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My Tough Buddha Mom

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I took a picture of my mom at Halloween, just 9 days before she had her stroke at the ripe old age of 63.

I love this picture and I’m glad that I was the one to take it. It’s kind of like a little gift we gave each other before I was called up for dragon slaying duty. I can see the best of my mom in it. Her sense of humor, her willingness to let her children mock her when necessary for their own amusement, her enjoyment of life, her laughter, her love of people… 

So where are the dragons? 

Everywhere! The trick was sorting out the real ones from the ones in my head.

You see, my mom and I have had a long history. Nearly 43 years of it as a matter of fact. And before you go jumping on the bandwagon of “let the past be the past” let me stop you and just say that IT IS! But the past is also context to understand the course of our relationship, so I have to begin there in order to do the dragons justice.

My mother either has the ideal concept of motherhood or the most distancing concept. Maybe the concept was right on but it was the execution that was distancing. I’m still mulling that over.  

In a nutshell, her belief is that mothers are simply portals to bring new souls into the world to work out their karmic journey.  

Now, I could fill a book (and probably will) with all the stories, funny, tragic and everything in between about what being raised by someone with this perspective was like.  

The bottom line for my purposes here is that it was distancing.

“Good luck with that karmic journey, kids, let me know how it turns out for you. Meanwhile, I’ll just be over here working on mine. I just can’t be there for you right now. I’m sure you’ll understand. I mean, I have my own life to deal with…”

My mom’s journey…it has made me crazy more times than I can count (in the past week alone!). It’s what landed her in the hospital. It’s also what earned her Superhero props from me.

Yep. Superhero.

My mother has never apologized for being who she is. 

And my God, have we wanted her to.

My mother has made choices that have been so self-destructive at times (like not taking her blood pressure medicine even after 2 hospitalizations for hypertension and having a father who had his first stroke of many at age 64) that we have been astounded and baffled. How an intelligent woman can be so dumb is beyond our comprehension.

And it’s beyond hers as well. She’s the first one to say it. She just says it. “Yep. I don’t get it either.” She’s not crying, or remorseful or wanting pity or anything. 

It just is what it is.  

My mother lives in a world in her mind that is so different from her day to day reality all I can do is shake my head and wonder at her (on my good days). Even from her hospital bed she is assuring us that she is living to 100, returning to work, and maybe will end up marrying her grade school sweet heart (with whom she’s had no contact in 50 years) because a psychic predicted a late life second marriage for her about 30 years ago and she did dream about him a couple times.  

And when I point out her failure to grasp what I consider to be reality (like the fact that this stroke was severe and she has to work her butt off now and not just shoot for 100 with good intentions), she laughs a little and says, “Yeah, I guess that Little Butterfly bit really was true.”

And then she’ll add something like, “But I think that’s good. I’m just on my path.”

“What path is that, Ma? And please don’t say ‘self destruction'”.

She purses her lips and considers, “Perpetual Optimism.”

Now, as a daughter in the same region of the country, you might imagine that this has presented some problems for me. Mostly because of my own mythology: the beliefs I had been harboring about the role of the oldest daughter. (Beliefs aided by various opinions being shared with me about what that role entails.)

Seeing my mother as a Superhero could not have been further from my mind when I saw her the first time in her hospital bed.  

“Good strong Greek blood! That’s why I’m still here!”  

My God, she’s looking at this as a victory! Ma! A stroke at 63 is not a sign of genetic superiority!!

I was so pissed at my mother’s irresponsibility I couldn’t even tell you whether or not I loved my her. 

And now I can tell you that I do.  

You see, here’s the thing…my mother has a capacity that amazes me: she walks her talk in a very bizarre way.

For as many needs as she has, she really doesn’t expect you to fix her life for her. She’ll let you, if you want to gain karmic grace, but that’s up to you. If not, that’s cool, too. She has said to me more than once in our tortured relationship and more than once in our times of friendship (we’ve had both), that she is fully aware that she is where she is in life because of the way she has made her choices and she is quite firm about saying, “Get back on your own path! how many times do I have to say that I have my own life?”

And she means it. And if she ends up in a nursing home at 64 because no one is equipped (physically, financially, psychologically or otherwise) to take her in, ‘It is what it is.”

Thank God one of us was paying attention while I was off creating some mother-daughter drama in my head. I was trying to make reality fit into my beliefs (and the beliefs of a smattering of family) and having a heck of a time and resenting her all the while. I was dreading my hospital visit with her. I was so afraid she would want us to be something we had never been to each other.
She didn’t. Frankly, I don’t think she could pull it off any more than I could.
As I was preparing to go, my mom said, “I love you.”

I said, “I love you, too. But I’m very frustrated with you and concerned about how you are going to play this out and I’m trying to find that love underneath all that frustration.”

She nodded, understanding. “I know that’s hard for you. But you are strong enough that you’ll be able to do it. No one ever said life was going to be easy. If it was, where would be the grace in that?”

Yes, this is your path. I am your mother and I fully accept myself and all the choices I have made and I know it’s been hard for you to accept me the way I am but that’s your work, not mine. I am who I am. You figure out the rest. Good luck with it. Really. I wish I could help with that but I can’t. I’ll be fine with what you decide either way. How you feel about me, in the end, and who you will say I was to you is up to you. I did the best I could and played my hand the way I played it. I’ve never asked anyone to fix it for me or to save me from myself. This stroke didn’t change a thing. Don’t give what you can’t give. And don’t feel bad about what you can’t give. You have to make the choices that are right for you. You have your own path. Don’t you forget that. That’s why you were born…to walk your path. Now get moving…

Do you see the Superhero action here?

I mean, how many of us are REALLY prepared to take the consequences of our behavior? We live in a society just crazy with entitlement. We stub our toe and we look to see who we can sue. We are not a society that knows how to endure pain, or negative consequences of any type very well. How many of us would really let everyone off the hook of taking care of them when doing so means that you may end up losing your home? It isn’t that she will refuse the help, but she won’t take any help that has a single string attached. If you want to give something, give it. But make sure it’s a gift because she wants to be as independent as possible, even if she cuts off her nose to spite her face.  
She is a woman of her convictions. I can’t understand her reasoning for almost any decision she makes but she really doesn’t care about what I think.
It’s kind of refreshing.

So, dragon corpses are everywhere. That doesn’t mean that I’m done grieving. It really does pain me to see my mother so altered. There are still issues like mortality and such to deal with.

And, whether she’s at home, or in a nursing home, or somewhere in between, I know I’ll be able to talk to her about it. We can share perspectives and she’ll let me be as baffled by her as I want, as long as I keep my feet on my own path.

Yep, she’s a Buddha. A freakin’ ass toughie of a Buddha. She gets it even when I don’t.

Laura says, “I want to learn about love. I want to learn how to do it. I want to explore my capacity to love to the very end of my abilities. I think this is why I am here as a human. I think this is our human work. To learn how to do this one thing. ”

Buddha says, “Got a funny story for you. Once there was this woman who believed that her role as a mother was simply to be a portal for another soul to enter the world to work out their karmic journey…”

Could we be a better match? 

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About Laura Young

  • This is a really good, thoughtful piece. Thank you, Laura, for sharing this… kinda makes me want to send it to my mom. 🙂