My relationship with my mother is complicated. Of course it is. She is a product of her childhood, as we all are, and hers really sucked. Big time. She spent her formative years in the Tarnopol ghetto with a front row seat to starvation, cruelty and death. She and her mother escaped from the ghetto right before it was made Judenrein (Jew free) and were hidden in the attic of a barn for a year before being liberated by Russian soldiers. Upon liberation her legs were so atrophied that she had to learn to walk again.
Nowadays, if you have one traumatic experience, you go for years of counseling. But, back then, after the war, you simply carried on. End of story, or so they thought, but those of us who have been picking up the pieces, know better.
My father gathered mom in and sheltered her in the cocoon of his love. He never pushed her. The boundaries of her comfort zone were narrow and carefully maintained. She took excellent physical care of my brother and me, but emotionally it was a long climb down from that attic and I think she’s still stuck somewhere on one of those downward rungs.
When I was growing up mom had frequent, recurring nightmares about a little girl being chased by the Nazis. Not surprisingly, the little girl in the dream was her. One morning, as I was getting ready to go to school, mom informed me that she had had the dream again but this time when the little girl turned around she realized that the little girl in the dream was me. Recently, while we were driving somewhere mom told my kids that when I was a child she tried not to get attached to me because she was afraid something could happen to me. She failed in her attempt “not to get attached.” She didn’t say that. She didn’t have to. I just know it to be true because she is me and I am her and she and I are bound up in that most complex and timeless dance between mothers and their daughters.
We don’t all get a Hallmark mother. Some of us get a good enough mother with a great deal of baggage. If I complained to my father he would beseech me, “She’s doing the best she can. What do you want from her?” What indeed? There are no perfect mothers, just as there are no perfect daughters. Today, I thank God for the gift of a mother who emerged from her attic prison, bent but not broken, hobbled but not hopeless.
And from one flawed mother to another, I love you, mom.
This article first appeared on Helene’s blog. You can follow Helene on twitter @HeleneW123.