On Knowing/Not Knowing My Mother

I saw my mother in a rowboat, looking young and carefree. It was a brief glimpse of her and in that moment I was cognizant that her birthday was approaching.

I had another one of those “looking into a portal” kind of vision/dreams several nights ago. Actually, this time it happened in the wee hours of the morning as I was in a waking up fog. 

I saw my mother in a rowboat, looking young and carefree. It was a brief glimpse of her and at that moment I was cognizant that her birthday was approaching. It’s passed by now, and she would have turned 107. She died in January of 2001, a few years before so much of my own life was upended.

I don’t dream of my mother often, so when I do, I pay extra attention, as I am right now. Why did I see her? Did she have a message for me?

My mom, Bernadine, AKA Bernie, was one of 11 children, born into a Polish American family in Detroit. By the time I came along, about half of her siblings had died – so had her father and her mother who passed away when she was only eight years old.

So, I was luckier than my mom was to have a mother around for all of those years. You’d think I would have made the most of her presence in my life but I really didn’t. 

I was the youngest of four and my mother was already 38 when she had me. Truth be told, I have very few memories of her when I was little. In my teenage years, I didn’t like her very much (typical teenager stuff) and by age 20 I had married and moved away from home.

My mother tried to discourage me from marrying so young but once I went through with it, she never interfered in my life again. I thought that was remarkable.

We seemed so vastly different. I sometimes felt like an alien in my family. I was/am the only one drawn to the arts and the Sagittarian in me was constantly seeking. I wanted to try everything – painting, drawing, piano, dance – but I was told I could only choose one and so I chose painting.

I was painfully shy and introverted, but with a healthy dose of Sag independence. Maybe no one else saw this, but I always knew it was there.

I remember my mother telling me once (I was probably in my forties) that she just didn’t understand me. I’d been reading a book at the time titled “A Life in the Arts” by Eric Maisel and so I gave it to my mom to read. When I saw her a couple of weeks later she had read the entire book and looked at me and said “Barbara. Now I understand.” 

I was so grateful to my mother at that moment, but now, looking back, I wish that I could have known her better. Her deep-down-ness.

She was fun-loving but stern, and most definitely was the disciplinarian. But, she had a playful spirit up until she got sick and died. 

My mom loved to read and I surely inherited that love from her. One of the few memories I have of my mother when I was young is being taken to the local library. I can see myself getting down on my knees and reaching for “Madeline” which was always there on the bottom shelf.

She loved to garden and although we didn’t really bond over it then I would have loved for her to meet all the plants growing around me here on this hill.

Bernie loved food and always seemed to be cooking. While I cooked for my family and cook almost all of my own meals now, I in no way shape or form inherited a love of it from my mom. I feel like cooking is for the organized. This is a very Vata thing to say. We love being cooked for. Having a chef for a partner years later was a dream come true.  I make a much better dishwasher than cook.

My mother was an Aquarian. I don’t know much about that sign, and wish that I could look at her chart and get a glimpse of her from an astrology perspective because it has informed me so much in the past several years.

The astrologer, Molly McCord explains it like this:

“You are whole. You are complete. You are a Soul composed of Divine energy with a wealth of resources, wisdom and peace. You have everything you need.

Yet you chose to hold specific energetic signatures in this life. A Divine fingerprint of energy, if you will, with a unique purpose, magical creativity, inspiring gifts, unlimited potentials, and numerous opportunities for growth.” – Molly McCord

 If everyone had a glimpse into their own energetic signatures as well as those of their loved ones, I think we would all stand a better chance of understanding each other. I feel the same way about knowing our Ayurvedic constitutions. But, that’s a topic for another day.

Since I’ve been a child I always loved taking the rowboat out when we went to a cottage. The day I found the picture of my mom rowing I felt such a rush of love and connection and wished at that moment that I could talk to that version of Bernadine.

Because we all have our versions, don’t we? And so often children and parents don’t really know each other in the deepest of ways.

I’m a Sagittarian mother of adult children and teaching them to be independent when they were young always seemed so important to me. Because independence is the way of the Sagittarian. Maybe it’s not what they wanted from me. I don’t know. But, it’s what I had to give them. One is a Libra, the other a Gemini. Their father, a Virgo. And those are just our sun signs. Only one piece of our individual puzzles.

An astrologer once pointed out the area in my chart around motherhood. It was eye-opening, to say the least.

I also have a north node in Capricorn which means my south node is in Cancer. I am still learning what all this means but it certainly has helped me understand much about myself and my role as a mother in this lifetime.

We are all so different and we don’t always project to the world (or to our parents, or our children) who we really are deep down on a soul level.

We cannot undo the past and I try not to dwell on it. I don’t even like looking to the future. The here and now is what interests me the most.

And yet, for others, the past and the future are undeniably important to them. Not everyone is a live-in-the-moment Sagittarian.

There is so much going on astrologically regarding relationships right now. These past few years have been hard on everyone’s heart. Many of us are distanced from friends and family in a self-preservation sort of way. Some relationships were meant to end. Some still hang in the balance. My hope is that those that need mending will do so in an honest and truthful way. Our world has changed and there is no place anymore for illusory relationships. Time is too precious.

This winter has been one of deep hibernation and contemplation. I’m feeling the nudge to get back to writing more and so I’m trying (once again) to make it happen. There’s always that D-word, Discipline, that I and my fellow Vata/Sagittarians seem to abhor.

Yesterday, my eyes serendipitously landed on “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg, which has sat on my bookshelf for many years. I pulled it down and opened it, hoping for some inspiration. I was surprised to see an inscription I’d written to my mother inside the cover. Evidently, I’d given it to her and must have found it after she died.

Even back then I was looking for the deep-down-ness of Bernie:

“Dear Mom – I know this seems like an odd gift – but I’ve always felt like deep down inside there’s a writer waiting to emerge. Your notes always have a bit of a flair – more than the perfunctory ‘thank you’s’. Not to put any pressure on you – but I think you could fill this journal with wonderful things. If nothing else – I know you’ll enjoy this book! Love you, Barbara 12/99”

A sign from the Universe! Or perhaps from Bernie. 

I had a habit as a child of writing notes to my mom when things had gone bad. Usually they were notes of apology, because I always felt that I apologized better in letter form than in person where I got all tongue-tied (still do). 

One Mother’s Day, I wrote in a notebook some thoughts about my mom and our relationship and sent it to her. I asked her to write back and she did. Years later I found the old blue notebook where she had written all about my birth, including the TIME of birth which was a blessing as it enabled me to get my full astrological chart!

After my father died, I began spending more time with my mother and two years later, before her own death, I was with her a great deal. 

I was alone with my mom when she took her last breath. She was in a coma and I was holding her hand when she slipped away from this earthly plane. I hated that it happened in a hospital. It was one of the most difficult moments of my life but also one of the most sacred. 

If I had not had that time with my mother, I think there would have been less closure. Perhaps more regret. And, regret is such a useless emotion. I have slowly done away with it and look back on everything now – mistakes, warts and all – as just part of my life’s journey and of who I was and who I have become. 

Here’s to all of us being able to live our lives as our most authentic unique selves and granting the same to those who are near and dear to us.

Much love,