We have a strange and sometimes strained relationship, my mother and I. For as long as I can remember, I was her constant ally, her best friend, her confidante – but for all that, I never felt as though she understood me, or my value as a person.
You see, intellectually speaking, my mother and I are poles apart. She is a math whiz, a genius with numbers, logical, organized, practical almost to a fault. She also does not like and therefore does not read fiction - why would anyone read anything that is not real? - and while she has an excellent memory, is poor in verbalizing her thoughts and has trouble with language and words. She is also a brilliant pianist – my earliest memories are of dancing around the piano while she played Chopin.
I could not be more different.
My mother is filled with strength, an unbelievable tenacity, positivity and a love for life – traits that I have only recently come to appreciate. If you tell her she can’t do something, she will fight and find a way around, until she gets where she wants.Up until a few years ago, I was a will ‘o’ wisp, blown by the wind, people’s opinions, filled with self doubt and a nagging inferiority complex.
There has also never been a time when books and stories have not called out to me. Often, by name. I have a good visual and verbal memory, a decent if unstructured sense of narrative, love manipulating words on a page and took to the study of humanities and literature like a duck to water.
Math on the other hand, I could do without. I struggled with algorithms, complex equations left me in tears (my father’s predilection for shouting at me while trying to tutor me didn’t help) and generally revolted against anything that involved strings of numbers. Like her, I loved music, but lacked the drive and focus to learn theory properly when I was younger.
Left brain, right brain.
Right. But when it’s your own mother, then the situation becomes vastly more complex. There have been times and seasons of such resentment and anger, especially when she met and deeply disapproved of Ex,my first boyfriend. There were battles royale during that time and I thought our relationship was damaged beyond repair.
We eventually met halfway - with music. She brought me up to love music, even though she believed, mistakenly, that I would not be able to learn to play. To this day, I cannot listen to Chopin without thinking of home, of her. Sometime in my third year in Australia, I cried, listening to Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude, missing home, missing my mother,wishing I could play and finally understanding how right she had been about Ex. That year, I began to grow towards my mother, began think more gently about her decisions, about her life.
Often I have wished – for a different set of skills, a different brain when really, what I wished for was to be my mother’s daughter. I wished for her positivity, her strength of will and force of character - never realizing that these already lay within me.
It is said that all women turn into their mothers in the end. I know I have. We share - among other things - the same sense of humour and the same values - integrity, a belief that family should come first and a deep, abiding love for art and music.
We may never understand each other fully, but we work well together - she helps me file my tax returns, ensures that my money is well invested, buys my health insurance and takes care of me in all of the ways which she is able. I listen to her, decoding her language and translating for her when she is unable to articulate the right words. I help her find clothes that match,explain restaurant menus and interpret business articles to her in simpler language.
Just as I used to listen to her playing the piano, she comes to my room in the evenings when I am home, to listen in peace to Bach. It has been my joy, in recent months, to introduce her to the wistful compositions of Bill Evans.
Since I’ve moved back,we meet for lunch and tea regularly, shop together and laugh together about the same silly things. These times are precious to me, doubly so because of all the years we lost, fighting and failing to understand how much we loved and needed each other. I know we are blessed, my mother and I, to have met with this peace and still have the time to walk together awhile.
Mother’s day this year is special to me. This year, I will take another step towards my mother, one that I had not expected to make.
This year, I will finally begin to learn to play the piano - not to pass exams but so that one day, like my mother, I will be able to play Chopin's Nocturnes to my children and watch them dance around the piano.