in any rational way." -- Joyce Carol Oates
I was 4. My mother, "Ma," was fighting a cold and was lying down in her bedroom, nearly asleep. I felt so badly that she wasn't feeling well that I decided, at 4 years of age, that I would heat up some chicken that was in the fridge. We had one of those gas stoves, which needed matches to light the oven. So I turned the oven on like I had watched Ma do so many times. The gas came on and then I lit the stove. "Boooooooom!" Explosion. An explosion so loud it woke Ma up and well... she ran into the kitchen, frantic, yelling. "Claudia! What happened?" My eyebrows and eyelashes were singed. I cried inconsolably. I really wasn't clear as to what happened. I was most likely in shock. This was the first time I had ever heard my mother yell, and yell she did. I had frightened her beyond any fear she had felt in a very long time. At 4 years old, I didn't understand why she was so frantic. Now I do. Mothers, good mothers, spend most of their lives trying to protect their children and when we, as daughters, do things that are out of our mother's control, they get scared.
Then decades later, the tables turn. Our mothers, our parents age. Some age better than others, like Ma, but age they do, and then it is our turn to be scared. We watch these incredibly tough, strong, sometimes difficult personalities fight the aging process. They want their independence and they still have their free will, but at what point do their children, their daughters step in and tell them, "You can't do this by yourself anymore. We need help to keep you safe." This is a discussion that becomes the very definition of who we become. We are "our mother's daughter."
Everything I can appreciate about myself and everything I can NOT appreciate about myself as a woman comes from my mother, my "Ma." She taught me so many things. Most of all, she taught me the following: how to cook, to knit, to crochet, and even more importantly, how to read and write. She taught me how to lose too. Every time we played cards, she would win and never felt badly about it. There was the most valuable lesson. Sometimes you will lose. Losing is part of living. She knew that.
Ma was a Great Depression baby. The fifth child of eight, but from the stories she would tell along with her sisters, they knew they had each other and learned how to be resourceful. They were tough, all of them. It could be argued that they were too tough, too strict and just plain difficult. But what we learned is that we need to take care of our own. Hard as that can be when we want so much to develop our own identity and personality; we need to take care of our own. My mother taught me that.
It's hard for mothers like mine to let go. They don't like admitting that their daughters are adults and very, very capable of thinking and acting on their own behalf. Ironically this is the same mother who insisted that each of her daughters get a college degree or more and develop careers and stand on their own two feet even when she couldn't or wouldn't admit they could. These are the same daughters who fulfilled her dream and are hard-working professionals. These are the same daughters who are struggling to take care of her now that she's alone.
We look to our parents for guidance and want to admire them for their knowledge. Parents hold the key to our future relationships and influence who we are and what we want to be. They're not perfect. None of what they did was exactly perfect but they tried. They had their ideas of what kind of lives they wanted us to live. We had our own ideas and somewhere in between we were left to find the balance.
In the end, there is only love of all the memories we were given. We are our mother's daughters. We have traditions, talents and our dreams just like them. We have our individuality, in spite of the occasional dissensions. We are our mother's daughters and for that, there is nothing but gratitude and perhaps some sadness. The gratitude comes with maturity that we are what we are and that has to be good enough. We need to maintain dignity for our elderly. We need to fight for that dignity. The sadness comes from the truth that we can't keep those we love around forever.