By Margaux Bang
I spent Mother’s Day of last year watching Friends alongside my dog Koons, where Monica and Chandler became my new parental figures. I was not celebrating the holiday in the hopes of reminding my mother that she had left her children behind and did not deserve breakfast in bed nor a bouquet of peonies. For me, it was a merit-based celebration contingent upon yearly performance, in the same way that businesses offered “bonuses” at the end of each year.
Months earlier, the woman who gave birth to me and my siblings sat us down to say that she was leaving. I was nineteen. From a conservative Anglo-Saxon family who’d always seemed so perfect and “put-together,” those are words I never thought I would ever hear.
Confused, I asked her, “Where?” She answered that she wasn’t going anywhere, but that she could not be a part of the family anymore. Soon after, she filed for divorce and I found myself sharing an apartment with a friend. She went from driving my 23-year-old brother to his university lectures to disappearing completely. I was stunned.
My mother had studied philosophy and got a Masters of Business Administration at York University in Toronto, where she’d met my father. After working five years at the bank, she gave up her career to raise her three children. Both of my parents worked at the Royal Bank of Canada and fulfilled the same position. But when my father’s career took a turn, we were forced to move around quite a bit. He was always considered a success story that epitomized the American Dream. He’d left Norway at the age of 19 and arrived in Canada with only a loan of a couple of thousand dollars from the bank in hand. People were always impressed when they found out that he made it on his own. But what they didn’t see was my father coming back from work and consulting my mother on investment strategies or prospective employees.
Once my father took an online intelligence test in order to apply for a job; my mother was by his side the whole time. When the eventual results described him as having an “exceptional level of intelligence,” it was because of her. All people could see was a beautiful woman cheering amid the audience when my father proudly accepted his trophy as the recipient of the “fastest growing company” award.
I wondered if he would be as successful as he is now if he hadn’t married my mother. More impressive was that, no matter where we were living or moving to, she always made sure that we felt at home, going through all the American grocery shops in Paris so that we would still be able to eat Kraft Dinner while watching MTV – a tradition maintained no matter where we were in the world. In retrospect, it seemed unfair that my dad got all the credit for his success while she had to deal with the backlash of our nomadic lifestyle. It was especially hard on my older brother, who often got in trouble with the authorities. Between packing boxes and filing paperwork, my mother found herself at the police station for whatever trouble he had caused. For my father, boarding school seemed like the easiest alternative, but my mother refused. Instead, she doubled her efforts in providing him with the love and care that he needed.
Years later, my mother took a stand for herself. She decided she’d sacrificed enough for the sake of a man’s career and a family on the verge of collapsing. When she left, this was what I believed had happened. I felt alone and resented her for leaving us behind. I missed having a clan and blamed her for it.
After about ten months, shortly after the divorce was settled, my mom, my siblings and I regained contact. It took me some time to forgive her, until I realized she had nothing to be sorry about. She brought us back together by cooking us meals and inviting us over for Sunday dinners. It’s only until then that I realized that what we previously had could still exist – she had only been gone temporarily because she had to fight as hard as she could to get the settlement she deserved.
I admired her bravery for putting her needs before ours, because in the long run, we survived those couple of months without her. Furthermore, that settlement determined how she would live the rest of her life – a life she had dedicated to her children and husband’s well-being. While she was carving her own path, she proved that motherhood isn’t simply a job you can clock in and out of, her absence signifying resignation of her position. But being a mother means devotion to the betterment of the family, including herself.
My mother retrieved the identity she had prior to giving birth: a beautiful woman named Isabelle who graduated with honors amongst a male-dominated establishment and who could argue Nietzsche’s theory on nihilism while developing investment strategies. She was writing her first book, a dream she’d put off for the past two decades because she was too busy packing boxes or creating my father’s work speeches. This year, I am hoping to surprise her with something that will not only make up for last year, but also for the past two decades of forgetting that she also has needs. Instead of focusing on what she should be doing for her children, I should look at what she’s accomplished despite her maternal obligations. Being able to fulfill her dreams and remain an individual while raising children is what made her an exceptional being.
Margaux Bang is a writer from Montreal, Quebec. She operates a blog called The Tasteful Chronicles (@tastefulchronicles) and currently studies liberal arts at Eugene Lang College in New York City.
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