I was skimming an article today written by women who were talking about who their mother’s lives before they became mothers. I often think about who my mother was before I came into her life, before she became a mother. I also think about her mother, my Nana, who was she when she only belonged to herself and not her children/grandchildren?
I also often think about my future daughter, should I be so lucky to have one. I wonder if she will wonder these same things about me.
My ponderings about my mother, and even more so about my Nana, go deeper than just wondering what they liked and how they behaved.. There has been a cycle of turmoil in the mother/daughter relationships in my family (my mother and I, her mother and her, and maybe even my Nana and her mother – but I do not know about the latter). I have taken many steps to break the cycle now in my relationship with my mother in order for it not to carry on to the next generation. Bluntly put, I do not want the relationship with my daughter that I have had previously with my mother. I want more for her and I want more for myself.
Because my Nana died when I was 9 I have never known who she really was. I have very few memories of her, the most prominent is of sitting on a porch swing with her and offering to share my Sprite. When she took a sip she was caught off guard because she had thought it was water, I remember thinking that was funny. For the rest of my life anytime this kind of thing happens (mistaking a food or drink for a different food or drink) I think of her. We only have a few heirlooms, her Christmas ornaments, an old radio cabinet, her costume jewelry, and a few dishes.. All of which I cherish deeply. They are little clues into this woman I never really knew.
What I have heard about my mother’s relationship with her mother only gives me bits and pieces of a picture, I can tell there is a lot of pain there for my mom. My aunt, my mom’s sister, is aware of the interest I have always had in my Nana so a few years ago she started sharing photos with me that she has of her mother from when Nana was younger. This is one of my favorites.
I have no idea how old Nana is here, her twenties maybe. She looks so happy sitting on that wall with the ocean behind her. Was this taken in Rhode Island where her immigrant parents owned a restaurant and bar near the ocean? Was this taken after she married Papa? Was this taken in Portugal or Greece where her parents were originally from? I have no way to know, I do not know this woman.
Her younger photos show a woman who is stylish, always with heels and a skirt, many times a hat and fun accessories. She always looks so put together. This is not the woman I know from stories though. I do not know these stories, the stories about who she was then.
This is a picture of the woman I knew, however briefly. This might be the last picture of her with her grandchildren before she died. I believe I was about 9 in this photo.
My Nana was not a part of my life when I was very young. I might have seen her a few times a year, if that. By the time I saw her again she had bone cancer and was terminal. I did not fully understand this. I was just excited to see her after so long. The woman in this photo is not the woman I shared my sprite with. I do not feel like I know this woman any better than the woman in the first photo.
My mother has said that she has a journal of Nana’s from her first years of marriage before she had children. She has said that she would share it with me but has not yet followed through. I do not push it because I think it might be sacred to my mother. Her family life was difficult and that journal may show her a side of her parents she did not know. It might tell stories of when they were happy, I do not know how that would make her feel. Glad to know that her parents were at one time in love and happy, or sad that she did not experience that with them.
I do not think my relationship with my mother has ever been as difficult as the one I think she had with Nana, and mine with my mother has certainly gotten better in recent years. I hope when I have children one day, specifically a daughter, she has a chance to ask questions about who my mother was before she was my mother, and who I was before I was her mother. I will always be her mother, my mom will always be grandma, but especially as we get older I think there is something really specially about getting to connect with the actual woman and not just the role she plays in your life.