I am 35 years old and the name Jennifer Cynthia sounds like a stranger to me. I don’t know who my mother is. I was raised by my mother, but I do not know her. At least not in the way a daughter should know their mother. The one thing I do know is my mother likes to cook and she likes to travel, those are two hobbies she enjoys. I know basic information any daughter should know. Name, birthdate, birthplace, siblings, education, and job history, but nothing beyond that. Information like her childhood, high school experiences, when she got her first period, first date, first love, first heartbreak, or how she met my father.
I came to learn how my parents met when I was in middle school or high school. I remember my dad’s friend Mike and his daughter Jacqueline was at our house for dinner one night. At the time, my dad coached AYSO soccer as a hobby. Jacqueline asked my mom how she met my dad. My mother responded, “We grew up together in the same village in their home country of Trinidad and our families were best of friends.” How come my brother and I never knew that?
I can recall my mother speaking of the best years of her life; those were the years she referred to as before she married my father. What I did know is when my mother migrated to California from Trinidad, she lived with my great aunt in Los Angeles with many of her other cousins. I remember when she was younger, she had once said she worked at Mann’s Chinese Theater in the box office and part-time at a bank all while attending a community college. She often reminisced about her plush apartment in West Hollywood; enjoying movies, plays, shopping, and all the elegance life in Los Angeles had to offer. My mother is proud of the fact she never had to interview for a job; her thirty-five-year career in middle management in the entertainment industry was because of the people she was connected to.
At home, my mother is known as Cynthia. At work, my mother went by her first name Jennifer. However, Jennifer and Cynthia are not the same people. My mother is the second oldest. She is the sibling in her family who took care of everybody else, including my grandparents. She is the sibling who was financially stable and often the person my aunts, uncles, and cousins sought advice and help from. In the office, my mother was known to be sharp, adamant, efficient, respected, and well-dressed. My mother’s longtime friends and colleagues would speak accolades about her to me, but I never knew her to be the person they spoke of. I would smile to save face and to protect her but ultimately felt lost.
My mother lives a private life, which never made sense to me. How could you be married with children but not willing to share any personal stories or experiences about your life? I remember as a child asking my mother why my grandmother had more than one husband. My mother yelled, “Don’t talk about my mother! She’s dead!” At the time, I didn’t understand what I did wrong. It wasn’t until years later as an adult, my favorite uncle, my mother’s younger brother began to explain family history to me. What nobody knew is the level of unhappiness and life regrets my mother carries with her, but I did. I knew because between my cousins, my brother, and me it was me who was always treated harshly. I knew because I always had it harder regardless of my many accomplishments; while my brother caused my mother emotional and financial hardship with his alcoholism and legal issues. I knew because my older cousins would say I was born the darker child with fewer Indian features, and my hair was not as straight as my twin brother. I knew because it was me, she would take out her feelings of unhappiness and regret. It was never a healthy mother-daughter bond and/or relationship.
With that said, so many women suffer from the “mother wound”, “mommy issues”, and/or have a toxic mother. This relates to how mother-daughter relationships or parenting styles are passed down through generations. It often goes unrecognized until most women become an adult and it begins to affect their relationships. In many cultures, mothers are only doing what they were taught by their mother and their mother before them. In a time and era where asking questions or sharing personal information was not culturally accepted. I had to accept I may not ever know my mother for who she is because of the time and era she grew up in. I had to forgive my mother for not knowing any better.