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Illustration by Drew Shannon

It’s a few days shy of that annual ritual of thinking about your mother – and all the other mothers who have made you. And to perhaps re-examine motherhood itself.

In Souvankham Thammavongsa’s book How to Pronounce Knife, a mother screams at her unappreciative daughter: “But let me say this to you. And you, you remember it! You remember it! No one really wants to be a mother. But you can’t know for you sure until you are one.”

This is the stark opposite to every Pandora jewelry advertisement (though the SNL spoof is hilarious!). This is the sentiment that does not find itself artfully transcribed in a Hallmark card. This is the tone that peppers most conversations in the movie Lady Bird. This is the rage that occasionally bubbles up in many of us mothers. The things we sometimes say out loud or in angry texts or e-mails. The things we mercifully manage to scream in our inside voices. The things we can’t even admit to our own mothers.

We go through the biological rite of passage and birth a human. Many will say that it is a privilege. Perhaps they are right. Or perhaps it is a burden. Likely, something in between. In this ancient process our bodies are ripped apart and, finally, we expel this shriveled parasite. I mean that in the scientific sense. I know the relationship will hopefully grow into an emotional symbiosis, but let’s be honest. From conception to 18 years of age, it’s more parasitic. Our children feed on us – during the embryonic and fetal stages through our umbilical cord, during birth and toddlerhood on our breast and then emotionally for the rest of our lives.

It’s the constant cooking, cleaning, nurturing that a mother does to ensure the survival of her young. Have you observed nature? What a mother will do to protect her young is the stuff of legends. Instinct trumps everything. Even love or lack of it. A mother does all these things, hoping, wishing that one day her children will look back and appreciate her – at the very least in her role as mother. It is playing the long game when the rules are vague and you’re never sure what the prize is.

I truly believe there is no greater emotional wear on a human than that felt by a mother. Your children hurt you constantly – by their distance and dismissiveness. By your disappointment in them. They were meant to be better versions of you! And the harsh reality is that they are not at all versions of you, let alone improvements on the template.

They cut you so many times in so many ways. You dream and yearn for their departure, but can already feel the hole in your heart beginning to form when it finally happens. It is the push-pull, love-hate of such a complicated relationship.

Is it strange that motherhood is one letter shy of “otherhood”? As they leave your home and your life, you begin to understand the otherhood. The nest, which was once abundant with life, turns eerily quiet. You are replaced by the other when the mothering stops – the friends, the adventures, the successes and failures that have nothing to do with you. Every mother must feel this unrequited longing at some point.

But, I think along with the pain comes a freedom. A freedom from expectation. The bread has been baked; it is an irreversible reaction. The job of mothering is done, for better or for worse. And for many of us, we tried our best despite the generational disappointments before us.

I remember the moments when I hated my mother. I realize now that there are certainly moments she hated me in return. But hate is still something, is it not? At least we know the relationship is alive and pulsing, even in those traumatic moments. It’s quiet indifference that would actually kill it.

Most mothers love their children very much. Their pain will always be our pain, linked like an emotional umbilical cord. But the face of the love changes, just as your own child’s face does – the baby’s roundness replaced by the angularity of adulthood. And as that love changes, so must the relationship.

Now, at 47, I certainly don’t need my mother for anything. It is a harsh and irrevocable truth. But though the need is gone, it is replaced with a want – a salve to that torturous verity. I want her in my life because I see now there is no other person who will love me, if even from afar, with so committed a love. I am selfish. And even now, as my mother doles out that unconditional love, I absorb it greedily. Because, frankly, it is what gives me the strength to mother my own children.

Happy Mother’s Day.

Geeta Kamath lives in Etobicoke, Ont.

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