Jeni Marinucci: Panic Button Years


When You're Estranged From Mom on Mother's Day

How Can You Miss What You Never Had?

Mother’s Day is coming, and greeting card aisles marked “For Mom” are crowded and picked clean. Finding the right card was always a challenge for me, because my relationship with my mother was unconventional and cordial at best. When she and my father separated in 1978, I was five and although divorce wasn’t rare, that my mother left (and left us with) my father was.

I saw her occasionally; for many years she lived nearby, but visits to her house were rare. My mother was there, but mostly she wasn’t, so you can imagine that traditional Mother’s Day cards gushing with sappy sentiments weren’t ever appropriate. Blank ones were worse and their empty white space served only to punctuate the distance between us. But those were the ones I bought, except where one would have written a private joke or tribute to maternal sacrifice they were instead marked with an awkward scrawl, unchanged year after year, save for the quality of my penmanship.

My mother and I are now estranged. I don’t remember the circumstances that led to this although some details are clear because the hurt had been etched on us for years. It was like one day someone took a wax crayon broadside and rubbed it hard over us, revealing issues which had long been unmentioned. With no one wanting to address the problems it became easier to walk away. There was no fight, no big dramatic scene. Fighting takes intimacy and passion and commonality.

It’s hard to be upset about something you’ve never had. You can’t crave a flavour you’ve never tasted.

When friends complain about meddling mothers or agonize over fights and hurt feelings, I listen with rapt attention because I find it fascinating. “What’s it like to fight with your mother? Does she forgive you? Who calls who first?” I want to know. I am more intrigued by the logistics of the argument than the circumstances causing it in the first place. I have no interest in taking sides, but would rather dig like an explorer at the “how.” “Aren’t you worried she’ll never speak to you again?“ I ask. My friends look at me as though I have two heads. But what they don’t know is that I have never fought with my mother. I don’t know her well enough to fight with her and it’s likely I never will.

I am not a perfect mother. I lose my patience and I yell. I lock myself in the bathroom and eat the last cupcake. I lie about public swimming pools being closed “for maintenance” and I manipulate family movie night choices and I miss cues and I forget appointments. I skim homework and I serve French fries as the vegetable four days running and I get resentful sometimes, but I am close with my children. I am entangled in their lives so thoroughly that sometimes I feel they are stones through which my roots have grown.  I am in my children’s lives in ways my mother never was in mine, and this year for Mother’s Day, as long as my children are happy and healthy and secure in my undying, unwavering love for them, I won’t even care if we spend the day fighting.