collateral damage

I know that Mother's Day is, for many of us, a difficult day, a day on which we think about our lost children, mourning the fact that we don't seem to count as mothers in the eyes of the world or, perhaps, in our own eyes, mourning the fact that all our children aren't with us. For me, though, Mother's Day has never been about me or my children. Instead, it's a day on which I think about my own mother and mourn the fact that, for reasons I can't quite understand, I'm not with her.

My brother and I always said that no occasion was truly complete until our mother turned to me and said, more in sorrow than in anger, "Niobe, you've ruined my [insert name of holiday]." I ruined so many Mother's Days and birthdays and Fourth of Julys and Thanksgivings and Christmases, that I imagine my mother, as she has brunch today with her other children and step-children, taking a certain grim satisfaction at the idea that, on this Mother's Day, I'm sad because I'm thinking of her.

I've never been able to explain what made things so difficult between me and my mother. Different temperaments, perhaps. Or because my childhood coincided with a long run of turbulent years for her. Or because she disliked and resented her own mother. But, for whatever reason, it seemed that I could never be what my mother wanted me to be, could never do what my mother wanted me to do. We were always fighting and I always lost. No matter how angry I got, my mother could always get angrier and she held the trump card. I loved her and I couldn't be sure if she really loved me.

When I was thirteen, during the chaos that followed my mother's second divorce, I decided to go live with my father and his family, and left, taking my little brother with me. My mother didn't speak to me for six months. She remarried right away and had a child with her new husband. "Niobe," I remember her saying, "you have to remember that I have another daughter now. I don't need you anymore."

Eventually, I grew up and we came to a truce. We weren't exactly close, but we didn't fight and I called my mother almost every week and, once in a while, spent a weekend at her house. When I was pregnant with the twins, my mother was thrilled. She was going to take a month off from work to stay with me. She called all the time to see how I was doing. I know she was buying baby presents, though I told her not to give me anything until -- until I was sure everything was going to be all right.

When it turned out that everything was not going to be all right, my mother came and visited me in the hospital, talked to me, encouraged me to eat. But even then, I could feel her anger building and, by the time I came home, everything I did made her furious.

I was, she told me as I cried and refused to go outside, wallowing in my sorrow. I spoiled my oldest niece's first birthday party, held a few weeks after the twins' deaths, because I hid in an upstairs bedroom, unable to bear seeing the sister-in-law who was eight months' pregnant. I put too many restrictions on what she said, because I asked her not to talk about my stepbrothers' babies. I wasn't grateful enough for all she'd done for me. Now, a year and a half after the twins' deaths, my mother has refused to see me or speak to me for months.

Now, I'm sure I'm making my mother sound like a monster. But she isn't. Really, she isn't. And I'm sure that if she ever read this post, the story I'm telling would be incomprehensible to her. "That's not the way I remember it," I can hear her saying. But, as I see it, the loss of my mother is, in many ways, the saddest part of the twins' deaths. A stone, dropped into a lake, disappears almost immediately. But the ripples -- oh, the ripples. They etch widening circles until they collide with a distant shore.

Happy Mother's Day, Mom. I love you and miss you and wish I could fix whatever's wrong between us. I hope that by next Mother's Day I'll be able to say that to you.

Please use the comments to let us know where you are -- literally and figuratively -- and what you're thinking about this Mother's Day.