By the time I became a teenager I really disliked my mother. She was very controlling, and I also thought she was a prude.
I spent almost my entire adult life trying not to be her. To make matters worse we even looked like each other and were both redheads. I often joked that I moved 3000 miles and married a Jew to get away from her. I became wildly adventurous, and certainly the black sheep of the family. By way of background, I was brought up as a good Catholic girl, and among other things, a late bloomer where boys were concerned, and quite predictably, my mother was determined to keep it that way.
I was in my first semester of college and accompanied my family on a skiing trip to Austria. Late one evening, when I should have been in bed, a rather handsome young Australian invited me up to the hotel rooftop to look at the stars. The air was crisp, the sky was clear and the view of all the twinkling lights in the snowy village, simply enchanting. When my companion made all the expected moves; first his arm was around my shoulder and ooh.. his hand was moving down my back, I then had to confess to him that I had never been kissed before. He was eager to be my tutor, and I was only too eager to be his student!
Having watched romantic movies, I knew how it started, a little leaning back, mouth slightly open and then I found myself in the middle of the most delicious and protracted necking session. What wonderful tingling feelings! Then to my horror, it happened: the squeaky door to the rooftop swung open and it was my mother, standing arms akimbo, uttering in her regal British voice
“Mercia, I would just like to remind you about your early morning ski lesson” and then she was gone! I was mortified. Absolutely humiliated! My first kiss interrupted by my Mother! Alas, that broke the magic, and shortly thereafter I went to bed. And I vowed that this was the last vacation that I would ever take with my parents!
A few years later, when I bought a condo, my mother announced that she and my father were going to be paying me a state visit. I was living with my fiancé but the condo had two bedrooms, and my parents could of course sleep in the guest room. However, I told my astonished fiancé that for the duration of their visit, he needed to sleep on the couch. He did so very reluctantly.
Meanwhile, for the entire visit, my mother would remark constantly to him.
“How generous and thoughtful of you to give up your bedroom for us.”
Quite honestly, I was really quite incredulous that here I was in my mid-twenties, being maneuvered in pretending that I did not have a sex life. This was a ludicrous charade which carried on until the day we got married.
I am now in my thirties, and I finally confronted my father about his chronic infidelity to my mother. He justified it by saying
“Your mother just doesn’t like sex.” It confirmed what I had known for years that she was a prude. But he didn’t tell me everything.
Years later, my mother was dying of Alzheimer’s and had been in a non-responsive coma for days. I flew to London. Shortly before, I went to the nursing home, my father felt the need to unburden himself of family secrets. He told me that my mother had had a backstreet abortion during World War II and said she never got over it.
As I entered her ward, I felt overwhelmed with compassion and sadness, finally understanding why she had missed out on such an important part of a woman’s life. Suddenly, my lifelong perception of my mother as a controlling prude shifted. I could see she had been merely trying to prevent her eldest daughter from repeating her own mistakes. I felt so ashamed. And now, I did not even recognize her, this skeletal white-haired old woman ( oh where was the red hair), was lying peacefully in a white nightdress with her arms lying, oh so thin, on top of the bedclothes.
My eyes are filling with tears. My sister is saying,
“She can still hear you but she won’t be able to respond”
I start to plead,
“Mum. It is me Mercia from America. I know you can hear me. Just lift one finger. Please show me, you can hear me-please”.
After the longest wait, to everyone’s astonishment, a finger on her left hand rose ever so slightly! She can hear me!
I knew I had one last chance to set the record straight between us.
“Mum, I want you to know before you go, that I love you and you were a good Mother. I am proud to be your daughter.”