It seems completely fitting to be starting this journal about my mother today of all days. Today is her birthday.
Earlier today I was standing in the middle of the aisle at the grocery store, trying to buy her a birthday card, and trying not to fall apart. It wasn’t until I picked up the first card, and started to read it that I remembered how much I hated to do this.
My mom had asked earlier, if on her birthday, my brother and I could take her out for dinner. My brother hasn’t answered her phone calls in years, so it was up to me to organize it. There wasn’t a whole lot to organize but to make sure I picked her up and brought my kids.
The kids were waiting for me in the car, as I told them I was just going to run in to grab a card and some flowers. So here I was, picking up card after card, expressing such love and admiration for a woman who daily rose above all expectations, to be the world’s best mom.
What was supposed to take me a minute to grab a card took several, as I tried to hold back the tears. That’s not true. That’s not true. Each card I picked up I put back down. Each being a reminder of what I didn’t have in a mom.
After finally finding one that wasn’t all touchy-feelily, I decided to grab one for the kids to give to her too. Again, I was reminded, she’s not the typical grandma either. A feeling was stirring deeply inside. But what is this feeling? And why?
I grab a vase of flowers, and headed for the checkout line.
In the car, I try to wipe the tears behind my sunglasses before my kids notice. I don’t want my feelings to put a damper on their time with their grandma. But the more I try to understand why I’m upset, the more the tears fall.
It’s obvious to me my mom’s love language is Quality Time. Every time I talk to her she reminds me how lonely she is. It doesn’t matter that there are probably over 400 people who live in the same assisted living facility as her.
I think back to my childhood. The one where my brother and I were frequently left alone. But because I was so young I question if I’m remembering it right. Sure, she left us alone but maybe I’m just forgetting about the quality time we did have.
But then I think of when I was a teenager. I was pretty self-sufficient. I didn’t need her to baby me anymore, but I still needed my mother. She worked as a waitress and spent a lot of time after hours with her co-workers. Some who were the same age as me. I remember very clearly being jealous of those other girls who got to spend time with my mom. They were always going out together, while I was left at home.
Then in college, my mom had since left my dad and remarried. I was invited to come over, and I did often. Every day in fact, but I also remember every time the phone rang, she was done with me. She would spend hours on the phone as I sat patiently waiting for her to get off. I remember joking I was going to have to leave and call her, if I wanted her attention.
But the funny thing was, whenever she was sad, not just sad, but whenever she was depressed, her husband would tell her, “Call Kim. She’ll make you feel better.” And I always did. I loved making my mom feel better. It made me feel special. It made me feel loved.
But today as I drove my family over to pick her up for her birthday dinner, I remembered how Quality Time is her love language and all those times she didn’t want to spend any of it on me. That is, until she had no one else to spend her time with. Then she did. Then she needed me to make her feel loved.
So here I am years later, with a family of my own, bitter because I feel when I should have been getting the firsts of her love, I was always given what was left.
And that’s exactly how I feel right now. I’m getting her leftovers. She has pushed everyone she has loved away. No one else is left. Not even my brother. And the hour she had with him during her birthday dinner, meant the world to her, and I got what was left.
But I guess that’s my own fault. See, I’m not the prodigal son. I’m not the one who left. I’m the one who’s always been there, resenting the fatten calf she always pulls out when he’s around.
Always feeling second best. Not worthy of anything else.
I try to convince myself she loves me, she just can’t show me. When she speaks love to me with Quality Time, it just feels fake. I just feel used.