• Lilacs-vickimcleod.com

    Warning: this post includes long-form writing and poetry.


    A study of sentiment, in which we find out that Mother’s Day may not be all it is cracked up to be, and a daughter’s tender heart is laid bare. Hallmark excluded, poetry saves all.

    Full-meal deal:

    Yesterday we celebrated the 92nd birthday of my dear mother-in-law who, though declining, lights up with joy at the sight of a yellow birthday cake. Often, she is moored to a different reality than we are, and we miss her here in this one, but still she brightens at the mention of eclairs or Brandon, Manitoba.

    A fiercely intelligent woman, bookish and cultured, with a clear soprano singing voice, on good days she discusses politics and sings favourite hymns.

    She misses using her legs and reading. She loves lilacs.

    She is paddling away from us, travelling to mistier shores. On visits, she requests that I play the piano. I do not play. I never have, and I know this is a disappointment, reigning as she does a family of the musically adept. I disappoint her again each time she asks.

    We cannot always do what our mothers ask of us, nor be who they imagine us to be, and in fairness, neither can they live up to our glossy expectations of them.

    I was born in the late fifties, a time of shiny hopes and advertising. ‘Family’ had a standard brand, and ours wasn’t exactly standard. I came up poor, at least at the beginning. Home smelled like tobacco, and beer, and a certain sweet, powdery smell that came off my mother’s lipstick. It smelled like old candy and when I was small, it made me hungry.

    In those days we had long summers and short tempers, and the cycle of life was dictated by shift work and coupon days. Times were harder than they looked in magazines, and people were sadder. Families had ‘troubles’ but you didn’t talk about them.

    The sixties cracked things open, and by the seventies there were questions to be asked and answers expected.

    I’ve been in a backchannel conversation this weekend with a couple of colleagues and friends. We’re talking about Mother’s Day, and the impact it has if your mother is gone, or you have a difficult or estranged child, or never had children, or if you are losing your mother in a wilderness of decaying brain cells.

    The Internet and social media amplify these special occasions. Facebook, for example just came up with a new flower emoticon to express thankfulness, precisely for Mothers Day. This amplification of occasions creates a hyperawareness, not of the true and sometimes thorny landscape families navigate, but of a kind of false homegeny. All mothers must be loved. All children must be dutiful. We must all be thankful, or joyful, or happy. Click here.

    Relationships are complex, especially between mothers and daughters. Sons, too, I suspect. These attachments are not straightforward. Our tender bids are barbed with history.

    It’s Mothers Day, and I’ve still got my mother and I am grateful as hell for that. She lost hers when she was only in her forties, and it was a bitter and terrible goodbye.

    Anna Jarvis, the mother of Mother’s Day (who later, spent her lifetime railing against the commercialization of the tradition, and the profiteering by florists and greeting card makers) envisioned it as a day of sentiment, springing from the profound loss of her own mother. Sentiment is defined as a sensitiveness to emotional feelings. Our feelings run an intricate gamut, laced as they are with the layers of our selfhood.

    I love my mama with all my heart and I am beyond grateful to her (thankful: insert purple flower emoticon here) but our relationship is real. It was born in blood. We’re complex women, with a complex history, one that deserves to be honoured, its prickly sensitivities revered.

    I wrote a poem for my mother in 1992. You can find it below. It is the expression of the journey I had been on in those years – the eighties, the nineties. Finding myself. Finding her.

    Those years I learned to understand how love and pain live side-by-side, equally fierce in binding us to the territory of family.


    To My Mother
    This is a poem to my mother
    whose heart I broke a thousand
    blundering teenage ways, and then
    more surely, swiftly aimed my adult neglect.

    My mother, whose bold face and straight neck
    fill the pictures of my life printed on
    a tangled battleground of memories
    etched in tender blood.

    Whose deft, sort hands pressed shirts,
    held fast to mine in crowds
    flung stinging slaps for small betrayals
    and traced lovingly the lines of my father’s
    awkward, rugged body.

    Her fingertips translated life for me,
    left soft printmarks in the snowstorm
    of my growing up.

    Although I watched her every move
    with careful teenage scrutiny
    I could not find a roadmap to
    that cunning angelic grace and brave rage.

    I hunted clues in the forest of my mother
    to find the woman I would become,
    skirted leafy mazes, hid in gloomy trenches
    built deep fortresses armed with battalions of rejection
    with which to sight myself within in her.

    Because you were my mother,
    I waged war at your garden gate,
    and did not stop my bitter campaign
    to thank you for the pale woman-blossoms
    that flourished, nursed by mercy,
    in the scarred and battered soil that surrounded us.

    I do not know if any daughter can ever thank
    the indomitable armies of motherhood
    for the swift, sweet guerilla training
    in a fragile and treacherous rise to womanhood.

    So I write this for you, mother
    that many soft-footed angels
    may blunder their way to your bedside
    bearing on their wide white wings
    a thousand child-daughter kisses
    to guard your fortresses through the night.

    VM – c.1992



    I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post. Please comment below.

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    With thanks to Angela Crocker for the research on Anne Jarvis.

  • 1 comment

    Powerful resonance! I was blessed with a life with my mother who would have been 96 this year. She died nine years ago and my journey with her the last year and a half of her life was one that drew us closer and more loving. The path was not without the usual prickles and weeds that needed to be uprooted and dealt with to make way for the flowers to bloom. We sorted out a lot emotionally before she died and having shared both my appreciation to her for the many gifts and attributes she passed along to me, I also shared the impact of her anger, her "unfinished business" and her unpredictable moods on my development and on my beliefs about myself. I didn't turn out to be the predictable daughter, living my life as I chose, loving who I wanted and not following the prescription I was given early on. We talked for hours, cried, explained, listened, shrieked with laughter and cried again. It was the best time of our lives together... forgiveness gave way to a deeper understanding of who we had both become. So your poem, written all those years ago to your Mom, resonates...big time. I love your imagery, the many contrasts, the way you make a bumpy ride seem to flow. Thank you for sharing this with us...it is another beautiful example of your emotional intelligence and your willingness to be real.