I get a text from my stepmother today. She wishes me a happy Mother’s Day filled with relaxation and she tells me she loves me. I am confused at first, but then I remember that it is Dia de las Madres in Mexico, where she is from. We see each other two or three times per year during obligatory holidays and birthdays. We are civil. I give her a present even though she tells me that it is not necessary. I tell her I love her even though I don’t feel it. I call her Mom even though I resent it; we were forced to call her that as children, to replace the biological mother with her, at least semantically. It’s been too many years. Why change now? That would only cause further hurt.
She married my father when I was five years old. He was twenty years older than she, poor, with five children. My eldest brother was only three years her junior. She spoke no English. It was a marriage, I believe, of convenience, a business deal, and I imagine that was very hard on her. She raised me and is the only mother I really knew. I spoke Spanish fluently as a child, lived with her family in Mexico for weeks at a time on trips that taught me what poor really means (no running water, tar paper walls, tin roofs). I was raised with her culture, even though I was a tall, blue-eyed, white girl. Several years ago, when she and my father divorced after nearly 25 years of marriage, she told me she never wanted to see me again, that it was too painful for her to be around my siblings and me. She did not mean this maliciously, and given her selective memory, I doubt she even remembers saying it. That is simply how she felt in that moment, and she saw no reason not to tell me. She was emotionally and physically abusive growing up, but I do not think she was capable of more. I don’t justify her actions, but they don’t make me angry anymore.
I text her back: “Thanks, Mom….Love you, too.” There is no vitriol behind it, nor is there affection. There are just words. I am grateful that I no longer feel the need to buy cards with neutral language (“hope you have a nice day” vs. “you’re the greatest mother alive”) and attempt to scrawl something that sounds genuine. I am an adult now, and a mother, too, and I do what I please on Mother’s Day. I have no obligations to either of those women who once loomed so large, not on Mother’s Day, not on any day. And there is something really freeing about that.
Now, a photograph of a teddy bear: