I Finally Understand My Mother

Turning 40 provided an unexpected experience and sensation,  it was the realization that 40 years old is the age of my own mother when she gave birth to me, her 7th child. It awakened in me a new awareness, understanding and even compassion for my mother in the midst of the women’s movement on the precipice of turmoil yet to come with the ‘60s culture. Four years later she added my little sister to the family and again when I too reached the age of 44 was filled with compassion and understanding for my mother. The freedom I was experiencing in my 40’s was exciting, fun and I could not imagine myself with a couple of preschoolers along with elementary, high school and college age people to care for, food, worry about and pray for everyday. 

Perhaps I maintained a form of self-centeredness and an attitude of self-pity before this new awareness, but it seems to me that the capacity to experience the walking in another’s shoes really does require the actual walking in those shoes to get the full effect.  

In my 40’s my children were self-sufficient and well on their way toward independence. These were the late teen and early twenty years of our five children. Days were filled with stimulating conversation, life planning, increased learning and personal growth for everyone. When ever I thought of my mother it was with nostalgia of what her days consisted of at the same age. Diapers, pre-school, teacher conferences, runny noses and constant demands of 5 children still in the needy age of life.

My 45th year was marked with my 15 year old daughter and sensing the incomprehensible  prospect of having a one year old baby plus a 5 (me), 9, 13, 16 and 18 year old to care for. I began to track the years alongside my mothers age. It was interesting that I could finally identify with her and I realized that I didn't know her when she was in her 20’s or 30’s beyond pictures and old family movies. 

I began to search for my first memory of her, it was right before my third birthday and we were in the toy store, a family owned store and I was picking out a tricycle. There was a cool April drizzly rain. It was dark outside but it was the afternoon. I remember that my mother looked tired. I have very strong memories filled with details and I began to track the memories and place them at the ages of myself and my mother. The memories that were filled with negativity angst and a sense of injustice began to reshape. I saw her as tired not angry, weary not unloving, unsupported not unsupportive. I always knew with my head that my mother loved me now I understood with my heart that the love she had was complicated and it was real. 

In the last year of my mothers life my siblings and I cared for, celebrated with and loved my mother as she went home to be with the Lord. She was 86, I was 46,  I finally knew experientially my mother and could love her as she truly deserved.

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Now at 57 I am still tracking and discovering my mother and I feel like I know her now more than ever. I am thankful for the revelation that transformed my thoughts and even my memories. It makes me wonder what other women experienced if they had older mothers and didn't really know them until they reached an age of memory. I wonder if this could be a break through of healing for other women as it was for me.  If so, and you have a story, I would love to hear it please send it to joan.nosal@gmail.com.