Published on June 11th, 2015 | by Nancy Arroyo Ruffin0
NOT MY MOTHER’S DAUGHTER: Nancy Arroyo Ruffin On Changing Her Legacy
Suddenly, through birthing a daughter, a woman finds herself face to face not only with an infant, a little girl, a woman-to-be, but also with her own unresolved conflicts from the past and her hopes and dreams for the future. As though experiencing an earthquake, mothers of daughters may find their lives shifted, their deep feelings unearthed, the balance struck in all relationships once again off kilter. ~Elizabeth Debold
I haven’t always had the best relationship with my mother. There were times when I felt like I hated her; despised her even. There were times when I needed her and she wasn’t there. Times when I wanted her to fight for my sister and me, but instead she chose herself. My father says that we should get over it. That she’s changed. That she’s made up for her mistakes. We should forgive her, he says. And my adult self has, for the most part. It’s the little girl in me that struggles with forgiveness.
I don’t often write about my tumultuous teenage years, or my mother. What my family will say? Because one should never air their dirty laundry.
Like the story of the time I was awakened from my sleep when I received a call from her telling me that she tried to kill herself. She was being held under psychiatric watch at a Brooklyn hospital because she downed a bottle of pills, she said. Or the times my sister and I would visit her on weekends during one of many separations from my dad, and she would choose to go out instead of spending time with us. Or the time she decided to up and move to Puerto Rico without consulting my sister and me and left us behind. There were so many things that my young mind just couldn’t comprehend and even as an adult I still struggle with.
It’s easier to write about the good memories. Like when her, my sister and I would snuggle up on her queen-sized bed in our little yellow row-house in Richmond Hill, Queens watching a Lifetime movie or The Miss Universe Pageant. We would spend hours pretending we were contestants and give our own answers to the questions they would ask the finalists. Or that one time my sister, girlfriend, and I got dressed up in party dresses, crazy hairdos, and pounds of makeup and made my 4-ft,11-inches-tall mom dress up in drag (fake mustache and all) in one of my father’s oversized suits and pretended we were a merengue group. She was the lead singer and we were the backup dancers. We made my father videotape us. We spent all night watching it back, laughing. It wasn’t all bad.
I try to let go of the burdens of my past because holding on is too exhausting. Today, though, I read an essay about unmothered daughters and felt the weight shift back. Reading that essay opened up wounds I didn’t even realize I had. In her essay, Vanessa Martir says,
“I also know that this pain of being unmothered is real and there will be times, like on Mother’s Day and the days leading up to it, that despite all my accomplishments and all the love I have in my life, that first wound will sting especially hard and I will feel untethered and unanchored in the world. I will feel distraught. I will feel like I’m not enough. I will be terrified of repeating that cycle, of failing my daughter. This has always been so; this fear, this suffering.”
Shit. I’ve felt like that so many times since becoming a mother. It is my greatest fear that I too will fail my daughter. I don’t want to be my mother. I don’t want to make the same mistakes she’s made.Yet, my mother is still the first person I want to share great news with, the first person I call when I’m sick or in pain or scared, the person I call when I need to be consoled or just need to hear a voice I can trust. When my daughter tripped head first onto my wooden floors last year and the biggest, most horrific, chichón in varying shades of red, black, and blue bulged out of her forehead, she was the one I called. In a matter of minutes she was at my doorstep. The stability and reassurance she didn’t give me when I was a child—she’s giving me now. She is by far one of my greatest supporters and is the best mama to my little girl that I could have ever wished for, but the wounds of the past, when re-opened still hurt just the same.
A friend told me that forgiveness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey. I’m getting there little by little.
I’m not writing any of this to demonize my mother. I love her tremendously and despite the mistakes she has made, I know unequivocally that she loves me too. I understand her better, now, at the same time I realize I can never understand some of what she has done. I have a daughter of my own and another one on the way. It terrifies me. Every day I am afraid that I will screw them up somehow. For many of us, the relationship we have with our mother is the most important and significant relationship of our lives. It influences how we view ourselves as women, nurturers and care givers. It makes us ourselves.
I’m much older than my mother was when she had me. She was 23 when she had me. I was 35 when I had my first daughter. I had the benefit of maturity and wisdom that were still ahead of her. I knew better.
“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” ~Rajneesh
I now know that my mother was doing the best she could with what she knew, then. My mother made mistakes. I’m sure I will. I hope that when my daughters are older and reflect back on what I gave them or what I failed to give them that they too realize I was only doing the best I could, with what I knew.