How Many Minutes Will It Take

I should be the bigger person. But how, when I feel so inconsequentially small?

I should call.

To not call one’s mother on Mother’s Day has got to be the lowest of all stereotypical parent/child issues. But, she doesn’t call me. We see each other at holidays or birthdays. She lives 25 minutes away.

Stop being selfish. Has she said that to me before? Or am I being purposefully mean, creating animosity where there is none? There is none because there is nothing, outside of those fraught holidays, those birthdays with gifts of too-small clothes or items children are no longer interested in, but she doesn’t know that because there is nothing.

She doesn’t know my children.

She lives 25 minutes away. Coming over would be, should be, easy.

Twenty-five minutes.

The 25 minutes are reciprocal. Going over would be, should be, easy.

I haven’t called.

I am a neurotic bitch who doesn’t deserve a loving motherly relationship. How many of my friends have suffered the loss, are suffering, grieving, wishing for the chance to talk just one more time with their mom and here I sit with a working phone I haven’t picked up. How does that in itself not warrant my picking it up?

I still haven’t called.

I look at your relationships with your moms and envy you. How I wish I had that. When I was pregnant, the desire to call her first. When I gave birth, the desire to call her first. I was pissed each time I woke and found her sitting in the hospital room, quiet, reading. I didn’t call you. I’m glad you came. Go away. Stay. I don’t want you here, all proud grandmother who refuses to be called Grandma. Please don’t leave.

What if I call? I’ll inevitably ask why is it this way. I am afraid of the answer. I am pissed that I care about the answer.

My tears fall like acorns from trees in a wind storm. They hurt. But she doesn’t know, because she thinks I don’t need her. She’s said this, that I don’t need her. I tried to believe her. It’s a fucking lie.

I need her.

I want her.

I neither need her nor want her. I am fine.

I should call.

I’m here with fistfuls of hair because calling is not hard. Reaching out is not hard. Everyone says, oh, just call. Be the bigger person. I wasn’t meant to be this big. I stopped at 5’5” for a reason.

Did she think about me today? About her last child, the one she resented because she couldn’t lose the weight after? I hope she thought about me as her phone sat silent. I hope she hoped that it would be me when her phone rang. I hope her heart dropped when she realized it wasn’t. I want her to be hurt. I can’t imagine her hurt; it hurts too much.

Oh, how much we’re alike. We’re both waiting the other out, pretending that’s not what we’re doing. We are masters at this game after years of practice. Sometimes she doesn’t speak to my sisters either. I shouldn’t feel happy about that, but I like not being the only one not good enough sometimes.

But why these fake ass platitudes? We don’t speak outside of the assigned holidays and birthdays. Why call on one day that someone else says is a celebration of mothers? I walk into the designated house for whatever celebration she’s attending and I smile and say hi and make small talk and she asks after the kids and they tell her about their lives and she eats my potato salad because she’s “been waiting” and then she leaves and only sometimes says goodbye.

There’s been no argument, no accusations. It’s just a seemingly deliberate misuse of a relationship: she stopped calling and I never started and this all began way before it got this bad.

No. I haven’t called yet.

She always thought I was lying. Was it her previous children who’d tainted her idealistic view of teenagers? Or was there something in me that was devilish, that she saw as such, and needed to stay away from?

I was such a good girl.

I’m 16 and his name is Brian. Until now I’ve been on a short leash – school, home; school, maybe a movie, home. I remember her enjoying me, me enjoying us. We shopped. We laughed. We sang. I had dance classes and theater classes and then at 16 I was no longer cute or deserving of one-on-one time. I was a full-fledged teen and she seemed to be waiting for me to come home pregnant. She yelled a few times that she wasn’t taking care of anyone else’s babies. I wasn’t even sexually active.

Where did it go wrong? What did I do wrong? I am reading more into it than there is, right? It’s not that hard. Disregard everything I think is the issue, forget that she seems disinterested in my life or the lives and interests of my children, and call. Just pick a day to call, at the same time each week, my husband says. Make it a habit. I should. I don’t want to. I want to be embarrassed to admit that. I am, but I’m not. What is wrong with me? Do I even have the right to write this? Who am I to give you a bad impression of her?

She laughed at me when I had to sing Madonna’s Borderline a capella in the school talent show. She’d refused to buy the instrumental record for me, and am I not calling her because of something that happened in fourth grade? Am I really harboring resentment for all the wrongs I feel were inflicted upon me? I’m sure there are things I did that warranted this treatment. Tell me what I did wrong, I think, in a small, begging voice.

I’m not begging for shit.

When I was younger I was convinced that the best way to not parent like my mother was to have boys. I desperately wanted all boys. My first two children were girls. This made me want to have a third girl when I was pregnant again. That would be the perfect way to not become her, to not have children who barely speak to me, grandchildren who ask, “Who is that?” I would have three girls and I would show her how it should be done. I wanted to throw it in her face how great a parent I am, how much I enjoy my children even as they age and change, even as our relationships morph and grow.

On Christmas a few years ago, we gathered at my sister’s and waited for my mother to show up. We called, no answer. We waited. We called. We were used to her deciding on a whim she was too disinterested to join us, so we carried on without her. Still, it was a bit disconcerting that she wasn’t answering to even yell, “Leave me the hell alone.” By the time my sister found her, she was unresponsive on the floor. None of us had spoken to her since the night before, when she was on her way to work, telling my oldest sister she’d be at her house around 4:00 the next day. She never showed to work. She lay there how long, unknown? To this day, my sister remarks how incredulous she was that my mother’s cat, who prior to that didn’t meow, ever, was mewling, howling, by her side. Before she found her, that was how she knew something was wrong.

We blamed ourselves, the ungrateful daughters who didn’t check sooner. The selfish adults who ate their potato salad and opened gifts while their mother lay unconscious for hours. An insulin dependent diabetic, she had stopped doing the injections. She was “fine” months later. I think about that day, how distraught I was when I thought she was dead in the ambulance. When I realized I wasn’t distraught because she might be dead, but that I would be motherless, even though I’d felt that way for years, I knew I’d sunk below the already near to the ground level of thankless child.

She’s going to be gone one day and I won’t be able to call. I will regret not calling today, tomorrow, next week, last year. I will. I do. My daughters ask occasionally what’s up with us. I don’t have an answer, but please don’t let us end up this way. When my mother and I are around each other, everything seems fine. You’d never know that it’s Thanksgiving and we haven’t spoken since summer.

I never called. Likewise, my phone didn’t ring. Twenty-five minutes is longer than you think, a time chasm that continues to fill, 25 minutes at a time.

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