The Pain of Mother’s Day

I’m sure that we all experience holidays that depress instead of uplift. For me, that holiday is Mother’s Day and the days preceding it. It’s not a holiday like Christmas or Easter that people decorate for, but it’s still difficult to get away from. Both social and more traditional forms of media share anecdotes and stories about it, and you can’t go shopping without a reminder of it. For me, Mother’s Day is a painful reminder of a past better left forgotten.

My parents got divorced when I was in the first grade. Unlike most children of divorce, my father received nearly full custody. My Mother wasn’t necessarily abusive or anything, but she was an alcoholic, and certainly not cut out for raising two small children (I have a younger brother). My father wasn’t really cut out for it either, not because he couldn’t handle it, but because he worked nearly twelve hours a day. He’d get my brother and I up and showered in the morning, drop us off at the babysitter’s a couple of hours before school, and then pick us up a little bit past dinnertime. We were the first children there in the morning, and almost always the last to leave.

Within a year or two of my parents divorce my Mother moved back to live with her Mom in North Carolina. I lived in East Peoria Illinois at the time, but it might as well have been the moon. My brother and I went three years without seeing her after she moved. I had a parent leave me, and all these decades later I still can’t put the pain into words. There were a few letters, and there were Christmas presents the first year, but after that point it began to trail off. Christmas presents the second year were replaced with “I sent them . . .” and of course they never showed up. I remember the tears and excitement every time the UPS Truck would rumble down our street. Perhaps this time there would be those things my Mom promised me . . . . it never happened.

I don’t want to make it sound as if my elementary school years were completely awful. Yes, I remember crying in class several times for no reason other than “I missed my Mom,” but there were a lot of happy memories. My Grandparents were amazing people, and my brother and I often spent the summers with them. They were a constant source of love, positivity, and encouragement. I can still remember drifting off to sleep during those hot Midwestern summers, cicadas and crickets chirping outside the window, lightning bugs flashing through the sky. On those nights I slept in complete contentment.

My Father was (and remains) a rock. I did not do well on one side of the parenting pool, but I struck gold with the other. My Dad was my brother and I’s best friend, along with being a mother and a father. Even while working 60 to 80 hours a week he somehow still found time to coach soccer teams, go to school things, and do whatever else needed to be done. If I turn out to be half the man my Father is I’ll have done pretty well in this life.

After the first few years of estrangement from my Mother, my family moved across the country to rural Virginia, near the Tennesse/North Carolina/West Virginia border. That meant my Mom was only a few hours away, and she did bother to visit my brother and I a small handful of occasions. We were never allowed to leave the house with her, it was all just a few small reunions in our living room. It was nice, but all it really did was set my brother and I up for my disappointment. The last time I saw my mother was in Sixth Grade, the last time I talked to her was in Seventh. It’s now been about thirty years, and counting.

When the door closed on my Mother being a part of my life, the spectre of her continued to be a presence in our lives. I remember one gut-wrenching night on a church retreat after we had all been given letters from our parents to read. We were told to fan out and read the letters alone so that we might have some privacy while dealing with whatever emotions they dredged up. I went to look for my brother when he didn’t show up with everyone else a half hour or so later. I found him in a hidden little spot, a picture of our birth mother in his hands, and he was just a torrent of tears, crying over the letter we would both never receive. The memory of her leaving the two of us does not hurt me as much as the memory of what she reduced my brother to. All these years later its near impossible to write about.

My senior year of high school my Grandparents told me about a phone call they received from my Mother on Christmas Day of that year. At that point it had been almost six years since we had heard from her. She didn’t want to talk to my brother or I (and didn’t bother to get our new phone number) but she did ask about us. Her image of us must have been stuck in elementary school as she referred to my sixteen year old brother Chuck as “Chuckie.”

My father remarried a few years after his first divorce. To say that my step-mother and I didn’t get along would be putting it mildly. As an adult I completely recognize the impossible situation she and my father were in. They each had two boys, and complete integration of the six of us into a fully functioning healthy family unit probably wasn’t possible. I still love the two brothers I inherited from that situation, so it’s not like the experience was a total loss.

I do remember the last time I tried to celebrate Mother’s Day, and that was with my (then) Step-Mom. My father was out of town, and as the oldest (and the only employed sibling) I stepped up to try and do something for the day. I bought a cake, a card we all signed, and even a present from “all of us.” All I wanted out of it was a thank you, instead I got yelled at for no reason I could figure out. I stopped trying after that.

I still think about her now and again, and when I get wistful I play a lot of late 1970′s pop music. I have few memories of my Mother, but I do remember listening to the radio with her while we drove around in her giant blue Dodge. It’s not much, but sometimes you’ll look for and find the tiniest little thing to hold onto.

It wasn’t until I found the Goddess and converted to Paganism that I was able to have anything approaching a real relationship with a member of the opposite sex. The Lady has been a better “Mother” than the one I was born to. For those of you celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend I hope you treat your Mom like the blessing she is, and realize just how lucky you are.

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About Jason Mankey

Jason Mankey has been involved with Paganism for the last twenty years, and has spent the last ten of those years as a speaker, writer, and High Priest. Jason can often be found lecturing on the Pagan Festival circuit, so you might just bump into him. When not reading and researching Pagan history he likes to crank up the Led Zeppelin, do rituals in honor of Jim Morrison (of The Doors), and sing numerous praises to Pan, Dionysus, and Aphrodite. He lives in Sunnyvale CA with his wife Ari and two hyper-kinetic cats.


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