It was a mild January afternoon. We hadn’t had school that day but I was on the basketball team and so we had had an early practice and my mom had picked me up. The car ride home was nothing special, any other typical Monday with me riding shotgun in my mom’s small car. We pulled in the drive and I hopped out, jogging up the back steps, constantly in motion.
“Don’t go upstairs yet,” my mom told me, just as I was about to leave the kitchen and hibernate in my room for the rest of the day. I stopped, waiting. It was just the two of us in the kitchen and she said, “I know what you did last weekend.”
This is where I tried to play cool, blank face, even breathing. There was no way she knew what I did last weekend. No one knew, except the people there and though not all of them were that bright, they all understood self-preservation and we would all go down for our debauchery. I shrugged, tried to play dumb, but her certainty had me doubting this fishing expedition I was sure she was on. Then I remembered…my diary. The one my mother had bought me to record all my thoughts, feelings and secrets. The one I had recorded all of those things in and then stashed away in my room. I ran upstairs and found the incriminating booklet only slightly askew from where I’d originally left it. I bounded back down the stairs and into the kitchen, launching it at her and yelling, “Go ahead, read the rest.” We stood on opposite sides of the kitchen, the diary lying like a grenade on the battleground between us. We were enemies now, that invisible line of neutrality we had toed for years had been breached and there was no going back.
I wasn’t scared though, because I thought I understood my adversary. She was quiet and meek. She was the mother whom we ordered around and who cleaned up our messes and cooked our dinner. She wasn’t the one who wielded the power: that was my dad, the one I was most like, she was no match for me. Then she said the four words I feared most: “I’m telling your daddy.” I stared back at her in stunned silence. Mothers did not tell their daughters’ secrets to their fathers, mothers and daughters shared secrets with each other. But that had never been me and my mother and so I knew she would tell and my bravado suddenly faded and I begged her not to tell. She stood firm and I waited all day and all night with bated breath until they went to bed. I breathed easily, thinking I had escaped, because I did not yet understand that sometimes the hardest conversations between a husband and a wife happen on a 76 by 80 inch mattress in the dark. Eventually my reprieve ended and my father came lumbering down the stairs and all hell essentially broke loose. My mother remained calm throughout, which I found odd since she had essentially set the whole thing in motion and she was never calm in a crisis. Through it all though I just kept thinking: She chose him, she had chosen my father, her husband over me her daughter.
For years that stayed with me and I looked at my friends and their moms and then I would look at me and my mom and I would see that my friends and their moms weren’t’ just mother and daughter but friends and confidantes, something I was sure my own mother and I would never be. I swore if I ever had a daughter I would never tell her father her secrets, she would be able to trust me. We would be friends.
Seven years ago I gave birth to my first two children: twins: one boy and one girl. I gave birth, essentially, to a tiny replica of myself, from her blue eyes to her dimpled cheek to the way she swings her hips and the sassy way she talks. And I realized - I am not her friend. I may never be her friend. It’s frankly not my job to be her friend. My job is to raise her to someday be an adult who’s not a druggie or a prostitute or maybe even a politician. And as easy as that may sound, it’s damn difficult. No one knows how to be a mother, even following the example set by my own mother doesn’t work, because the world just gets more and more difficult to predict.
My mother was killed two and half years ago. One minute I was washing dishes, thinking of calling her to complain because yet someone else had complimented my husband on having all three kids in the grocery store, when no one ever compliments a woman for doing the same thing, and the next minute I was identifying her wedding bands. We never talked about the day she read my diary or the betrayal I felt, not because she read it but because she told my dad. I wish I’d have told her I get it. I do. I get that she didn’t NOT choose me. I get that it didn’t matter if I liked her or was happy with her.
My daughter and I aren’t supposed to be friends, not right now. I hope that one day, we are as close as my mother and I became once I was older and she could trust that she had done her best, but until then my daughter may not like me and we will not be friends. But one day I will see her be someone she can be proud of, and so I am telling you Irie Elizabeth (and Andrew and Crawford too): I will read your diary. I will look through your backpack and your cell phone and whatever else Apple comes up with to drive me crazy. And I will tell your father and anyone else whose help I may need to save you from yourself. I don’t care if you get angry or think you hate me, because I love you and I love you the way only a mother can: fiercely, unconditionally and enough for both of us. That’s a mother’s true strength, not yelling and dominating, not putting the fear of God in you. Our strength is that while we’re cooking your dinner, or washing your clothes of cleaning up your mess, we’re also carrying the enormous weight of our love for you and that is a burden we never put down.