I struggled to make out the capital letters scrawled in Sharpie. It began, “Dear Mommy, I love you but…” I leaned in to read the rest of the phonetically spelled words.
“What does it say?” I asked tentatively. I’d started reading the letter expecting a confirmation of my best mom traits. Other of her notes have praised my cooking and cleaning. Not that she found either of these exceptional -- just remarked on the fact that I did them.
“All the time when I get in trouble, you always scream at me.” Instantly, I regretted having intercepted the letter while she was en route to deposit it on my pillow. I should’ve continued to the kitchen, summoned by sizzle, to prevent dinner from burning. Then, I would have discovered the letter upon falling asleep on a Sunday night, and being too tired-anxious to feel what I was feeling now, would have chalked it up to having an emotional child. Or, I wouldn’t have been able to decipher the text and it would have ended up in the drawer of my nightstand never to hurt me.
Mom used to yell at us when we were young. But, it was sort of like a sitcom yell. A little joke. When our bickering drove her witless she would call us shit-heads or make a joke song about beating our asses to the ground/stomp us all over town in a sing-song fifties jingle sort of way. It sounds abusive which is why it’s funny. We’d all be in the car heading south on 59 about to exit Beltway 8 and be laughing together - the previous tension unfurling in our path.
If I wrote my mom a letter, I wonder what she would’ve thought.
When I see a mom screaming at her child on the subway, I immediately know that I’m not that. I am warm, open minded. I allow Willow to watch pre-teen romantic comedies produced by the Disney Channel. We bake together and I don’t like baking. I straighten her hair. We paint our nails. We have mommy-daughter days with oreo milkshakes from Shake Shack. I let her wear very light glossy lip colors. Basically, I’m going to load a bunch of good memories into the vault like a squirrel.
When I'm frustrated with Willow, I work really hard to speak calmly just as my mom tried to be softer than her mom. But, there is still an unfocused meanness born of having to mother that is detectable even by a child. Willow had to point it out. "I love you but...."