This is not the usual mother’s lament of enduring her husband and children’s attempts to show me their gratitude through being helpful for one whole hour during which I must eat a breakfast that resembles their favorites and a day full of “it’s mom’s choice”, although that all transpired.
No, I actually closed out “Mothers Day” thinking of my mother and wishing things were different now. She is long deceased (almost 10 years now). Yes, I am who I am because of her relentless, selfless parenting, her nurturing if not overinvolved attention, her adventurous spirit, and her fearlessness. Yes, she drove me crazy alive. Yes, I miss her, anyway.
But this Mothers Day, I begrudged her leaving behind her role of “mother” to me. You see, upon her death, she made me and my oldest sister, Anne, “trustees” of our middle sister “Kathy’s” 1/3 portion of her investments. Kathy just turned 50 earlier this month. At her birth, she suffered a brief loss of oxygen and while she has grown up seemingly “normal” she has a just above functional IQ and the emotional maturity of a 14 year old. Which means since she was about 14, she’s driven my parents mad with her feckless path through life, enduring accidental pregnancies and accidentally-on-purpose pregnancies, countless gumball-machine engagements, bounced checks, sky-high credit card debt, lost jobs, broken hearts, etc. Let’s just say, “making good choices” has never been her long suit.
My mother never got a break. She was still teaching Kathy right from wrong, good choices from bad choices, budgeting, social dynamics and consequences, job training, perpetual relationship counseling up until her death. When she died, I lost a mother and a friend; Kathy lost a mother, a therapist, a teacher and a bank.
It was after she died that I learned that Anne and I were to assume her role as all of these things. Only in our case, instead of being well down the path of life, we were just getting started. I had on child, almost 3 and had my 2nd child later in the same year she died. Anne had twins five years later. So in addition to raising our own children. My own children. We continue to raise Kathy.
My children are now 11 and 8 years old. They are wonderful, healthy well-adjusted children. I am proud of who they are. And I have Kathy. Who I desperately want to be normal, and who I think desperately wants me to think her lifestyle is normal, and yet baffles every brain cell in my body.
She, of course, calls me on Mother’s Day eve, to tell me her live-in boyfriend has left the house in a rage and whatever is she going to do about it? Oh Mother-oh-mother, I get to be “counselor” now! And so I calmly help her navigate through what has historically been a minor skirmish in the battle she calls love. I know how this will end. Despite the fact that I only get the calls from her about how much she can’t live with this person any more, how she can’t tolerate this person any more, because he stormed off first she must have him back. I can’t decide if it’s the 14-year old in her or the 30 years of soap opera watching that dictates her behavioral response.
And on Mother’s Day, she calls Anne to ask for money because she didn’t get an unemployment check and she is overdrawn, and she has “no food”. Anne calls me, on Mothers Day, so we can do Mother’s work still. This is what we do as sisters to Kathy: we co-parent. From 2500 miles away.
I fill in the gaps for Anne: Kathy told me yesterday in her sorrow and dismay of the relationship breakup scare, that the boyfriend wanted her to ask us for more money from her trust for them to live on. That would be one red flag. Yes, we are constantly giving her money. That’s what we’re supposed to do as trustee, but since Mom’s instructions were essentially to “mother like me”, we have no legal ground to stand on to say no even to ridiculously manipulated situations demanding financial support.
Never mind that just last week, for Kathy’s birthday, she drove to a casino with same said boyfriend and played the slots. Never mind that with birthday money hot in her hands, she just went shopping and purchased all new linens for her new bed (bed courtesy of the trust). The request will be denied. It will likely return morphed into something more tragic.
These events are by no means isolated. It is constant and chronic. There is no let-up in the manipulations. The circumstances. The requests. The pleas. Being sought out as banker and counselor is a near everyday event. Silence happens when she is flush. The calls come when she is short. In between is some social crisis.
And so, Mothers Day comes and goes with the frustrating reminder that I am Mother to more than my own children. Of course, I love Kathy. Like a sister. That comes naturally. It is loving her like a Mother that is awkward and unfair. Mother meant well; it was her love and concern and care she undoubtedly wanted to continue after her death. She figured who better to carry on her mission of raising Kathy to be a productive citizen. I’m sure she didn’t realize, until too late maybe, that she was saddling me (and Anne) with the pain and frustration of keeping Kathy safe and out of trouble. Her guilt over a difficult birth translated to a lifetime of trying everything under the sun from toughlove, to tutors and counseling and included the sacrifice of her happiness and her marriage. While I inherited her edict and her means, I didn’t inherit the guilt and so I cannot be Kathy’s Mother. It doesn’t come off the same.
Our relationship as sisters is perverted by my role as mother-trustee. I can no longer think of her as a sister peer. Perhaps that would have faded with age anyway but I’ll never know. And my own parenting of my own children is affected. It is never naive, as I have my Mothering of Kathy as a constant reminder of what can go so wrong.
I now must work harder to keep the focus on my own children. There’s no legal contract that says I have to do that, but I do. The legal and fiduciary obligations I have are to mother my sister; a seemingly nebulous, endless task.
You have made it hard, Mother, to keep my own family a priority. I know you never meant to do that. I forgive you. I loved you deeply Mother. You were a great mother. I hope I’ll be as good a mother.
To my own children.