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How I Learned to Stop Hating My Mother


But instead of burying my needs like she had, I simply turned my back on her and melted into my dad's warm embrace. I needed hugs and affection, and he gave them to me — and an affectionate nickname ("Peanie," short for peanut) to boot.

I had given up on my mother well before she had given up on herself — our relationship had been broken long before I could blame it on booze. I remember looking over at her during my wedding five-and-a-half years ago as she sat laughing with my best friends, delighting them with her fabulously offbeat sense of humor. There she was in her beautiful mint-green gown, chain-smoking Merits and clutching a sweaty glass of chardonnay. It didn't matter to me that she had managed to dance with a smile on her face even though my father had brought his new girlfriend — the one with whom he had hooked up before he left my mother for good — along with (though he had promised not to) her young kids. It didn't occur to me how unbelievably gracious she was being despite my having essentially cut her out of the whole wedding-planning process. No, what I saw in that stemware was yet another casually reneged promise to stay sober. And my heart broke.

About a year later, while I was busy living my own carefully constructed life, my husband and I found out that the baby I had carried in my belly for 18 weeks was plagued with irreparable genetic defects. We decided to terminate the pregnancy. I hadn't felt sadness and helplessness like that since I was a child.

I did not call my mother. But she called me, sobbing, after my brother told her what had happened, saying that she wanted to come help me. I told her not to, but she showed up on my doorstep anyway.

I think we both needed something bigger than us to get over ourselves, and that tragedy broke us down and brought us together in a way that we had never managed on our own. If it was a test, we both passed — my mother knew instinctively what her daughter needed, and I let her give it to me. "It was the first time you were there for me as the mother I needed," I said to her on the phone recently, choking up at the memory. "You even gave me a hug." My mother laughed, reminding me that I actually had to ask her for that hug, and I laughed through my tears along with her.

The truth is, I never would have embraced her if she hadn't quit drinking, which, in a bittersweet twist of irony, she had done on the down-low when she found out I was pregnant five months earlier. There were no rehabs, no interventions. For the first time, she says, she quit for herself. She quit drinking not because anyone was forcing her to, but because she wanted to have a relationship with my child, and she knew that she couldn't have both. It wasn't easy — though acupuncture helped with the physical withdrawal — but once she made the choice, that was that. She hasn't picked up a drink since.

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