Sometimes I imagine that Sue Palka, the weatherwoman on Fox 5, is my mother. As I watch her on TV, her love and warmth hits me like a Nor’easter. When she speaks of la Niña, she is really speaking about me. I am her girl. Sue Palka is blonde, svelte, and beautiful—and in all of her gentile white breadedness, she talks earnestly about, well, mostly the weather. So straightforward and clear.
My family talked about heavy things—politics, depression, mortgage rates, issues that fluctuate and that have no clear answers. Their conversations were mired with unspoken baggage and fraught with immeasurable self-doubt. Sue Palka, though, has flawless skin and perfect diction and clarity. Through her, the future of the weather, and really life itself, is knowable. Sue can actually control the weather. She is predictable, and she shows super excitement about cold fronts. She is the blonde shiksa meteorological mother of my dreams. And she can get away with wearing a pink leather dress because she is just that cool.
My relationship with my real mom, like many adult daughters and their mothers, is complicated.
On the day my first child, Aviva, was born, my mother had a double mastectomy. Breast cancer was a late gift from her mother, and I imagine it will be a late gift to me from my mother as well. My mother was discharged from the hospital a day after Aviva was, and she drove straight to my house. When she walked in, I was breastfeeding. My breasts, pure and plump and full of milk, were exposed in almost a teasing display of what she lacked, and I cried tears of sadness. And she cried tears of joy at seeing her newborn grandchild.
In a sad dance of contrasts, my mother’s breasts were removed and mine provided sustenance, until they didn’t. In postpartum hell, I stopped breastfeeding to nurture myself with antidepressants. I had been the closest to suicide that I had ever been. And mom was physically and emotionally recovering from her own loss, so we did not let her know of my depression. I grieved for the mother I could not be and the mother I felt I could not look to for support.
A proud woman in her 60s, my mother chose not to have breast prostheses, and I chose not to berate myself about stopping breastfeeding early to take psychotropic medications. We both suffered and took risks to continue to parent. Bold and brave, flat and proud, my mother emerged breastless and wholly intact from surgery. And stuck in our own separate journeys, we missed each other’s.
This missing of each other’s pain was the continuation of a pattern for us. In my adolescence, we often did not connect because we were experiencing parallel journeys of trauma and healing. When I needed her, she was not always available; when she was available with arms open, I was not always ready.
Since I have struggled with clinical depression over the years, the other important women in my life have been psychotherapists. My relationships with them have not been so clear cut either. I have felt betrayed me by the ones who violated boundaries and betrayed by the ones who respected them. The violators betrayed me by disclosing too much about their personal life, and one even asked me to call her “mom” in her native language. Then she moved without saying goodbye or even terminating therapy. Abandoned, I lit an internal yahrzeit.
The boundary-respecting therapists betrayed my sharing of all things personal when they didn’t disclose anything personal…because they didn’t like me, I was sure, and I was not worthy of their humanness. Without any rapport, meaningful transference vanished in the clinical stale air. I thought for sure I would be their favorite patient, but yet they said so little and kept our sessions to 50 minutes. I even saw other patients of theirs in the lobby—how dare they see other people!
Now, though, I think I have one with just the right ratio of boundaries and humanness mixed in.
Part of my kids’ ambivalent journeys are about wanting to be together and apart from each other. Love and competition. One day, after a particularly intense bonding sibling weekend with parties, playgrounds, and swimming, Aviva, at 4, asks if we could give away her 2-year-old sister, Maya. They had played and giggled together all weekend long, but apparently that was all a fleeting moment in the life of a 4-year-old.
“I bet you’d miss her,” I say.
“Nope, not really,” she says.
Then she lists all the people that we know that might want to adopt Maya: neighbors, teachers, Elmo, the mailman, etc.
“Maya’s really cute. And sweet. And kind–they’ll like her,” she pleads. “Let’s give her to them.”
And so it goes through the years with them—love and hate, jealousy and torment. Fighting and hugging, often within minutes of each other.
And the kids’ relationships with us as parents are nuanced and complicated too.
“I want a father,” my 7-year-old declares one day.
“It must be hard having two moms, huh?” I ask, using my clinician’s voice to try to mask the hurt of offering my child a difficult life.
“I want you and mama,” she adds. “Just a daddy too.”
“I understand,” I say.
“And a puppy and a turtle and an iguana and lots and lots of candy,” she adds, and I feel better.
The kids often lament that they wish their parents were richer, straighter, skinnier, more patient, yelled less, and cooked better. These comments, of course, play into all my insecurities, into the running narrative in my head that says that I am fundamentally flawed.
At the end of the day, though, my kids know that we are there for them. They run into the arms of my wife and me when they are hurt, they snuggle next to us to fall asleep, and they look to us to answer the big and small questions in their world. And neither of us look anything like Sue Palka.