I don't love her right

Thursday, May 10, 2012

by Tavae Samuelu
My mom being a grandma.

My mother has become the Voldemort of my writing, she who shall not be named. With Mama’s Day looming near, and everyone saying things that actually matter, writing about my mom has become almost inevitable. Because writing about her scares the shit out of me, I’ve committed to doing it wholeheartedly.

I googled "mom," combed the pages of my favorite books, listened to songs about moms, mamas, and mothers, all in a desperate search for the right words. Nothing. Then after much drinking and crying and drinking again, I found honesty at the bottom of a bottle of white wine, where I find most of my hard truths. My mother doesn’t love me the way I want to be loved.

Those are the kind of words you want to take back immediatelystuff them back in the bottle where you found them and never speak them again. My feminism has allowed me to speak of my mom’s suffering, her two jobs and lack of sleep and selfless nature. My Sāmoan identity encouraged deference and prose about the culture she passed on to me. But the reality remains, my mother doesn’t love me the way I want to be loved.

My mom and I, we learned a funny kind of love. Love, although an unconditional feeling, was to be expressed selectively. It was something that you had to earn. I was made to understand that everything my mom did was because she loved me. She worked too much because she loved me. She yelled at me because she loved me. She hit me because she loved me. Sometimes her brand of love hurt.

I learned about a love that was measured in sacrifices. She gives up sleep, never resting for more than four hours on most days. She gives up her time because capitalism told her time was money, and my family always needs more money. She gives up her health because as a nurse she’s paid to take care of everyone’s health but her own. My mom has always loved and continues to love (me) in ways that are detrimental to her. That’s not what I want. It’s not what I want her to look for when she searches for my love, some semblance of reciprocity. I don’t want my mother to think that while I was taking care of myself I forgot to love her.

Layers of shame have kept me from admitting this for a while. Not the sort of shame that’s synonymous with embarrassment, but the kind that’s rooted in a fear of disconnection. The womyn in my family have a tradition of shame that we hand down, carrying it in our wombs and birthing entire generations who fear disconnection. Shame is what I would name the wall that stands between my mother and I that keeps us from ever being completely ourselves and capable of a love that is authentic. I have a laundry list of things I keep neatly tucked away from her, scared of all the ways my mom would disown me should they ever be exposed. They’re the things that make me terribly flawed and unforgivably human:
1. I drink…too much.
2. I take birth control because I’m sexually active…kind of.
3. I’m pro-abortion.
4. Anything I ever do when I’m sure my mother’s not looking.
She does it too. I know my mom veils parts of herself, terrified that she might be revealed as human. She showed me her humanity once. I punished her for it, threw a tantrum and called her a hypocrite. She never showed me again. Now we both sit around feeding our shame, facilitating its growth and waiting for it to consume us. I don’t want this either.

This Mama's Day while browsing Amazon for a gift, I decided to give my mother these words. I want to give her the truth because it's free, and I've never given it to her before.  I hope that after her anger subsides, she recognizes this as an act of love.

Tavae Samuelu is the Grassroots Fundraising Coordinator at Forward Together.  She sincerely believes that she's a better person when the sun is out.

This blog is part of Strong Families' Mama’s Day Our Way blog series. Make and send a custom Mama’s Day e-card at www.mamasday.org. Strong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act, and talk about families.