Mother’s day for the past 20 years has always been a tricky day for me. Twenty years ago I left home at 16 to save myself and give myself a chance at a happy life. I succeeded pretty well, finishing high school while not have a permanent address, going to college and so far living on three continents and travelling most recently to the Arctic Circle in Sweden. I have a spouse of eight years and a home I’ve lived in for more than a decade. And all that time I’ve had a mother who is alive but who is often not a real part of my life. Even as a child I had an odd relationship with Mother’s Day. On the one hand I love a celebration especially one involving food and I truly wanted nothing more than to be able to give my mother one of those cards that has all those sweet sentiments and gratitude for all the love and kindness she showed me. Instead even as an honesty obsessed kid I would try to find a card that said only the truth. One that said I love you, thanks for the nice things you do and for being around sometimes. My mother’s mantra has always been “there is nothing I wouldn’t do for my kids” but her actions were almost always the opposite and the true mantra was “there is nothing I don’t expect from my kids other than perfection”. 20 years of being away from my mother and the intervention of some amazing caring adults when I left my parents’ home taught me that neither her goals nor her expectations are realistic or healthy. My relationship with my mother has been based on trying to have no expectations of her as a mother and expecting absolutely no true support or acceptance and for periods of time we can pretend to be family.
Now Mother’s Day is especially hard as my sister who’s main goal of the past decade has been to be a perfect mother and wife is dead because she didn’t live up to her husband or my parents’ expectations. The sadness and horror I feel that she tried so hard to be perfect and my own mother uses her supposed failings as a wife or mother to justify her husband murdering her in cold blood is magnified on a day that I know her children are spending with the grandparents who always judged their mother even when she is a murder victim. Will those children be raised with an image of their mother as saint or sinner or will they be given the gift of being raised knowing she was a complex person full of life and love? Will they be raised thinking someone wanting to leave a marriage is a genuine justification for murder? Will they blame my sister for being murdered? Will my toddler nephew even be raised with stories of his mother and how much she did for him and loved him?
My sister and I had a complex often contentious relationship as adults being almost opposites for the last tens in terms of politics, religion, beliefs and goals. We both left home at 16, too young and without support. We both put ourselves through college and moved far away from our home town but then we both went down different paths. She tried through two marriages and a rebirth in her Catholic faith to be as mainstream and conservative as possible while I didn’t try hard but ended up on the outskirts of heteronormativity due to my sexuality, my urbanization and my access to privilege. We both struggled to reach our personal goals and neither of us ended up exactly where we expected but neither of us ever thought that violence would be a part of our lives again. We always knew that we had the power to change the situations we were in and that was true until a man, her husband took that power away with a shot gun borrowed from our father.
My sister more than anyone in my childhood gave me my love of food and in many ways although she was only 3 years older than me she acted as a second mother to me, giving me what my own mother couldn’t. I learned early on not to cry in front of my parents or run to them if I was upset but my sister would let me crawl up on her lap and rock me in the lazy boy chair even when I was 12. She would some how make magic food out of the simple and basic ingredients we had in the house. We never had junk food except for my father’s stash of junk food which we were usually not allowed to have and my mother seemed to have a strict policy that all cookies must be healthy and weight at least a pound. My sister solved the issue by making potato chips from scratch and making donuts out of our generic bulk flour and then glazing them in fresh maple syrup. While I could follow a recipe, she seems to know instinctively how to make dishes from nothing. That was how she dealt with so many things. She would have an ideal and make it happen with food and with life. For me it’s taken so much practice to get to the point where I can look in my frig or at my life and see what I can make with with ingredients I’ve been given.
I feel so sad that her daughter and son will not have the years to come to get to know their mother as a cook and as a human. I think about how if she hadn’t left home at 16, I would have never been brave enough to leave home. I think about how when I was afraid, she held me and when I was too scared to defend myself, she defended me. Who will teach her children these things when the biggest lesson they have learned is that the person who loves you the most may kill you?