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Because I want to, because I can

Posted: March 17th, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Column | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments »

I had a tempestuous relationship with my mother for most of my life, possibly because I didn’t understand anything but my own needs and desires and had no patience with anyone else’s, but when that was over we were great friends up until she got senile dementia. I lost her in 2004. I remember her as a flirt, a practical woman who knew how to cook and how to beat children, a voracious reader, a loving mother who did the best she could. She always said she preferred boys to books and that is how she came out with three A’s and six O’s (one son named Abraham, a son and daughter named Allen, and six children named Ollivierre); she had no passes and no qualifications of any kind but managed to find ways to feed and clothe us all, even if it meant leaving some of us for her own mother to mind.

Barbara Jenkins has written a wonderful story about her own mother’s struggles to make ends meet and what she learned from her mother; I don’t mean to repeat that in this post. The reason I’m writing this is because Miss Thing, my eldest, said to me today that she is slightly afraid that once she turns 18 in two months I will stop doing all the things I do for her. Miss Thing is spoiled, to some extent. I drive her around, buy her the things she needs and some of the things she wants, listen to her, talk to her, do her hair, give her tips on makeup and clothes, and generally make myself available to her as much as she needs (even if it’s not necessarily as much as she wants all the time). Parenting like I do it can be exhausting, physically and emotionally, and I think she now recognises that. Turning 18 might mean, she thought, that I wouldn’t have to do any of those things for her anymore.

Well, the truth is that I’m not legally obliged to do most of those things for her even now. I do them because I want to, and because I can. My own mother stopped taking me shopping when I was barely a teen; I was given money and sent on my way to do what I wanted or had to with it. Our contentious relationship meant we were not confidants–far from it. My mother was the last person I would talk to about anything, small or large. All my big decisions–what to study, whether to marry, what to do with my life–I made on my own or with the input of my siblings, boyfriend or friends. In fact, my mother actively resisted being drawn into my life: when I was a teen and downed a bottle of Tylenol in a melodramatic attempt to end it all, it was my boyfriend who held my hand while I was wracked with stomach pains and despair. My mother refused to take me to the hospital and we never discussed it again.

While I’m not blind to her faults, neither am I consumed with bitterness over my childhood with her. She did the best she could with the resources she had and so do I; but what I do for Miss Thing and her sister The Lady is a direct consequence of the childhood I had. For every taxi I had to take alone at any hour of the day or night, I drive the girls to their destinations and pick them back up or arrange for them to be picked up. For every pair of shoes or panties I had to pick out myself, I go with them to buy theirs. For each decision I had to puzzle through on my own, I give them the tools and advice to make the best choices they can. For each dodgy character I befriended and *shudder* dated, I vet their choices of friends in subtle and sometimes obvious ways. I want them to be independent and powerful women, but I don’t think they need to learn those skills the hard way, as I did.

I loved my mother and cherish her memory, but I am not my mother. I hope my daughters one day look back at their childhood and say, “She did the best she could with the resources she had and she did a damn good job.”


8 Comments on “Because I want to, because I can”

  1. 1 Navid Lancaster said at 4:24 pm on March 17th, 2011:

    Thanks for the blog. I didn’t know about the Tylenol incident. 🙁
    You reminded me about my father issues in my teens and early twenties (and you know some of it). He passed away 6 months 5 days ago.
    I love my father and also cherish his memory, but I am not my father.
    A really great and touching blog …. thanks for sharing.

  2. 2 Trinidad & Tobago: What Mothers Do · Global Voices said at 5:24 pm on March 17th, 2011:

    […] powerful women, but I don’t think they need to learn those skills the hard way, as I did”: Lisa Allen-Agostini blogs about the mother-daughter relationship. […]

  3. 3 Trinidad & Tobago: What Mothers Do | Daringsearch said at 5:25 pm on March 17th, 2011:

    […] powerful women, but I don’t think they need to learn those skills the hard way, as I did”: Lisa Allen-Agostini blogs about the mother-daughter […]

  4. 4 Cheryl Wright said at 5:43 pm on March 17th, 2011:

    A touching tribute to a mother who did the best she could with what she had. And somewhere in that story, she did a damn good job, because after all, look at you!

    You are creating a different legacy for your girls.

  5. 5 dawn said at 7:48 pm on March 17th, 2011:

    what an honest piece of writing
    very thought provoking and makes me miss my Mom
    14 yrs since she passed
    she too did the best she could with what she had available –
    and i too am not my mother, but i do struggle at some level with identifying with her.

  6. 6 Trinidad & Tobago: What Mothers Do @ Current Affairs said at 9:49 pm on March 17th, 2011:

    […] powerful women, but I don’t think they need to learn those skills the hard way, as I did”: Lisa Allen-Agostini blogs about the mother-daughter […]

  7. 7 Jumbie said at 12:48 am on March 18th, 2011:

    I had issues with both parents… more so with my mom, since my dad passed on before I got to my teens. He was a violent man, and the scars still remain. My mom did the best she could with what she had, but sometimes that inflicted scars too.

    Now I am unlike either. But my daughter is well-behaved, exceptionally loved and she knows it.

    I could not ask for more.

  8. 8 Lisa-Marie said at 7:25 am on March 18th, 2011:

    Very touching Lisa, very beautiful.


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