Rediscovering my Mom

Madeleine and her mom I have always had a pretty awesome relationship with my parents. Admittedly, this was not always the case from their perspective: starting in my early adolescence I began to have what I’ll gently call “social issues” at my school. Not to put too fine of a point on it, I was a bit of a rebel (or pain in the butt, depending on the episode in question and whose opinion was being expressed!).

It was a behavioural pattern that played itself out through my late teens and early 20s, when I learned to channel my disruptive tendencies into more productive behaviour like becoming a social change activist and, eventually, entrepreneur. Looking back, three things stand out about my parents. They always:

  1. Loved me unconditionally, even when I was not appreciating it or even giving them their due respect.
  2. Tried their best to understand my perspective.
  3. Said that they would support me in being whatever I wanted to “be”, and meant it.

It doesn’t get much better than that. However, a massive shift happened in my relationship with them when my daughter was born a little over 10 years ago. On a selfish level, I was no longer the most special person (well, one of them at least: they are equally fond of my brother!).

After all, who can compete with a baby, especially a first grandchild? I wasn’t jealous (I am under no illusions about of how fortunate I am), and it was magical watching my parents (and in-laws!) make the transition into Grandparenthood – it was just an adjustment that I didn’t see coming, at a time when I actually felt quite fragile and uncertain.

000_0661Following a lengthy and intense labour and birth, I found the early days of Motherhood challenging. However; in a counterintuitive way, knowing how lucky I was to have a child at all – let alone a robustly healthy, full-term baby, committed partner and loads of potential support around me – stopped me from acknowledging that I was actually struggling. Looking back, I can see how much my parents, and my Mom in particular, misunderstood my impatience and frustration, and felt excluded in my confusion about how to redefine our relationship, let alone deal with the rest of life.

To make another long story short, my Mom has ended up effectively becoming a third parent to Gigi: she and/or one of Gigi’s four grandparents (yes, that’s 4 – count ‘em – healthy, helpful and close at hand: an incredible gift!) has picked her up from Lunapads, daycare and/or school almost every day since her birth while my husband and I – both small business owners – went to work. I do not exaggerate.

It has been every “working” parent’s (is there any other kind, really?) dream – and in many ways G Day’s “It takes a Village” inspiration, with one significant downside: somewhere along the line, my relationship with my Mom (Pat, to all who have the good fortune to know her) became less personal and more transactional.

More “What time are you picking her up?” and less “How are you?”. We both knew it, and yet: life. My story became about being busy, tired, stressed, needing to get home. At least she had Gigi, right? I would tell myself. And what a relationship they have: I cannot count the number of times G has come home and off-handedly addressed me as Grand-mère (Gigi’s pet name for my Mom), as a small-yet-significant indication of their bond.

About five years ago, my Mom started asking me if I would go on a trip with her, just the two of us. Anywhere: seriously. Despite the tantalizing offer, I kept up with my “too busy” story. Finally, it hit me late last year that she was close to turning 80 (to tell the truth, she has been leveraging the heck out of this wonderful milestone: good on her!) and agreed to a trip to Paris for an extravagant amount of time.

I have just returned from this extraordinary experience, and am beyond grateful to have, frankly, rediscovered my Mom.

Paris-wise, we did it all: most of the things that those of us lucky enough to visit there have done or dreamed of. Which was, bien sûr, fabulous and unforgettable. But what really made it special was having the incredible opportunity to just talk to my Mom: no phones ringing, no dinner to be made. I chose this image of the famed Lady and the Unicorn tapestry series for its mysterious caption at the top: À mon seul désir. Its precise intended meaning is much-debated, however seeing it together made me feel like this once-in-a-lifetime experience was, for us, the type of “one desire” or unique heart’s wish, that the tapestry depicts.

IMG_1036We had time: time to see what conversations happen when you are on long plane rides, or your third-fourth-fifth dinner together, or eating ice cream on a park bench: after you have explored the things that you “normally” talk about. Conversations about the past, odd almost-forgotten moments, relationships, life-changing experiences not previously shared, spiritual beliefs. Secrets.

Not that there were not some stressful or frustrating moments, however honestly almost a week later I don’t remember them, or feel like they would be no different than being with anyone else who you totally love however is simply not you.

I am frankly shocked at the person who presented herself: curious, nostalgic, a seemingly-bottomless repository of fiction recommendations and tennis lore (she is a more avid fan of tennis than the average Canadian is of hockey, which is saying a great deal). Heartbreak, passion, her own relationship with her parents, opportunities seized or passed over, the lot: more than anything, I feel so blessed to have returned to seeing my Mother as a whole person.

IMG_1072Lessons learned? It’s a busy world out there: make time for what and who matters to you. My journey with my Mom, fortunately in our case, was more about pleasure than healing, and for this and more I am forever grateful. This artfully scrawled Victor Hugo quote that I spied on a storefront window sums it up for me: “Life is a flower, love is its honey”. 

Merci, Grand-mère.



  • Lisa
    Posted at 22:37h, 10 June Reply

    Thanks for this Madeleine,
    I just came back from a trip to Greece with Lucy (15 years). At the end of our trip we met up with Emma (18) and spent a day together in Paris…absolutely amazing!
    My Mom died of cancer between the birth of my daughters, and there hasn’t been a day I haven’t missed her dreadfully, and wished she could see my girls grow. I always thought I would lean on her when the kids were teenagers and needed space from me. I promised myself, after she died, that I would take the girls traveling when they “came of age” on a trip anywhere in the world with the money my Mom left me. Emma and I went to England. Lucy and I went to Greece and France.
    It does take a village to raise a family and even though mine lost a beloved grandma 16 years ago, she raised me, loved me and left me with so much that I can carry forward in raising my children. Sometimes that village is unseen but I still have so much gratitude for my wonderful Mom.
    Good on you for going with your Mom to Paris, our Mom’s are a precious commodity.
    Thanks for your story.

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