My Sister, My Mother

shutterstock_202430518by Cecily Rodriguez

Like you, I have a mother. Actually, I have two – mom and stepmom. Sort of. Let’s just say my FB relationship status for mothers would be “It’s complicated”.

My mom struggled. Her childhood and upbringing were difficult and I doubt she ever healed from it. She used alcohol, drugs, and men to try and escape what I can only assume was deep pain.

My stepmom struggled too. She went from being a single mom of one living in Mexico to being a mom/stepmom of four living in the US. Can you say “holy caca”?? We were a handful and my dad was gone from dawn until well past dusk so it would be a miracle if she hadn’t struggled.

I loved my mom and desperately wanted to be with her, but life with her was chaotic and scary so at a very young age, I knew living with my dad and stepmom was the safer choice.

But my stepmom wasn’t my mom and letting her in felt like a betrayal so I kept her at arms length. Silly, unless you’re five and miss your mom.

Thankfully, I had my sister. She’s older than me (like, older older; for security purposes, I won’t share her birth year but I repeat, she’s older) and was regularly given the opportunity to do things for me. She says she was forced – semantics – and still reminds me that when she had to give me a bath, she missed Happy Days. Ummm, you’re welcome?

Like any good big sister, she’d let me hang out in her room and listen to records (look it up kids) and watch while she practiced pom-pom routines. She’d protect me from my brother, which was a 24/7 gig, and let me get in her bed when I had nightmares.

In essence, she was my mother.

But our house was not an idyllic home and at 16 or 17 she left. While I don’t remember her exact age, the sadness of her leaving still brings tears to my eyes 30+ years later.

There’s something about having a mother that anchors a daughter. It gives her a foundation from which she knows she can leap and no matter the outcome, be ok. I never really had that. I had moments of it but they were fleeting and unreliable.

The closest I came to experiencing it was with my sister, so when she left, I grieved.

And then, I took her room. What can I say, sharing a room with my other sister for 10 years was getting old and no sense wasting a perfectly good bedroom. But, I really took it because it reminded me of her. I put my bed on the same wall and posters in the same places. I missed her and these things helped me miss her a little less. What I didn’t do was play the same music because if I had to listen to “Dixieland Delight” or “Mountain Music” one more freakin’ time…#sorrynotsorry to all you Alabama fans. Both of you.

By the time my sister came back, she’d married and had a baby and we’d both grown up. I’d learned to protect myself from my brother and replaced her records with my cassette tapes. A few years later, I’d be the one to leave.

When I found out I was going to be a mama, I was terrified. I denied it, despite the 99.9% accurate pregnancy test and the doctor confirming it. I told the doctor no. That she was wrong. Note: pregnancy hormones do not make you more rational.

I was terrified because I had no blueprint for how to be a mama. I didn’t know what 75% of the shit was that Babies R’Us insisted I needed. At my shower while I opened gifts my friend would whisper, “that’s a onesie”, “that’s a burp cloth”, “that’s a bottle dryer”. After a half hour, SHE was terrified about me becoming a mother!

The week C was born, my sister drove from KS to NY to show me how to give a squirmy newborn a bath and cut fingernails so tiny you basically just clipped and hoped for the best.

And with that, my perspective shifted. I realized my blueprint for how to be a mama didn’t have to come from just the people whom I did or didn’t call mom. While they absolutely influenced me, it was my sister who taught me what it felt like to be mothered.

I’ve spent the last 11 years forging my own mama identity, but I’ll always know the foundation for it was laid in a little bedroom with two sisters and “Born Country” playing in the background.

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