I view my mother as this superpower whose energy and love sort of hold my life together. No matter where I’ve traveled or lived or what kinds of crazy assed schemes I’ve come up with, my mother’s love has been my container. She contains so that I can live, so that I can be Ivy. I’ve never talked to my siblings about this so I have no idea if they feel the same way. If they do, then she’s containing three people, not just for nine months, but for the rest of her life. That’s an insane, unrelenting exertion of energy and love.
When I was younger, the containment was stifling. Like many teenagers who benefit from unconditional love, I wasn’t worried about love. I was worried about freedom. Turns out, my mother worried about the same thing with more mature perspective, of course. She didn’t want freedom to lead to bad decisions that would become a pattern and knock me totally off track. But for a time, I broke through that force field of love and got myself tangled in as many webs as I could.
As each web began to spin, mom would periodically flick her finger against it so I could feel her vibration, which felt very much to me like judgement. But it wasn’t. It was love. Sometimes the intensity of her flicking became a frantic Morse Code communicated through looks of what I mistook as complete and utter disappointment. But again, love. This time disguised as fear for whatever misstep—real or imagined, but usually real—that I was about to take.
In November 2016, I found out that I was pregnant. My husband had died in August 2015 and the day I peed on a stick, the father of the baby (we didn’t know it was twins yet) and I were not together. I disagreed with some of his lifestyle choices and knew it was time to move on. Not an outstanding situation, but not the end of the world either. Both the father and I were thirty-five. We had jobs. We both wanted kids and felt the other person would be a good parent even if we didn’t raise the kids together. I was excited about the pregnancy—I didn’t know what it was like to be a single mom and foolishly thought I’d just add it to my resume, no problem—but was terrified to tell my mom about it. I knew her reaction would reflect the truth in my heart—I had made a bad decision.
Finally, I got up the nerve to tell her about the pregnancy. I waited for mom to be home alone, got a few coffees and said with a smile, “I’m pregnant.”
All she said was, “Oh, Ivy” and then her entire face melted into her shoes. A flea probably felt larger than I did at that moment.
Well, my broken heart sat down and wrote her a letter. If I had been more in tune with my emotions, I would have told her that I felt crushed under what I perceived as judgement, that I was ashamed for being such a disappointment and wanted to crawl under a rock to avoid facing the pain I had obviously caused her. But I didn’t have the awareness or the words for that then. So I wrote what my mom interpreted as a complete and total attack on not just her mothering, but also her person. Fuck words fail me sometimes.
We didn’t talk for a while. When we finally did, I wouldn’t back down. I would not apologize. Yet a few months later, my mom and sister threw me a baby shower and my mom continued drumming up excitement for what we learned would be twins. When the twins were confined to the NICU for six weeks and I was forced to live in a hospital room, my mom and my sister were my main support. Their love contained me and kept me from losing my mind. When the boys were four months old and I left their dad the first time, my mom welcomed all three of us into her house. She did not patronize me. She did not say I told you so. She supported and loved and made us all safe in her container. Two months later, cancer came prancing along, its devil jazz hands ruffling the air, and once again my mother’s love was misconstrued. Because mom physically could not sit still and listen to me talk about cancer, because she wasn’t the first one up to my house to take care of me, she was left deflecting vicious judgements about her reactions to the cancer from all directions including mine.
Because I had postpartum depression and I was diagnosed with breast cancer when my boys were only six months old, I didn’t really feel like a mom until late last year when the major cancer treatments had ceased. So it took a while for me to understand that the lens I’d been viewing my mom through was one hundred percent complete bullshit. She doesn’t judge me. She doesn’t think I’m disappointing, she just loves me. The looks I’ve misconstrued, the words that have twisted through that lens, it’s all love.
After I finished radiation in October 2018, I remember lying in my bed sobbing, thinking “I just want to go home. I just want to go home.” I’ve always done this—cried for home. I’ve done it in foreign countries, I’ve done it in my physical homes, I’ve done it in my car. Even now when I’m lonely, my boys are away from me, or I’m working through some tough stuff, I cry in bed moaning for home. But where is home? I’ve struggled to answer this question my whole life. Where is that safe place? Why can’t I find it? Because I was looking instead of feeling. Home is that container.
My mom loves sayings. One that’s been on the side of the fridge near the coffee pot for a while says, “Hate only poisons the container it’s in.” If hate poisons the container, what does love do? Love offers unyielding compassionate. Love does not judge. Love raises twins. Love fights cancer. Love is strength. Love is home.
My mother’s love is the heartbeat of humanity. This is my home.