I have had a long, contentious relationship with my mother. There! I’ve admitted it. It’s not easy to share this publicly, but it’s the truth, a truth that I am working to improve upon. It is my greatest desire to live what I consider a spiritual life. There have been many times on this spiritual path when I or my ego believed that I had made tremendous progress, but all it takes to shatter that illusion is the presence of my mother, whether over the phone or in person. She is the one person who can make me go from zero to ninety in a matter of seconds. This concept is not in keeping with spiritual truth and I’ll tell you why.
I am now at a stage where sometimes I have caught myself on the verge of reacting negatively to something my mother has said or done. That’s where the work lies, in subduing the automatic reaction. Instead of reacting, I know I am supposed to breathe in deeply and slowly, count to ten, bite my tongue, do whatever it takes to maintain my center, instead of reacting. To nurture within myself the ability to dig down deep and bring forth a mature response, which in most cases would be no response, just stillness, quiet and observe myself, my emotions without allowing them to drag me along. That is the work that has to be done again and again to get it right, to make a calm response the default.
Last year this time, we weren’t sure my mother would still be on this side of eternity. On the days we thought it would be her last, something rose up in me that was shocking. I shared this with a friend recently, and he said, “it’s primordial.” Despite our ongoing contention, I felt a sense of loss that reached down to the very core of me. I didn’t know I could experience this intense feeling of grief about my mother who on a regular basis, drives me mad.
In spiritual culture, we learn that believing someone has the power to “make” you react a certain way is a misnomer. It’s a lack of willpower. No one drives anyone mad. No matter what another person does or doesn’t do, we are all responsible for our responses to how we handle any stimuli. Therefore, in truth, I am unable to blame my mother for my behavior, for how I respond to her. That’s my problem, my work, not hers.
There are those women and men who have amazingly beautiful, loving, and fulfilling relationships with there moms. I marvel at them. I have a friend who appears to have BBF relationship with her mom. The contention with me and my mom wasn’t always this way. My mother is one of the most loving, affectionate, openhearted and generous people I know. Children love her, gravitate towards her because she knows how to love-up a child. My mother loves me fiercely and this I know, but when I became a tween things shifted with us, and that shift has continued on the wrong side of the center. I am determined to ace this as best I can. I know that once my mother makes her transition to the other side of eternity, our relationship will continue, but I want to get it right with her before then and each time I see or speak with her is an opportunity to improve what we currently have.
Every time I look at the photo above, tears well up, I want to cry, witnessing the pain in my mother’s eyes, the half smile. For this was the Mother’s Day that changed my life. I took my mother and my late, great friend Gemi, to see the play, Fences. After the theater, we took this photo and Gemi went home, I then took my mom out to dinner. The impact of Fences convinced my mother to tell me during our meal about a thirty-year secret she had long held. She shared that my father Preston, for whom I am named (my birth first name is Prestonia) was not my biological father. The need to deny this secret was so compelling that my first reaction was to think she was lying and that she secretly hated me. Why else tell me this crazy story? She went on to share that my biological father was a childhood friend and schoolmate who date-raped her. “Lord have mercy, stop the world! I need to step off.”
I had thought that I didn’t have a “Me Too” moment in my life, and then I thought of this truth and realized I am the result of a “Me Too” experience. Instead of having compassion and understanding for my mother, I put a chasm between us. It felt as if I was free falling down the abyss and that I would never reach the ground. With this new knowledge of my conception, there seemed to be no ground beneath me, and I just kept falling and falling. I guess I hit the ground when I finally bridged that gap between my mother and me a few years later. After all, it had been my mother had always there for me, who thought I was God’s gift to her and the world. As the Buddha taught, “We must learn to suffer well so that we suffer less, and cause less suffering for others.”
My mother and I fuss and fight, and then we pick right back up and love and hug. It’s not perfect, but I know I will get there as soon as I can to stop judging her and stop wanting her to be someone else, someone she is not. After all, I’m just like her in many ways, good and bad, “My Mother Myself.” It is my mother who gave me my strength, tenacity, fearlessness, loving ways, my smile, affection for life, and people. As a single mother, she had to hone those skills to protect and guide my siblings and me.
It also my mom who gave me some of the things I need to work on like impatience, bullishness, unfiltered words, and impulsiveness. I am working on all of them. I am not finished with trying to make it right with my mother or with myself. The journey goes on, and I am grateful to have still the opportunity to get it right with my mom. This Mother’s Day weekend I will take my Nurturing Spritzer with me. When that childish tendency rises to react, I will spritz myself, breathe in deeply, slowly, exhale and repeat, then smile within knowing I have the power to make things right with my formidable champion known as my mom.
During this upcoming Mother’s Day, I would love to hear your stories about your relationship with your mother whether it’s magical or a work in process. I would appreciate knowing I’m not the only one on this sacred journey. Please share! Happy Mother’s Day!
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